VIO News Blog

April 17, 2009

Chavez Holds Out for Equality in the Americas

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that while no bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Chavez is scheduled during the Summit of the Americas, if Chavez were to approach the US President, it is likely he would agree to talk, CNN reports.

On Thursday, President Chavez said that Venezuela will vote against the Summit of the Americas declaration, arguing that it treats Latin America as subservient to the interests of the United States, AP reports. According to the Miami Herald, Chavez said of the declaration, that it was “as if time had not passed.”

At a meeting in Venezuela, of ALBA-member nations, President Chavez announced the creation of a new regional currency ‘Sucre,’ which he expects will enter into effect in 2010 as an electronic currency to facilitate trade between the member countries. The new regional currency will provide an alternative to the U.S. dollar frequently used for trade throughout the hemisphere. Chavez added that he hoped other nations in South and Central America would later also participate in using the currency.

An editorial in the Dallas News argues that President Obama should ignore Chavez and try to divide the alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, by opening up trade and travel to the island nation.

Finally, in regional news, Bolivian police in Santa Cruz said they foiled a plot to assassinate President Morales, and while attempting to arrest the suspects, a 30-minute gunbattle ensued, ending in the deaths of three suspects and the arrest of two others.

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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.

January 26, 2009

Chavez Congratulates Bolivia on Inclusive New Constitution

President Hugo Chavez congratulated Mr. Morales, stating that the constitutions’ approval strengthens Morales’ “effort to push forward a peaceful and democratic revolution.” Bolivians made history yesterday with the passage of a new constitution which defines Bolivia as a “United Social State of Plurinational Communitarian Law.” The constitution recognizes education, healthcare, and housing as basic human rights. It gives indigenous peoples rights to ancestral land, and all 36 indigenous languages are officially recognized. Afro-Bolivians now have legal recognition as an ethnic group, for the very first time. The AP reports that President Morales praised the passage of the new constitution as the end of the ‘colonial state.’
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavezand Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe
On Saturday, President Uribe of Colombia and President Chavez met in the port town of Cartagena, agreeing that each country will contribute $100 million to a joint fund which will help create small businesses and finance infrastructure projects along the two countries’ shared border. The leaders also discussed manufacturing of primary car components locally to reduce imports. Chavez said that the two countries should aim for $10 billion in bilateral trade by 2009 and 2010, up from $7.2 billion in 2008. Amidst consistent accusations by Colombian and US officials of Chavez’s support for the FARC, the AFP quotes President Chavez stating “”I repeat it again: if I were supporting any subversive, terrorist or violent movement in Colombia, I wouldn’t be here.”

Chavez wrote in his newspaper column that his and other nations will reach toward the U.S. “full of fraternity,” but that President Obama must avoid old antagonisms. The AP makes the erroneous inference that a line out of Obama’s inaugural address which reads “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent…the US will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” was intended for President Chavez. All international observers have confirmed that Venezuela’s elections are free and fair, and that Venezuela’s political opposition can freely dissent. Indeed, the political opposition enjoys widespread coverage in most of the privately owned media. Mr. Chavez wants to improve relations with the U.S., but noted that Washington ought to “open its fists” first.

The AP reported earlier today that a fire at an oil refinery in Western Venezuela injured seven people. Four firefighters and three refinery workers were injured. The incident did not affect oil production or exports.

January 15, 2009

Venezuela’s National Assembly Votes in Favor of Referendum

Lawmakers in Venezuela’s National Assembly voted 156 to 6 in favor of holding a national referendum on the issue of term limits. AFP reports that one lawmaker explained he supported the amendment “so that all legally able citizens can run for election and the people can choose from them without limitations of any kind.”

AFP reports that President Chavez said his intention is not to remain in office indefinitely. He said: “What we have here is a national independence project that still needs more work to consolidate. It’s not consolidated yet.” The referendum will likely occur on February 15th.

The AP and AFP report that Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday a formal break in diplomatic ties with Israel, citing “inhumane persecution of the Palestinian people.” A statement quoted by AFP says: “Israel has systematically ignored United Nations (ceasefire) calls, repeatedly and unashamedly violating approved resolutions…and placing itself increasingly outside international law.” Bolivian President Evo Morales also cut ties with Israel, saying its attacks “seriously threatened world peace.”

A contradictory report from the New York Times states that Venezuela is “quietly courting” foreign firms to help exploit the Orinoco Belt oil projects nationalized in 2007. Bidding by private investors like Chevron, Shell, Total, and BP is presented as a something Chavez was forced to do after oil prices crashed, but in fact, the article states that it began when oil prices were high. Several foreign firms have remained on throughout the nationalization. To bring the Orinico Belt oil projects under the rubric of national control established in 1976, Venezuela’s PDVSA is simply purchasing the majority of shares.

Finally, in international relations, a letter in the International Herald Tribune asks Obama to take “a new approach to Chavez,” for “many Latin Americans see him as the symbolic voice for those who Washington has all too often ignored.” The letter states that Venezuela should at least be treated as a “legitimate business partner.”

December 15, 2008

With Patience and Good Faith, US-Venezuela Relations will Improve

U.S.-Venezuela relations “are going to improve” under Obama, President Chavez said yesterday. According to AFP, Chavez said Venezuela will work with the U.S. on energy issues, “the struggle against terrorism and international crime,” as well as anti-drug efforts. Specifically on the topic of drug cooperation, he stated: “We can remake an agreement with the DEA that respects the sovereignty of Venezuela.”

Chavez stressed the need for patience and good faith in repairing U.S.-Venezuela ties, according to the AP. He also expressed approval of Senator Clinton’s new role as Secretary of State. “I feel that there are winds of change,” Chavez said.

The AP reports that Bolivia is similarly poised to repair relations with the U.S. One expert called President Morales’ recent meetings with Congressmen in Washington “pretty revolutionary.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that a regional summit for Latin America that begins in Brazil tomorrow will exclude lame duck President Bush, signaling reduced U.S. influence in the hemisphere. According to Bloomberg, “The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.”

Much media attention surrounds a visit by Cuban President Raul Castro to Venezuela. The trip is first over-seas visit as head of state. Yesterday, Castro and Chavez (pictured at right) signed joint projects on energy and communications worth $2 billion. The AP reports that President Chavez spoke during the visit to call on Obama to recognize a long-ignored extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for crimes against humanity including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 civilians. Posada Carriles is living in Miami, where he recently avoided charges of immigration fraud.

An op-ed in Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader weighs in on a possible national referendum on ending presidential term limits. The piece portrays the measure as a power grab for Chavez, claiming he wishes to “make himself South America’s most powerful leader.” Rather than seeking to dominate the region, though, Chavez has helped bring regional leaders together in new multilateral institutions such as ALBA and UNASUR to advance social aims and defend sovereignty. At home, Chavez’s reforms have succeeded in reducing poverty by over 30%, a fact which explains his continued popularity in Venezuela. This and other progress is enumerated in another op-ed from Global Research that sees Venezuela as experiencing “a democratic effort from the bottom up.”

November 18, 2008

Venezuelans Satisfied with their Democracy

Venezuela will host a meeting for members of the regional cooperation agreements Petrocaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) next Wednesday, November 26th, according to El Universal. The session was announced as a counterpoint to the G-20 summit in Washington. President Morales of Bolivia said that the intention is “not to discuss the financial crisis, but how to enhance and complement our economies to serve our people.”

Immigrants in Venezuela, often hailing from neighboring Colombia, tend to support President Chavez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Miami Herald reports today. The social program called “Mission Identity” is helping extend the benefits of citizenship to this sector. Critics say that it is a bid to gain votes ahead of regional elections this Sunday, but Mission Identity was founded in October 2003. One expert explained: “This is an effort to integrate into society Colombians who have been here for decades, and long after they would have been required to be [naturalized] by law.” According to UN estimates, there are over 200,000 Colombian asylum seekers in Venezuela. Government programs also provide refugees with job training and low-interest loans to help stimulate economic development.

Approval ratings for President Chavez remain steady at over fifty percent, though the leader is described as “increasingly unpopular” in the U.S. media. A Washington Post editorial today makes this claim. The editorial advises President-elect Obama not to speak with Chavez, although Obama has said that he would indeed seek dialogue. It wrongly states that Chavez, who has several electoral victories under his belt and has boosted Venezuela’s ties to many nations in Latin America and the world, is “grabbing the coattails” of Obama in order to earn popularity. The Times also deems unconstitutional a law that prohibits individuals from running for public office while they face corruption investigations. This point is not addressed in the Venezuelan charter, but has been upheld by the country’s Judiciary and electoral authority.

A New York Times editorial today urges free trade with Colombia and asserts that President Chavez uses anti-U.S. rhetoric to “distract attention” from so-called “autocratic policies” at home. The claim that Chavez is “anti-U.S.” ignores his overtures to the American people and hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty assistance in the U.S. As the Post points out today, he congratulated Obama on his electoral win and said he anticipates better relations with the U.S. The Chavez administration has seen 11 electoral processes, certified as free and fair by all international observers. In a recent poll by Latinobarometro, Venezuelans expressed more satisfaction with democracy than citizens in any other country in the region besides Uruguay. Venezuelans were also by far the most likely to agree that voting is the best way to influence change.

Finally, an argument in favor of taking Venezuela seriously and improving relations appears in a George Mason University publication; it states that “U.S. officials should open their minds to a new relationship with Caracas.” Two other opinion pieces consider the effects of the financial crisis in Latin America. A Washington Post op-ed finds that the region is not well isolated from the crisis, while a ZNet op-ed views Latin America as less dependent on the U.S. and therefore less vulnerable to collapse.

October 21, 2008

Despite Claims to the Contrary, Venezuela’s Anti-Poverty Effort will Survive Global Financial Crisis

President Chavez visited Margarita Island off of Venezuela’s Caribbean coast yesterday, and proposed that it could be the site of a new naval base. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader indicated that the base would help officials combat drug trafficking.

Sources continue to report on the alleged economic woes of Venezuela due to a drop in oil prices. The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor eagerly claim that Venezuela will have to scale back its anti-poverty programs at home and abroad, but in fact, those programs began five years ago when oil was valued far lower. Crude prices have lost 40% of its value since hitting a high this summer. The Times uses a military idiom, suggesting that Chavez helped create a “cadre” of regional leaders “intent on eroding once-dominant American influence.” More accurately, new elected leaders in Latin America have asserted national sovereignty and a doctrine of non-intervention, emphasizing the right of each country to determine its path. Regarding the economy, several articles last week reported that Venezuela will not suffer significant consequences due to the global financial crisis.

In regional news, the BBC and AFP report that the government of President Morales in Bolivia has reached a deal with separatist opposition leaders in the country’s natural gas-rich Eastern provinces. The accord requires a referendum on a new constitution in January, followed by another round of elections in December 2009. Morales agreed to face another electoral test despite having emerged victorious from a national referendum just last August, in which 67% of Bolivians ratified his presidency.

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 6, 2008

Venezuelans Offered Free Energy-Efficient Cars to Reduce Fuel Consumption

Venezuelans were asked to lower their consumption of gasoline last week by President Chavez, who told citizens that a new program will replace gas-guzzling cars with fuel efficient cars at no cost. The AP reports that the program will even provide those who opt for the switch-over with a year of free fuel. Venezuela is hoping to reduce pollution by making the switch to natural gas.

In economic news, Venezuelan officials said Sunday that national financial institutions will not be adversely affected by the US financial crisis. According to the AP, though, some local banks had done business with Lehman Brothers, Treasury President Cesar Giral (pictured at right) said: “We don’t have any damaging external relationships.” Meanwhile, though, some significant state budget cuts planned for 2009 are making news. Spending cuts will be imposed on state officials themselves, who are being warned that there will be “significant restrictions” on “certain types of vehicles, cellphones and parties.” President Chavez has criticized what he sees as over-spending by state bureaucrats and urged “zero waste” for government agencies.

The New York Times reports that some Latin American leaders are “bitter” over the US economic slide; Argentina’s President Fernandez said “We are witnessing the First World, which at one point had been painted as a mecca we should strive to reach, popping like a bubble.” Also, in regional news, Bolivian President Morales rejected a request from the US DEA to use that country’s airspace. AFP reports that Morales said, “Under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking, under the pretext of monitoring coca leaf crops they want to overfly, and we are going to make it clear that we monitor domestically.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports that pro-government peasants supportive of the elected government of President Morales detained 4 right-wing unionists in recent violent clashes, but does not mention that dozens of those peasants were massacred.

The AP and The New York Times report that former Venezuelan Defense Minister Rafael Baduel was briefly detained Friday on allegations of corruption. In question are $14.5 million in public funds. Baduel broke with the Chavez administration in recent years to become a prominent opposition spokesperson.

Finally, a new World Bank report called the “Human Opportunity Index” puts Venezuela among the top 6 most likely to escape poverty of 19 Latin American nations studied. According to The Financial Times, citizens in Venezuela — like Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, and Uruguay — “have the chance to break the cycle of poverty.”

September 25, 2008

Venezuela Promises Oil to China and Elsewhere, Calls Bush “Comrade”

Venezuela’s new commitment to increased oil shipments to China will not affect its ability to deliver elsewhere, according to the AP. “This is not going to affect supplies to any other country,” President Chavez said. “Venezuela is one of the few countries whose oil reserves allow them to take up enormous commitments around the world.” The AP also reports that new oil tankers and refineries indicate Venezuela’s increased production. “While the world enters an energy crisis, we are investing,” Chavez said.

China and Venezuela also addressed new cooperation on aircraft purchases and a telecommunications satellite, according to sources. After the visit to China, the Venezuelan leader moves on to Russia. Two opinion pieces today take issue with the tour. The New York Post labels Chavez a “petro-tyrant” and cites military equipment purchases from Russia, but fails to point out that a weapons embargo prevents Venezuela from acquiring such goods from the US. The Boston Herald wrongly claims that the Venezuelan leader is “a dangerous thug” with “enablers here in the U.S.” No mention is made, of course, of the thousands of low-income families across the US that rely on millions of dollars in discounted heating oil from Venezuela’s Citgo each winter.

In related news, President Chavez recently referred to President Bush as a “comrade” for his Wall Street bailouts and pointed out that the US leader had finally recognized the “financial tsunami” long warned of by Venezuela. Reuters reports that Chavez sang “You are so like me” at a news conference. Indeed, the New York Times has labeled recent Wall Street bailouts “Socialism, 21st Century Style,” and many commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy of the costly move by the free-marketeering Bush White House.

In Venezuela, the AP reports that two men have been detained on suspicion of plotting to kill the president. Grenades and an anti-tank weapon were seized by authorities, who have not yet released the identities of the men.

Finally, Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke at the UN Summit in New York Yesterday, where he reassured investors and indicated that talks with the opposition are restoring political stability to his country. According to the AP, Morales also repeated criticisms of US Ambassador Goldberg, who was expelled from Bolivia recently for holding repeated secret meetings with the same opposition groups that initiated the violence. A delegation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will visit Bolivia to conduct an independent investigation of the events that caused scores of peasant deaths and an economic upset.

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