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 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 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.

February 18, 2009

US Seeks Positive Relationship with Venezuela

More news comes today about remarks by State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid, who said the US seeks a “positive relationship” with Venezuela. The AFP reports that he also called the national referendum last Sunday “a matter for the Venezuelan people.” For his part, President Chavez has made clear in recent weeks an openness to dialogue with the Obama administration, and positive relations with the United States.

An opinion piece in the Guardian sees continuity in U.S.-Latin America relations so far under the Obama administration, but urges change. Meanwhile, a Miami Herald editorial argues that a strong, united opposition in Venezuela is “the only hope of keeping democracy alive under Mr. Chávez.” The Herald fails to acknowledge the very democratic nature in which elections and referendums are held. Over 70% of eligible voters voted in Sunday’s referendum, and 54% voted in favor of the measure.

A Boston Herald op-ed accuses President Chavez of continuing to support the FARC rebel group in Colombia. However, the Chavez administration has repeatedly denied support for the group, and has even made an appeal to FARC that it must lay down its arms and join Colombian society. Furthermore, Chavez was instrumental in the release of several FARC hostages over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the financial challenges facing the Chavez administration in lieu of the continued lull in oil prices. It notes that Chavez has “weathered lean times before,” but forgets that he has vowed to continue important social programs. Bloomberg reports that Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez acknowledges that the global economic crisis will affect Venezuela and has said that the country will need to curtail spending and limit imports. However, he added that Venezuela would be able to withstand the crisis without too much “anguish.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela and China signed various economic agreements as Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived in Caracas yesterday. The two countries renewed a bilateral development fund, with an additional $6 billion in joint funding. In a address to the Chinese delegation, President Chavez said: “All the oil China needs for the next 200 years, it’s here. It’s in Venezuela.” China will also increase cooperation with Venezuela in agriculture and telecommunications.

January 27, 2009

Venezuelan Social Programs Continue to Operate Despite Low Crude Price

Oil is the top story today, with the Financial Times reporting that the lowered price of crude has caused President Chavez to reign in spending and threatens to undermine the revolutionary process. Strangely, no mention is made of Chavez’s frequent assertion that social programs in Venezuela will continue to be funded using the country’s large foreign currency reserves and development funds. Venezuela’s economic future is hotly debated, with some predicting a crash. Many other analysts have argued precisely the opposite; the Financial Times quotes an expert that says the country has a comfortable current account surplus and that “There’s no pressure on the government to devalue [the currency].”

Potential oil production cuts are also in the news. The AP reports that Venezuela will conform to further cuts mandated by OPEC. Price stabilization is the objective, according to Chavez, who is quoted in Bloomberg as saying: “If necessary, we’ll cut 4 million barrels more of production, but we’re not going to allow oil prices to drop to $6 a barrel again.”

In international news, the Caracas newspaper El Universal reports that Chavez advocated freedom for hostages during his visit to Colombia last weekend. In comments broadcast to captives held by the FARC over a Colombian radio station, the Venezuelan leader said: “I want to greet all of you, and also I am asking for freedom for all, freedom and equality.”

A Washington Post editorial yesterday on reactions to the Obama presidency abroad mentions Venezuela as a “predictable US adversary,” ignoring President Chavez’s appeals for better relations. Chavez wrote in an op-ed Sunday that, if the US can “unclench its fist,” the world is ready to receive the Obama administration with “outstretched hands, full of brotherhood.”

Continuing coverage of Bolivia’s successful approval of a new constitution Sunday in a national referendum contains many references to Venezuela. Time Magazine provides a good overview of Bolivia’s new charter, but mangles a parallel with Venezuela’s 1999 constitution. Time states that Venezuela’s Chavez “failed in his bid at ending presidential term limits,” however, a referendum on this issue is planned for February 15th. Coverage in the Christian Science Monitor features criticisms of Bolivia’s constitution, although it garnered a decisive rate of 60 percent support at the polls.

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 21, 2009

Chavez Looks Forward to New Views, Respect from Washington

“From here we salute the people of the United States,” President Chavez said Tuesday in reference to the inauguration of President Obama, according to the New York Times. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader said he has no illusions, but that he hopes the new U.S. president “looks to Latin America with a new view, with a new focus of respect toward the democracies and the changes.”

Chavez is referred to as a “world-changer” with immense energy in an AP interview with Oliver Stone, who spent time with the Venezuelan leader in order to make a documentary. “Bolivar is back,” he said, and the winds of change are “huge” and “sweeping all over the place.”

The Washington Post reports on Obama’s interview a week ago on the Spanish-language channel Univision. The president-elect had called Chavez an obstacle to progress in the region and said he was concerned by the allegations that “Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities or supporting malicious entities like the FARC.” Chavez’s response — that Obama “cast the first stone” — was reported as a sign of emerging tensions. Time Magazine reports that last May, Obama gave a speech in which he called the Venezuelan leader a “demagogue” with a “predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government and checkbook diplomacy.” Time indicates that the Summit of the Americas in April will provide another early test of Obama’s Latin America policy.

The Washington Times reports that over the weekend President Chavez “ordered authorities to break up student protests if they turn violent.” Reuters points out that opposition marches are indeed “sometimes violent,” but then assigns blame to the government with its headline: “Venezuela opposition attacked after Chavez speech.” Much of the press today similarly misrepresents the use of tear gas by Caracas police to disperse opposition marchers, failing to mention that it was a response to public outcry when the marchers blocked freeways and paralyzed the city. Authorities did not target the opposition; an AP news photo shows  pro-Chavez demonstrators being arrested by police over the weekend.

An editorial in the Chicago Tribune claims President Chavez “squandered the proceeds” of last year’s oil boom. However, the country has $42 billion in foreign currency reserves and tens of billions more in discretionary government funds. Venezuela also reinvested over $15 billion in the oil industry in 2008. The Tribune argues that the country is desperately courting private investors because of the dive in oil prices, when in fact, firms like Chevron, BP, and Shell never left Venezuela. They began the process of bidding on Orinoco Belt oil projects last year when the value of crude was still extremely high.

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