VIO News Blog

April 30, 2009

New Venezuelan Central Bank Head Appointed

Dow Jones reported yesterday that Venezuela’s National Assembly approved President Chavez’s decision to nominate Nelson Merentes to head the country’s Central Bank.  Merentes, who was Finance Minister from 2004 to 2007, was in charge of the purchasing and selling of structured notes made up of sovereign debt from other Latin American countries who sought to end their dependence on the International Monetary Fund.  The presidency of the Central Bank has been vacant since the death of its last president in December of last year.

The Washington Post has published yet another editorial encouraging the Obama Administration to adopt a harder line towards Venezuela.  According to the Post, the judicial measures taken against several government opponents facing corruption charges are evidence of a “a major new campaign against what remains of Venezuela’s democracy”.  Not mentioned in the heavily biased editorial is the fact that pro-government figures, like ex Mayor of Caracas Juan Barreto, are also being prosecuted for crimes involving corruption.

Political comment pieces in the Washington Times and the Kansas City Star include short references to President Obama’s friendly handshake with President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The Washington Times refers derisively to the “cerebral president’s” courteous attitude towards “America-hater Hugo Chavez”, despite the fact that the Venezuelan president has often stated that, while he had serious differences with the Bush Administration, he has wished to maintain the best possible relations with the people of the United States.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times has reported that a Florida pharmacy confirmed that a medication given to 21 prized polo horses from Caracas that died at the US Open polo tournament had been incorrectly prepared.   Franck’s Pharmacy of Ocala, Florida announced that “the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect.”

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March 25, 2009

Venezuelan City has new Sister in Wisconsin

Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and Edgar Carracaso, mayor of Carora, signed a sister city agreement on Tuesday. It marks the first such agreement between a Venezuelan and a U.S. city in the past 10 years. Mayor Carrasco stated that “Our governments may have differences, but that doesn’t offset our countries’ abilities to know each other.” Carrasco added that Carora will be developing the Casa El Alba to promote cultural and economic ties between the two cities and offer US visitors information about the city of Carora and Venezuela.

Venezuela’s biggest mosque, located in downtown Caracas, was robbed and ransacked according to the Associated Press. No suspects have yet been identified. An administrator said it was the second time the mosque had been broken into since September of last year.  In February of this year, an important Caracas synagogue was also broken into and vandalized.  Though various news outlets presented the incident as an “anti-Semitic” attack, a police investigation indicated that the primary motive was theft.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has decided to move the corruption trial of Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales from the state of Zulia to Caracas, as judges in Rosales’s home state were allegedly caught meeting with the opposition mayor. Four judges in Zulia have also been suspended from their duties by the Supreme Court for participating in the alleged meeting. Rosales asserted that the decision was made by the Chavez government in order to find an “obedient judge.” Zulia lawmaker Calixto Ortega, however, stated that at least one of the four sanctioned judges was in a position to exercise direct influence on the Rosales case.

In economic news, the AP reports that progress is being made in establishing the Bank of the South, a regional financial institution designed to provide an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, both of which have strong ties to the US Treasury Department. The Bank of the South is expected to launch its operations in May with $10 billion in initial capital. Its members are currently Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Finally, McClatchy reports that CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall has claimed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system is not secure and was tampered with by President Chavez during a 2004 referendum on his presidency. Without providing any evidence to back his assertions, Stigall stated that “it was my understanding that” the computer program used for the audit of the voting machines “was provided by Chavez.” Stigall’s claims, made before a hearing in Orlando, Florida, run contrary to the assessment made by independent electoral monitoring missions from the Carter Center and the OAS, that concluded that the 2004 elections had been fair and transparent.

March 6, 2009

Lula and Obama likely to Discuss Chavez in March

The Associated Press reports that President Chavez has given Brazil’s President Da Silva permission to discuss Venezuela with President Obama when the two leaders meet March 14th in Washington. “We don’t need any intermediary to speak with any government on the planet, but since it’s Lula and in good faith, I told him yes, that I gave him the green light,” Chavez stated. President Chavez has repeated his willingness to meet with Barack Obama to discuss bilateral relations and issues affecting both countries, including the global recession.

A Time Magazine article discusses how Cuban-American politicians are trying to appeal to Venezuelans residing in South Florida, stating that a majority of Miami Cubans now oppose continuing the 47-year long trade embargo against Cuba. Time quotes Republican representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart in a speech to Venezuelans living in South Florida saying, “Venezuelans are under a lot of pressure from Chávez, who is acting more like a dictator every day.” However, domestic and international electoral observers have consistently declared Venezuela’s elections free and fair.

The AP reports that Venezuela has expropriated 3,700 acres of land from an Irish businessman that produced eucalyptus for cardboard manufacturing. President Chavez stated that according to Venezuelan law, the land should be used to grow food. The state will allow agricultural cooperatives to grow corn and beans on the land.

Finally, the Petare district of Caracas reports a 20% drop in murder rates compared to figures from February 2008, according to AFP.

March 2, 2009

State Department’s Report on Venezuela “Plagued with Lies”

On Thursday, the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments firmly condemned the U.S. State Department’s report on Human Rights practices in their respective countries shortly after its release yesterday. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was quoted by AP as stating that the report’s allegations are “plagued with lies,” while Bolivia’s Vice Minister Sacha Llorenti said that the report is “a gross simplification of the national reality that is politically motivated.” He also suggested that the U.S. lacked moral authority to raise human rights concerns.

The AP reports that before dawn on Thursday, a small explosive was thrown at a Jewish community center in Caracas. Nobody was injured in the attack, but the explosion damaged the doors to the center and a nearby vehicle. The event sparked fears of rising anti-Semitism in Venezuela as it was the second attack on a Jewish center this year. Reuters reports that authorities have already begun an investigation into the incident. AP quotes an international source – Sergio Widder of Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating that “This is outrageous, it’s turning into an escalation.” It should be noted that the Venezuelan government forcefully denounced the vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue earlier this year, and a police investigation revealed that the perpetrators’ principal motivation was robbery and not anti-Semitism.

Reuters reports that Argentina has summoned the U.S. Ambassador in Argentina, and has demanded an explanation regarding CIA Director Leon Panetta’s comment on Wednesday that Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela could be pushed into instability by the global economic crisis. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana called the comments “unfounded and irresponsible, especially from an agency that has a sad history of meddling in the affairs of countries in the region.”

Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s economy grew at its’ slowest pace since 2003 in the fourth quarter of 2008, expanding 3.2 percent amidst a plunge in the country’s oil revenues. The AP reports that Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said Thursday that Venezuela’s economic outlook for 2009 is stable despite the continued lull in oil prices.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel urges Venezuelan expatriates living in Florida to ponder the reasons why President Chavez remains so popular – with special attention given to his government’s social programs dedicated to ending poverty. The author reminds readers of the disastrous political past, which in 1993 led to riots, high inflation, two failed military coups, and the impeachment of then President Carlos Andres Perez. While the author is not a Chavez supporter, he states that “much of this dissatisfaction with Venezuela’s old political elite fueled Chávez’s rise to power.”

November 4, 2008

President Chavez Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel in US-Venezuela Relations

As U.S. voters go to the polls today, AFP reports that President Chavez said he sees Barack Obama as “a small light on the horizon” for relations between the two countries. He predicted an Obama victory and said he looked forward to meeting him as “equals” and “with respect.” Chavez is often cast as an “anti-U.S.” figure in the media, which often passes over the context of aggression against Venezuela by the Bush administration.

Franklin Duran will appeal the guilty verdict he received yesterday from a jury in Miami, which propped up FBI allegations that Duran acted as an unregistered foreign agent. The AP reports that Duran’s lawyer contends that his client was entrapped by the FBI, and called the trial “a political circus” created by the U.S. government to discredit the Chavez government. According to the Miami Herald, Duran’s rep said, “We’re going to keep this fight up.”

If indeed the Miami trial is as politicized as some experts suggest, a Wall Street Journal editorial today provides the fruits of the FBI’s agenda. The Journal claims the trial shows President Chavez is a “danger to democracy” in the region. This is despite the fact that Venezuela has seen a democratic revival during Chavez’s two terms in office. The editorial also suggests that the Venezuelan leader funded the electoral victories of leaders in Argentina and elsewhere, an analysis that amounts to little more than a baseless conspiracy theory. Like many other new elected leaders in Latin America in recent years, Argentina’s Fernandez was legitimately popular, and would not have needed aid.

Finally, ahead of regional elections in Venezuela on November 23rd, Reuters provides a particularly flimsy report on the political scene there. Repeating  Chavez’s claim last week that he would seek to jail an opposition mayor aligned with those who staged a coup in 2002, Reuters wrongly states that campaigns for Venezuela’s ruling party revolve only around a “common enemy.” To make this suggestion, government policies are taken out of context.

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.

October 28, 2008

Venezuela Joins Latin American Nations to Urge Reform of International Financial System

Latin American leaders met in Brazil yesterday to discuss the economy, urging reform to the international financial system. Representatives were present from eleven countries and included Venezuela’s foreign minister, finance minister, and central bank president. The AP reports that Brazil’s foreign minister (pictured at right) said, “There’s a consensus that integration will help to mitigate the effects of the international crisis.”

According to Reuters, the value of Venezuela’s currency has reached a one-year low. The BBC looks at oil prices and considers the possibility of economic woes for Venezuela, and like many articles in recent days, trumps up the threat of a bust. The BBC also points out, thought, that “not all analysts paint a bleak picture.” The Houston Chronicle meanwhile reports that Latin America’s economic growth in 2009 will likely suffer due to downturn in the US, but that the region is better prepared to deal with crises today than it has been in the past.

Finally, the jury in the “suitcasegate” trial in Florida continues deliberating today, according to the Miami Herald. Allegations of corruption in the Chavez government have been at the heart of the trial, though they are unrelated to the charges faced by defendant Franklin Duran, who is accused by the U.S. government of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Venezuelan officials and independent analysts alike see the trial as politically motivated

October 24, 2008

“The Real Venezuela” Initiative Will Help Combat Media Terrorism

Venezuela’s Minister of Information and Communications, Andres Izarra, has announced a new initiative called “Venezuela de Verdad” (The Real Venezuela) to combat what he called “media terrorism,” according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. Izarra spoke out against the “campaign of lies and manipulation” that he said prevents the country’s positive aspects from being known. Venezuela’s opposition-controlled media played an important role in the 2002 coup against Chavez.

Venezuelan officials have rejected as “interference” a resolution by the European Parliament condemning a measure that prevents hundreds of candidates, mostly from opposition parties, from running in regional elections due to pending corruption charges. The AP reports that Venezuela’s comptroller general explained, “It’s not a violation of human rights, it’s a measure against corruption.” Venezuela’s Vice Minister for Europe said that the vote was an inappropriate initiative spearheaded by Europe’s right-wing and stated: “With this resolution, the MEP’s have supported corruption.”

The “suitcasegate” trial is finishing up in Florida, according to the Washington Post and Miami Herald. Proceedings have consistently favored the prosecution, which claims Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran operated as an unregistered foreign agent. The trial, though, has focused on allegations of corruption within the Chavez administration. “It’s shocking that a man who committed a crime in Argentina becomes a protected witness in Miami to make all kinds of accusations against the Venezuelan government,” said former Venezuelan Ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez.

In other international news, Russia is speaking out against US sanctions imposed yesterday on its state arms trader and other firms abroad including the Venezuelan Military Industries Company. This comes a day after US Treasury sanctions against an Iranian bank and its alleged affiliates, including a Venezuelan institution. The AP reports that the Bush administration also moved to press trade sanctions against Bolivia, alleging against all evidence that the country has failed to fight drug trafficking. Meanwhile, China has joined the Inter-American Development Bank in a move that may increase its presence in Latin America, the Los Angeles Times reports.

OPEC member states meet today and are expected to cut oil production in response to lagging demand in the US and globally. The AP reports that Venezuela supports the cut, along with Iran and other nations.

Finally, El Universal reports that President Chavez said that Venezuela would survive a drop in oil prices to $55 per barrel: “you can rest assured that Venezuela will not be affected by the economic crisis, because we can take any necessary steps to save money or to adopt austerity measures.”

October 23, 2008

Electrical Service Continues Uninterrupted in Venezuela

A blackout in Venezuela last Sunday that lasted approximately forty five minutes is still making news. The AP reports that three engineers employed by the state-owned EDELCA were charged with causing the failure. Meanwhile, Reuters claims that because this is the third brief outage this year, Venezuela is “struggling to maintain basic electrical service.” Electricity was nationalized last year in a controversial move that has raised hackles in the private media. However, the state’s new investment in electricity is meant to expand access to infrastructure in rural areas and increase the efficiency and affordability of the service.

Closing statements were held this morning in the trial of Florida-based Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran. The Miami Herald reports that Duran could face 10 years in jail for acting as an unregistered foreign agent. The Herald points out that experts on Latin America say the trial is politically motivated: Professor Bagley of the University of Miami said, “The United States has gone after this case because they want to embarrass the Chávez government.” A Wall Street Journal article does just this, expounding on the corruption allegations that have surfaced in the trial despite their lack of relevance to the proceedings against Duran.

Caracas newspaper El Universal reports on the escalating use of anti-Venezuela statements by the McCain-Palin campaign in the US. Senator McCain has emphasized the need for so-called “energy independence,” while Governor Palin called President Chavez as a “dictator” and suggested “the imposition of sanctions.” When asked if she supports military intervention in Venezuela, Palin said ambivalently, “Military action must always be the last resort.”

Finally, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions yesterday against Iran’s Export Development Bank, as well as those of banks it claims are affiliates, including Venezuela’s Banco Internacional De Desarollo. The Treasury moved to freeze their US assets and prevent from doing business with US citizens.

October 15, 2008

Venezuela an Oasis of Calm in Troubled Financial Times

Yesterday, tear gas was thrown at the headquarters of Nuevo Pais, a Caracas newspaper whose editor promoted the assassination of President Chavez. The AP reports that a “radical pro-government militia” called La Piedrita took responsibility for the act. Though it is unclear in the article, the group is not affiliated with the government and has been publicly condemned by prominent officials in the Chavez administration. On Monday of this week, the minister of justice and minister of information spoke out against La Piedrita and called their violent tactics “political childishness,” for which they were praised by Reporters Without Borders.

Also in Venezuela, Reuters reports that some 6,500 relatives of incarcerated people held a protest on Tuesday to demand better conditions in jails. Prison violence in Venezuela is widespread, and last year produced 500 deaths. The government promised reforms to the system this year. The challenges are considerable, but some small steps have already been made, such as bringing the famous music education program, “El Sistema” into jails to help rehabilitate the incarcerated.

Developments came yesterday in the “suitcasegate” trial in which Florida-based Venezuelan businessmen are accused by the US government of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The Miami Herald reports that the lawyer for the sole defendant in the case, Franklin Durán, was finally allowed to introduce evidence that “he says could create reasonable doubt about the government’s case.” The lawyer contends that the charges were “calculated to smear both Mr. Durán and the Venezuelan government.” So far, judges have refused to consider the political context of the allegations.

Finally, The Financial Times calls the Caracas stock market an “oasis of calm” amid the global financial crisis. As in most countries, Venezuela’s banks have felt the effects of the crisis, but “the system as a whole is reckoned to be solvent.”

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