VIO News Blog

January 7, 2009

Venezuela Expels Israeli Ambassador, Sends Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

After President Chavez deemed Israel’s invasion into Gaza “genocidal” earlier this week, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry acted to expel the Israeli ambassador in Caracas. A communique quoted by the AP and Bloomberg “emphatically condemns the flagrant violations of international law by the state of Israel, and denounces the use of state terrorism that has pushed the country to the margins in the concert of nations.” The AP also reports that Venezuela and Brazil are sending food and medical aid to Gaza.

CNN reports that an Israeli rep responded by claiming Venezuela gives “automatic support to the Iranian extremists” and has an “affinity with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.” Venezuelan officials only advocate peace, though, and are not alone in doing so. France’s Sarkozy, whom the Wall Street Journal calls “a sincere friend of the Jewish state,” is pushing for a settlement and has criticized Israel for using “disproportionate force” against Palestine.

The BBC reports that Venezuela’s sizable Arab community, which has openly protested the Israeli attacks, welcomed the expulsion of the Israeli diplomat. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Abraham Levy, the President of the Venezuelan Jewish Community, expressed disapproval. Levy was among those Jewish leaders invited to the presidential palace to meet personally with Chavez last August. The Venezuelan leader also signed a joint declaration with Brazil and Argentina condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of religious discrimination and racism on December 18th.

The AP reports that Venezuela’s energy assistance in the U.S. and elsewhere is jeopardized by the slump in oil prices, failing to point out that less assistance is needed at this time. Last year, prices were at a record $100 per barrel — double what they are now. Programs like Petrocaribe, which sells oil to small Caribbean and Central American Nations on preferential terms, have been altered slightly in response to changing demand.

Meanwhile, after news yesterday that Venezuela’s Citgo suspended deliveries of cut-rate oil to the U.S. charity Citizens Energy, company officials still have not given word of any final decision. ABC News quotes critics of Venezuela’s heating oil assistance program who reject it as an attempt to “buy friends.” Low-income Americans, though, welcomed last year’s $100 million in aid, provided at the behest of U.S. senators and with no strings attached.

Finally, the AP is reporting that oil prices will not remain low for long. Another price spike is expected by next year, according to experts.

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November 5, 2008

President Chavez Congratulates President Obama

Barack Obama’s big victory in the U.S. elections thrilled observers all around the world, according to the New York Times. French President Sarkozy echoed the sentiments of many when he said Obama brings “an immense hope” to the world and can “restore the image of America.” Although President Chavez recently endorsed Obama and called the U.S. a “great country,” and also congratulated Obama today, the Times still suggests that Venezuela is “anti-U.S.” by reporting that the elections “cut through official propaganda.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro rejected the guilty verdict in the Miami “suitcasegate” trial. Bloomberg reports that Maduro said that the case was “fabricated,” a politically motivated act by the U.S. government against Venezuela. He called the trial an effort to “criminalize institutions and leaders in democratic countries.” The Miami Herald reports that Maduro said Venezuela will seek to extradite the convicted men so that they can stand trial at home. He referred to them a “gang of criminals,” and vowed that they did not act on the government’s behalf. The Herald indicates that Venezuela’s Supreme Court is not independent, but on the contrary, it often delivers rulings unfavorable to the executive.

Finally, the AP reports today on the tragic news of the shooting of a student in Venezuela who was shot by the National Guard during a protest. Venezuela’s Justice Minister Tarek Al Aissami decried the killing as an act of “brutal repression” and called for an “exhaustive investigation.” 21 police and troops were detained.

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.”

October 3, 2008

Venezuela May Develop Energy Project with France

Yesterday, France announced its willingness to help Venezuela build civilian nuclear energy facilities, the AP reports. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (pictured here with his French counterpart) said that his country is interested in developing peaceful nuclear energy projects. The offer by France follows comes a week after Russian officials said they would help Venezuela build its nuclear energy industry.

On Thursday, just a day after Julio Soto, a leader of a Copei-aligned student group was murdered, investigators had already carried out raids and questioned several people. It remains unclear what the killers’ motives were.  AP coverage provides little context around the murder.

A Miami Herald article discusses the banning of Chacao Mayor Leopoldo López from running in the upcoming elections, but fails to report that he was banned due to criminal charges. The article alludes that criminal charges against opposition candidates are political, but in fact, many of the 250 candidates affected by these charges are Chavez supporters. The article also portrays López as a martyr, mentioning the death of his bodyguard, but no evidence to has suggested that his bodyguard’s murder was political in nature.

The Washington Times reports on an ‘angry’ letter sent by a group of U.S. Congressmen to President Chavez, which states their outrage over the expulsion of two high-level Human Rights Watch personnel. The letter and the article do not recognize that the Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela had serious methodological flaws which led to its gross omissions and biased conclusions.

A Sun-Sentinel op-ed on Venezuela falsely states that Venezuela purchased $4 billion in Russian military equipment over the past few weeks. Meanwhile, Bloomberg correctly reports that Venezuela purchased $4.4 billion worth of arms from Russia from 2005-2007. Venezuela’s military purchases from Russia have indeed increased since a U.S. imposed military embargo on the country.

September 22, 2008

Venezuela Deepens Foreign Relations As McCain Attacks

“Gratuitous attacks” is how President Chavez described a new ad campaign by Republican hopefuls McCain-Palin that features the Venezuelan leader, the AP reports. “I don’t respond to candidates,” Chavez said. He has not commented on the US elections except to say that he hopes for better relations with a new administration. Also according to the AP, the Venezuela Information Office in Washington stated that the ad is an “attempt at fear-mongering” and that the words and image of Chavez “were taken out of context and used as a baseless attack.” The Boston Globe prints a transcript of the ad. Also in US-Venezuela relations, the AP reports that President Chavez said over the weekend that Venezuela is moving away from the use of the US dollar for its foreign currency reserves, and now has less than one percent of its $39.2 billion in US banks.

Last week, two Human Rights Watch staff were expelled from Venezuela after that group released a harshly critical report on the Chavez administration. A pre-Chavez law forbids foreigners from attacking Venezuela’s democratic institutions. The Foreign Ministry explained that the country “will not tolerate any meddling or interference in its internal affairs.” The Financial Times reports that Human Rights Watch reacted by claiming that Venezuela is seeing a “descent into intolerance.” Meanwhile, the Venezuela Information Office called the view put forth by the organization “incomplete and biased.”

In regional news, President Chavez is visiting Cuba today before moving on to tour China, Russia, Portugal and France. AFP reports that he said the week-long trip is “of great strategic interest” to Venezuela. New trade deals in oil and other areas are expected to be signed in China. Venezuela’s joint military exercises with Russia are in the news today. Reuters reports that a spokesman for the Russian navy said that the maneuvers are “aimed at training rescue drills and operations against sea terrorists.” The New York Times says that this is a strategic effort by Russia to boost its Latin American ties, but Russian reps say that the idea is not new, and will not affect any other country.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports on the continuing trial against Venezuelan businessmen accused by prosecutors of acting as unregistered foreign agents. Several experts indicate that the charges are politically motivated. “There is something bigger going on here. I have no doubt this is coming from the U.S. government”, said Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue.

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