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.

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 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.”

March 31, 2009

Chavez Meets with Arab Leaders in Qatar

At a summit of Arab and South American leaders in Qatar, President Chavez appealed to oil-producing states to support the creation of a petroleum-backed currency, AP reports. Chavez also supported the Arab League’s declaration Monday to reject the International Criminal Court charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Chavez noted the hypocrisy of the ICC, saying “Why don’t they order the capture of (former President George W.) Bush? Or the president of Israel?”

In an interview with the pan-Arab TV network Al-Jazeera, Chavez said there were no plans to restore relations with Israel, according to the AP. He added that he would only reconsider if Israel’s leaders cease being a “genocidal elite subordinated to the United States.”

Finally, Central American leaders met yesterday in Costa Rica with Vice President Joe Biden and urged Washington to slow deportations of Central Americans. According to the AP, Biden said there would be no immediate response but asked the group to be patient and assured them that the US would put together a policy with the region, not for the region.  El Salvador’s President-elect, Mauricio Funes, was present and told reporters that while his party has close ties with Chavez, “that does not mean my foreign policy will be subordinated to Chavez.”

March 16, 2009

Venezuela to Manage National Transportation Hubs

President Hugo Chavez dispatched the Navy to Venezuela’s seaports yesterday, after elected lawmakers in the National Assembly voted to bring the country’s transportation hubs under federal management. The AP reports that President Chavez said the move is aimed at improving Venezuela’s national security, including counter-narcotics efforts.

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that President Chavez offered an island off the coast of Venezuela for use as a temporary base for Russia’s strategic bombers. Yesterday, though, Chavez made clear that there would be no foreign bases on Venezuelan soil, but that he had told Russian President Medvedev that his country’s strategic aviation was welcome to “make a stop in Venezuela.” While much media attention has surrounded Russia’s improved ties with Venezuela, its diplomacy with other nations including regional heavyweight Brazil have been downplayed.

A commentary in the Guardian suggests that, for Chavez, “it was easy to score points, both at home and abroad, by bashing President Bush,” but that this tactic has proved difficult with President Obama, who is popular in Latin America. However, President Chavez does not seek an antagonistic relationship with Washington. In fact, he has frequently said that he welcomes talks with the Obama administration, and believes bilateral ties could improve. Any recent criticisms directed at Washington have consistently been about U.S. foreign policy.

In a Newsweek article by Jorge Castaneda, the author makes the absurd speculation that Cuban President Raul Castro’s decision to remove two senior Cuban politicians from office was due to their plotting to overthrow him, and that such a move was supported by President Chavez of Venezuela. No supporting evidence is provided.

Also in regional news, Mauricio Funes, the moderate leftist and FMLN candidate in El Salvador’s presidential race, won the election with 51.3% of the vote. The victory breaks a 20-year grip on power by the country’s right-wing Arena party, whose founder was associated with some of the most repressive elements in the country’s U.S.-backed civil war. Funes, whose FMLN party has been in the political arena since a 1992 peace agreement, pledged to work toward Central American integration as well as strengthen ties with the U.S.

March 11, 2009

Venezuela Destroys Drug Lab near Colombian Border

Venezuela has made more anti-drug progress, destroying clandestine cocaine labs along the border with Colombia and seizing nearly 1,000 pounds of the substance, according to the AP. National Guard troops demolished seven labs located less than a mile from the border with Colombia. EFE quotes Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, who said the move showed “our determination and readiness to continue making progress in the head-on fight against drug trafficking.”

El Aissami also responded to the most recent U.S. State Department drug report — the last one penned by the Bush administration — which again claimed that Venezuela is not doing enough to fight drugs. “We are victims of drug trafficking because we are in between the biggest drug-producing country (Colombia) and the main drug consumer, but that report still tries to blame us. But with these results we show who is really lying,” he said.

In a rare article today, the Guardian Weekly offers the personal story of one Venezuelan woman who benefits from the government-funded social program Madres del Barrio (Mothers of the Neighborhood). At first, Yovita Vera says, It was hard to believe that I had the power to do something positive for myself and my family.” But with a small interest-free loan and training from Madres del Barrio, she opened a textile cooperative that became “a big success.” Vera says: “I feel like a door has been opened for us and we have a chance to make a success of our lives.” Madres del Barrio is one of over two dozen social missions that have helped reduce poverty in Venezuela by about half.

In economic news, the Financial Times reports that Chevron is one of several foreign private firms bidding on Orinoco Belt oil projects. A Chevron official is quoted as saying that Venezuela now needs the investment due to lowered oil prices, however, the bidding process had been planned since oil was at its peak. Private investment maintained a role, albeit a smaller one, in the Orinoco reserves when they were brought under the country’s nationalization plan in 2007.

Finally, Venezuela has made it to the second round of the World Baseball Classic. After defeating Italy yesterday after scoring four home runs in a single inning, the Venezuelan team plays the U.S. again today.

March 10, 2009

Venezuela Refutes State Department Report on Drugs

The Washington Times reports on the last U.S. State Department drug report under the Bush administration, issued a couple of weeks ago, which leveled accusations against three key government officials in Venezuela. The men are Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, an aide to President Chavez, and high-level anti-drug officials Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva. Venezuelan officials have refuted this and other aspects of the report as politicized, and say its findings are false and contradict those of other studies. “The biggest support for narco-trafficking comes from the nation of the north,” Chavez said.

Coca-Cola will likely cooperate with a request by President Chavez to relocate a Caracas bottling plant and turn over the site to the impoverished local community, the AP reports. This is according to a statement released yesterday, which said Coca-Cola expects the government can “bring about proposals and alternatives that benefit everyone. The Financial Times reports that Chavez said Sunday that the land is needed for housing, but suggests that the leader is “targeting” Coke as part of an “assault” on the private sector. Despite what the Times states, “expropriations” are not the norm in Venezuela, where the government follows laws requiring compensate private owners for their assets.

In other economic news, Reuters reports that the Venezuelan government clarified plans to create a Venezuelan Aluminum Corp to unify the sector. That institution will coordinate policy among different aluminum producers, but will not merge them. Japan owns 20 percent of one of the country’s main aluminum plants, Venalum.

March 2, 2009

Venezuela has taken Unprecedented Steps to Boost Agricultural Productivity

On Thursday, the representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Venezuela, Francisco Arias Milla, said that “there is a group of countries, including Venezuela, that is better prepared to confront this crisis and whatever other crisis that may come,” adding that “this is due to the institutionalization of food security in the region.” The Chavez government has taken unprecedented steps to boost agricultural productivity in Venezuela, resulting in the country’s corn production increasing by 205%, rice by 94%, sugar by 13%, and milk by 11% over the last decade, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.

President Chavez on Saturday rejected a U.S. State Department report that alleges that drug trafficking is soaring in Venezuela, the AP reports. The report, which covers global anti-drug efforts in 2008, was prepared during the final months of the Bush presidency, but was approved and presented by the Clinton State Department. “Is there really a new government in the United States, or is Bush still in charge?” Chavez told supporters in a poor Caracas neighborhood. Although not reflected in the State Department report, Venezuela’s anti-drug efforts have been widely documented. Venezuela is now the country with the fourth largest seizures of cocaine in the world, and in 2008, Venezuelan authorities destroyed over 220 illicit landing strips used by suspected drug runners.

The AFP reports that President Chavez stated he will be attending the April 17-19th Summit of the Americas to “defend the integration of the Caribbean and Latin America and demand that the empire Obama leads lift its blockade of Cuba, abide by UN resolutions and condemns Israel.” Chavez said he was unconcerned with whether he would meet Obama there or not.

Bloomberg reports that on Saturday, President Chavez ordered troops to occupy some rice processing facilities in the country due to their failure to market rice at the regulated price set by the government. The seizure of Arroz Primor rice mill, owned by Empresas Polar SA, will last three months according to El Nacional. Chavez said that rice processors have been buying crops from local farmers but have refused to sell white rice at the controlled price. Instead, they have added colors and artificial flavors to evade these controls. “They’ve refused 100 times to process the typical rice that Venezuelans eat,” Chavez said yesterday during his “Alo Presidente” program on state television. “I’m tired of it and if they don’t take me seriously I’ll expropriate the plants and turn them into social property from private property.”  Chavez also announced that if the companies processing rice followed through with their threat to paralyze production, they could end up facing nationalization.

An article in the Miami Herald, argues that Venezuela faces many problems which are only growing. The article discusses the current financial crisis and the impact of continued low oil prices on government expenditures and debt payments. While Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez has acknowledged the difficult economic outlook, it should be noted that Venezuela has over $70 billion in reserves which can help buffer the economy in the event of a protracted global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal argues that the collapse of a Venezuelan bank owned by R. Allen Stanford is causing concern that the economy could be threatened if other banks in the country also experience massive capital flight. However, there is no evidence that the failure of Stanford’s bank (that represents only a small proportion of total deposits in Venezuela) has generated uncertainty in the Venezuelan banking system as a whole, and the speculation is largely based on rumors. The Venezuelan government has guaranteed the deposits of Stanford Bank and says it will sell the bank.

Finally, on Friday, President Chavez said Venezuela should bring to justice those responsible in the brutal repression of the Caracazo riots that took place in major urban centers throughout the country 20 years ago. Chavez blamed the government in power at the time and said Venezuela “should make greater efforts to search for justice.” It is believed that anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people were killed in the riots. “I’m asking them to review the whole thing.” President Chavez also urged the U.S. to extradite former president Carlos Andres Perez in order for him to be brought to justice for his role in the repression.

February 17, 2009

Venezuelan Referendum Hailed as Democratic by US State Department

Last Sunday’s referendum in Venezuela was “a process that was fully consistent with democratic practice,” according to President Obama’s State Department Spokesperson, Gordon Duguid. Pressed for a reaction, he said the referendum “was a matter for the Venezuelan people” and “I don’t have an opinion on the democratic practices of Venezuelans. In the United States, we have term limits, but that’s our practice.” According to the AP, this amounted to “rare praise for a U.S. antagonist after years of criticism from the Bush administration.”

The opposite approach is seen in three nearly indistinguishable editorials in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Dallas Morning News. They label Venezuela’s national referendum undemocratic, call President Chavez “authoritarian” and “dictatorial,” and anticipate an economic crash. None provides any facts to back up their claims. The Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning news ask President Obama to ignore Venezuela, while the L.A. Times says he must “reengage.” The editorials do not advance either of these goals, though, by rejecting the majority decision made by the Venezuelan people and their right to make such choices.

The AP, Reuters, and AFP continue to report on reactions to the referendum. Most state that the administration of President Chavez feels its mandate has been strengthened by another solid victory at the polls, meanwhile, criticisms by the opposition have not lessened. The Los Angeles Times features these by printing an interview with Teodoro Petkoff, who was briefly a presidential challenger in 2006 and was planning minister under the neoliberal Caldera government.

Finally in economic news, the BBC news reports that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will soon visit Venezuela as part of a regional tour to boost trade ties. The two countries are expected to sign a long-term joint oil production agreement worth several billion dollars.

January 30, 2009

Venezuela Donates Home Heating Oil in Washington, DC

Venezuela’s U.S. oil subsidiary, Citgo, officially launched the fourth season of its home heating oil assistance program at an event in Washington, DC yesterday. This year, the massive charity effort undertaken with Citizen’s Energy will distribute about 45 million gallons of cut-rate oil (valued at $75 million dollars) to 200,000 families across 23 U.S. states.

Citgo President Alejandro Granado dispelled rumors that the program had ended, explaining, “there was a misunderstanding.” He also said the program is intended in part to “build bridges between the people of Venezuela and the United States.”

The St. Petersburg Times wrongly reported yesterday that President Chavez’s “popularity depends on having an adversary in the White House.” His approval ratings remain consistently high at home, but not because of disagreements with former President Bush, but because of social and economic policies that have had an impact at home. The Times also claims that the Venezuelan leader is “at a loss about how to handle the Obama phenomenon.” After a decade in elected office, Chavez is hardly disoriented. Many forget that he visited the White House shortly after being elected the first time and met President Clinton. With Obama, he has avoided jumping to conclusions about what the tone of Venezuela-U.S. relations will be, often saying he has no “illusions” but expressing desire for dialogue.

Sources report today on the ninth annual World Social Forum taking place in Brazil, an alternative summit that drew many important Latin American leaders who opted to skip the simultaneous World Economic Forum in Davos. Bloomberg reports that a top policy adviser to Lula said: “I don’t see any reason for him to be in Davos and many for him to be at the World Social Forum.”

According to the AP, “the loudest cheers were for Chavez.” One activist said: “Chavez is fighting for people like me and his presence validates our movement.” 100,000 are attending the forum.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.