VIO News Blog

March 5, 2009

Venezuela Questions US Efforts to Prevent Drug Use

Five days after a U.S. report criticized Venezuela’s counternarcotics efforts, the AFP reports that Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega requested a visiting team from the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office to allow her “the possibility of carrying out a review in the United States to see if it is fully complying with efforts to prevent drug use.” Contrary to the findings of the U.S. report, Venezuela has made significant strides in the fight against drugs; Venezuela now has the fourth largest number of cocaine seizures in the world. In 2008, Venezuelan authorities destroyed over 220 illicit landing strips used by suspected drug runners.

Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government will be expropriating a rice processing plant owned by U.S. based Cargill but stated that Chavez did not say whether Cargill would receive compensation. However, in reality, President Chavez stated that any expropriation would be fairly assessed and paid. The Venezuelan government made it abundantly clear that other Cargill plants would be unaffected. Meanwhile, Empresas Polar, the largest domestic food producer in the country, has called for talks with the government regarding allegations that the company was skirting price controls and purposefully falling short of production capacity.

Finally, McClatchy reports that Cuba’s influence in Venezuela is growing, with Cuban experts now helping the Venezuelan government to improve public education. Friendly relations between Venezuela and Cuba are nothing new. The two countries already cooperate in energy, healthcare, agriculture, as well as facilitating the adult literacy program by which Venezuela achieved the UN Millennium Development Goal of full literacy in 2004.

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February 23, 2009

Venezuelan Social Programs will Continue Despite Lower Petroleum Prices

On Friday, President Chavez stated that while a continued lull in oil prices would be difficult on Venezuela, social spending on issues like housing, healthcare, education and subsidized food will not be curtailed.

The Wall Street Journal quotes an anonymous US state department official as saying that “The state of health of democracy in Venezuela is not very good,” and asserting that US policy towards Venezuela has not changed, despite the acknowledgment of a senior state department official that last week’s referendum in Venezuela was  “fully consistent with democratic practice” and that the US seeks a positive relationship with Venezuela.

A slew of negative press graced the headlines this weekend on Venezuela’s recent electoral process.  The Washington Times makes the extraordinary claim that the election was “very possibly secured by fraud” and that “about 50 percent of the Venezuelan electorate has been duped into democratically authorizing dictatorship.” The author of this piece is perhaps unaware that both independent electoral monitors and the main opposition parties recognized the results of the election.  A Newsweek editorial also questioned the democratic nature of the referendum and contended that “Chávez used every conceivable instrument of the state, every imaginable subterfuge, every trick in the book, to stack the deck in his favor and against his opponents.” There is no mention in the editorial of the fact that the large majority of the private media is hostile to President Chavez and his political movement.   An egregious commentary published by McClatchy argues that Venezuela is faced with one of two negative scenarios in its future as a result of the referendum on term limits being approved last Sunday. The commentary describes Venezuela as an “authoritarian populist” country, but ignores the fact that Venezuela has held about a dozen referendums in the past decade, and that elections have consistently been characterized as ‘free and fair’ by international and national independent observers. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Charge d’ affairs in Washington, Angelo Rivero Santos, responded to a February 19th Houston Chronicle editorial ominously entitled “Confronting Chavez.” He reminded the editors that the referendum concerned the removal of term limits for all elected officials, and that international observers declared the elections as ‘free and fair.’   Rivero also reminded them that on Feb. 14, President Hugo Chavez once again called for improved relations between the United States and Venezuela.

A letter to the editor in the Washington Post regarding a February 12th editorial “Mr. Chávez vs. the Jews” argues that the Post should not have painted Mr. Chavez with a broad brush, and asserted that the editorial “baselessly accused him of anti-Semitism.”

Finally, a Washington Post book review on Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan’s book Hugo Chávez And the War Against America, notes that the authors undermine their argument that Chavez is a greater threat to the US than Osama Bin Laden “with hyperbole and unsupported allegations.” The review criticizes the book’s authors for alleging  that Venezuela supports al-Qaida, and that Hezbollah has “at least five training camps in Venezuela”without offering evidence or footnotes to back this startling claim.

February 19, 2009

Venezuela and China Create Strategic Alliance

The joint development fund between Venezuela and China grew by $6 billion in deals signed this week to reach a total of $12 billion, according to the AP. The BBC reports that the funds could be used in Venezuela to support education, health, infrastructure, farming, and mining. Citing common interests and a “strategic alliance,” President Chavez said Venezuela would supply China with a million more barrels of oil per day (a fourfold increase) by 2015.

Also in oil news, Venezuela will boost its oil output by 12 percent over seven years through joint ventures with foreign firms in the Orinoco oil belt. Bloomberg reports that a leaked government document cited development costs of $18.4 billion for the projects. Meanwhile, rumored oil production cuts by OPEC are now said to be aimed at raising crude prices to $70 per barrel, according to the AP. Venezuela’s oil minister said the market is oversupplied and prices should be stabilized.

Two opinion pices today weigh in on Venezuela’s recent national referendum, in which voters chose to end term limits for elected officials. A Washington Times op-ed — one of nearly half a dozen recent ones in that paper criticizing Venezuela’s referendum — accuses the president of “buying votes.” The elections were free and fair, though, and social programs that have redirected oil revenues to the poor have helped halve the poverty rate over nearly a decade. The op-ed also overlooks the fact that Venezuela has been democratic for over half a century, citing just “two decades” of democratic gains. It also ignores the fact that experts recognize a dramatic increase in popular participation in politics under President Chavez. An editorial in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times of Texas makes similar doom-and-gloom economic predictions with little basis in fact in order to claim that Venezuela is “in sorry shape.”

The only bad news on the economy in Venezuela today concerns fraud by private foreign firms. After $8 billion in fraud by Stanford International Bank was revealed and investors rapidly withdrew yesterday, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez tried to ease concerns, saying: “The public needs to maintain confidence in Venezuelan banks. This is an immediate takeover. The problem facing Stanford is separate from the Venezuelan financial system.” Venezuela followed Panama and Colombia in taking over Stanford operations.

Reuters reports that Stanford Bank, owned by a Texas billionaire, was long “a favored investment vehicle for Latin America’s wealthy and upper class.” The New York Times describes how the bank “lured clients in provincial cities,” amassing about $2.5 billion from among 10,000 clients in Venezuela — about a third of Stanford’s business, but only 0.2 percent of total banking deposits throughout Venezuela.

February 11, 2009

Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez Improving the Lives of Millions

Efforts by the Venezuelan government to reduce poverty and improve the lives of average citizens are are the source of President Chavez’s continued popularity, Reuters reported yesterday. Among other initiatives such as an innovative cable car, Chavez is known for “investing in health clinics and projects to move families from precarious shacks.” One supporter explains: “He’s the only president who has really worked for the poor,” a fact that Reuters says is “making Venezuela’s millions of poor feel cared for.”

Reuters also reports that, ahead of Sunday’s referendum, President Chavez “has toned down his usually aggressive rhetoric toward the opposition to focus on getting his supporters out to vote.” A very different story is presented by Bloomberg and the New York Times, the latter of which calls the campaigning “ugly.” It suggests that pro-government groups go unpunished for crimes just before mentioning the arrest of the leader of one such notorious organization. The Chavez government has consistently asked for a peaceful debate on all sides.

In other campaign-related news, President Chavez responded to Venezuela’s overwhelmingly opposition-aligned media yesterday by calling its accusations of antisemitism false and damaging. The AP reports that Chavez called the accusations a “criminal attempt to try to unleash a religious war in Venezuela.” Four days remain until the national referendum.

Finally, the Boston Globe lumps Venezuela together with Iran as a supposed “anti-US regime” in an article but offers no explanation or context. Its claim is that so-called “anti-US” leaders are afraid President Obama will steal their electoral base, as though the US leader were a ballot option abroad. For his part, President Chavez has frequently said publicly that he welcomes better relations with the US under Obama.

January 28, 2009

Venezuelan FM: Relationship with the Middle East is Transparent

Venezuela has a “transparent relationship” with the Middle East, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said yesterday. The AFP reports that he explained: “We have no official relations with (Hamas and Hezbollah) and if we did we would say so. …Our government totally and absolutely guarantees religious equality and nondiscrimination on religious issues.” The comments were a response to allegations in an Israeli newspaper the same day Israel expelled Venezuelan diplomats.

Maduro also said yesterday that Venezuela respects President Obama’s plan for energy independence, but that “at the same time we have been asking them to respect Venezuelan and Latin American decisions concerning the path we have taken.” According to the Financial Times, Obama plans to cut U.S. oil use by 4m barrels a day within 10 years. U.S. oil consumption has grown over the decade to reach 20.7 million barrels per day, an amount greater that of than any other nation.

The AP and Reuters report on comments by Venezuela’s foreign minister with headlines declaring that Venezuela-U.S. relations will remain on hold under Obama. The actual statements suggest a far more measured position, though; Maduro said that Venezuela will seek to restore diplomatic ties with the U.S. “in the best and most correct manner,” and that this “will probably take some time.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (seen at right) accused Iran of “subversive activity” in Latin America yesterday at a senate hearing in Washington. He claimed Iranians are opening “a lot of offices” in “a number of places.” Venezuela was mentioned as the site of a visit by the Russian navy on its tour of the region last year. Gates joked that the Russians would have had more fun had they visited Miami.

An ALBA summit will be held in Venezuela next week, according to CNN. Set to attend are the leaders of Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia, as well as representatives from Ecuador and other observer nations. They will discuss common initiatives, including a shared currency. CNN mentions the upcoming referendum in Venezuela on term limits, claiming Venezuelans rejected similar legislation last year. However, that referendum concerned 69 proposals including communal property rights, recognition for Afro-Venezuelans, ending foreign funding for political campaigns, and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

USA Today provides a very misleading account of the issue of term limits in Venezuela and other Latin American nations. It wrongly classifies democratic leaders in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as a new class of “strongmen.” The leaders are described as authoritarian despite the fact that they are “generally civilians instead of soldiers, and they take office via elections instead of coups… [and] are staying in office because they are so popular.” Bolivia is singled out for its new constitution, approved in a national referendum last Sunday. The charter  recognizes the rights of Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians and guarantees healthcare, education, water, and a safe environment to all citizens.

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