VIO News Blog

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.

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February 13, 2009

Venezuelan Jewish Community Thanks Government for Swift Action

The President of Venezuela’s Israelite Association thanked the government for “returning peace and tranquility to our congregation” yesterday at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (seen at far right). He also praised police “for apprehending the perpetrators” a synagogue was vandalized January 30th. According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, Maduro said Venezuela’s government will continue to offer the Jewish community “cooperation, respect and solidarity.” Despite this and other evidence to the contrary, the New York Times reports that Jews in Venezuela have “a sense of dread” and the government has only “sown confusion.”

Tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas yesterday in support of a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum on whether or not to allow elected officials to run for more than two terms. The AP provides Chavez’s statements in favor of the amendment and quotes heavily from critics who say they amount to intimidation, ignoring the fact that the Venezuelan leader vowed again yesterday that he will remain democratic. “We will abide by whatever results; we will acknowledge the authority of institutions,” Chavez said.

Venezuelan lawmakers who recently visited Washington discuss the referendum and the issues at stake in Foreign Policy Magazine. Calixto Ortega said: “Venezuela is a victim of an ongoing campaign of disinformation, poor information, and sometimes demonizing of our own [electoral] process.” Meanwhile, according to Francisco Torrealba, Sunday’s referendum is “a recognition of the political rights of Venezuelans. We want to perfect our democracy.” An op-ed in Green Left Weekly offers an argument in favor of respecting Venezuela’s democracy. It concludes: “The Venezuelan people have the right to determine their political system and decide for themselves who can or cannot stand for election.”

A Washington Times editorial is emblematic of U.S. media treatment Venezuela ahead of the referendum. Contrary to what the editorial claims, voters are not bribed by so-called “shock troops” that support Chavez, nor does the opposition face intimidation. As always, opposition groups have demonstrated and had ample access to the country’s largely private media. Rather than an accurate evaluation of the realities of Venezuela, the Washington Times offers the following opinion of President Chavez: “We would be delighted to see him leave office some day, preferably soon.”

In the U.S. yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair addressed the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. He issued warnings about Venezuela, claiming the country offers a “safe haven” to Colombian rebels, though this is not — nor has it ever been — a policy of the Chavez government. He also alleged that Venezuela is making the region a “permissive environment for Hezbollah to exploit.” Again, this runs counter the the positions of Venezuelan government officials, who repeatedly reassert that they do not support terrorism.

Finally, in energy news, sources report that Venezuelan-owned Citgo will carry out layoffs of less than two percent of personnel. Lowered demand for oil is also causing OPEC to adjust its forecasts for 2009, according to Bloomberg. The French oil firm Total will maintain its investments in Venezuela rather than moving on to Brazil, however; the company says it will expand investments there because “Venezuela is an important target for acreage.”

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.

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.

October 30, 2008

Venezuela’s Social Revolution Takes to the Skies

Venezuela’s new “Simon Bolivar” satellite was successfully launched from China yesterday. According to CNN, a government news agency stated that the equipment “is not focused on commercial ends, but on providing a service to the communities which have never enjoyed a modern communication system.” The AP reports that Venezuela joins Brazil and Argentina as the third South American nation to launch a satellite. It will begin transmitting TV, radio, and other data in three months, and should last for 15 years.

No decision could be reached by the jury in “suitcasegate,” the Miami trial of Venezuela’s Franklin Duran, who claims he was set up by the FBI to frame the Chavez government. According to the Miami Herald, the hung jury was told by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard to try again.

A ludicrous op-ed in the Washington Times by yet another US military figure wrongly claims that President Chavez “buys politicians.” Also contrary to the op-ed, there are no Hezbollah training camps in Venezuela. If, as the op-ed states, the State Department and Navy are “well aware” of such activity, it is curious that it has never been cited in official reports on terrorism for the region. The Venezuelan government does not have links to Hezbollah, nor is it “expanding narcotics and weapons smuggling in the region.” These claims are simply fear-mongering, not fact, and do not belong in a newspaper.

In regional news, sources report that Colombia has dismissed 24 soldiers and three generals for killing civilians near the Venezuelan border. The BBC, this revelation “could just be the first stage in a wider scandal.” The US plays a large role in funding and training Colombia’s military.

Finally, the AP reports that the foreign policy goals of President Bush have been unmet during his administration. In particular, in Latin America, “Bush’s push for democracy and free trade is widely seen as failing to diminish the yawning gap between rich and poor.”

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