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.

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Thousands of Marches Celebrate May Day in Caracas

On Sunday, a Venezuelan military helicopter crashed near the border with Colombia killing a civilian and eighteen soldiers, including a brigadier general.  President Hugo Chavez announced that the Russian-made MI-17 helicopter crashed in the mountainous El Capote region while patrolling the 1400 mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Referring to the latest State Department report on terrorism, Chavez said, “they say that we don’t patrol the border.  How many lives has Colombia’s conflict cost us Venezuelans?”

On May 1st thousands of Venezuelans marched throughout Venezuela to celebrate International Workers’ Day.  In Caracas, as has been the case for the last 8 years, two marches took place simultaneously along different routes.  The larger of the two marches was made up of pro-government unions while the smaller march was convened by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation, a union linked to the opposition party Accion Democratica whose past leadership supported the 2002 coup against Chavez.  A crowd of opposition marchers was confronted with tear gas by Caracas police and National Guard forces after trying to pass through a police barricade.

Also on May 1st, President Chavez strongly rejected the latest State Department report on terrorism that criticizes his government for alleged “sympathy” with the FARC rebel group in Colombia.  He also expressed skepticism regarding President Obama’s agenda of “change” for relations with Latin America, signaling that “if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce.”  On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of foreign service officers that the Bush Administration’s attempts to isolate Venezuela and Bolivia “didn’t work” and that the new administration would engage in a more constructive approach.

An Op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, written by Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, recognizes that Venezuela has “competitive elections and independent political parties, media outlets, labor unions and civil society organizations.”   However, Vivanco also alleges that the Chavez government has implemented “authoritarian policies” that “undermined democratic institutions” which should be met with declarations of “concern” by the Obama Administration.  It should be noted that Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Venezuela received extensive criticism from a group of US academics that questioned the report’s methodology.

Finally, a Washington Post editorial entitled “Beleaguered Mexico” falsely asserts that President Chavez backed a left-wing candidate during Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.  The Post’ editors, in keeping with their policy of extreme bias towards the Venezuelan government, reproduce a baseless claim that was first propagated by right-wing sectors of the Mexican media during the 2006 campaign.

March 23, 2009

Chavez and Delahunt Meet in Caracas

United States Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA) met with President Chavez in Caracas, and told reporters that he had a “very positive and constructive conversation.” The AP states that Mr. Delahunt left the meeting expressing hopefulness about the prospect of improved relations between the United States and Venezuela.

On Thursday, Venezuelan public prosecutor Katiuska Plaza called for the arrest of Manuel Rosales, mayor of the city of Maracaibo, on charges of corruption during his previous years as governor of the state of Zulia. The Miami Herald quotes an opposition-aligned commentator who suggests that the decision is a political one by President Chavez aimed at inciting fear within the opposition. . The Herald also quotes Human Rights Watch to substantiate the claim that Chávez has “effectively neutralized the judiciary as an independent branch of government.”  The article states that the Venezuelan government accuses HRW of anti-Chavez bias.  It fails to inform readers that critics of HRW’s work on Venezuela also include an independent group of 100 academics that recently signed a letter arguing that HRW’s 2008 report on the Chavez government’s human rights record was methodologically flawed and highly biased.

The government of Venezuela is to announce measures to combat the effects of the global economic crisis Saturday. Reuters reports that the Bolivar is losing value due to economic fears, and Bloomberg reports that Goldman Sachs believes that President Chavez may announce a currency devaluation tomorrow.  President Chavez said that public officials needed to stop living “lavish lifestyles”but insisted that the government’s many popular social programs would be maintained.

Japan and Venezuela signed an oil cooperation agreement yesterday. Bloomberg reports that the deal clears the way for Japanese companies to co-develop oil reserves in the Orinoco Delta, with Venezuela’s state oil company.

President Chavez said Thursday that Venezuela will go ahead with the nationalization of Santander bank, and that negotiations regarding payments are continuing. Reuters quotes Chavez as stating “We are not retreating. Today we have returned to the subject, I announce the nationalization of Banco de Venezuela to strengthen the national public banking system.”

A letter to the editor “Misguided guilt by association” by Jacob Feinspan of Jews United for Justice in the Washington Times sends a strong rebuttal to a previous letter from Brad Botwin on Monday titled “The new face of anti-semitism.” Botwin argued that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was promoting anti-semitism and that Casa de Maryland, a community organization in the DC area, was expressing approval for antisemitism by accepting funding from Citgo, a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company. Feinspan stated that the “Jewish community also knows all too well the dangers of false and baseless accusations or conspiracy theories.”

Finally, Korea and Venezuela will face off against one another in the World Baseball Classic tomorrow.

March 12, 2009

Venezuela Makes Room for more Housing

After news last week that a Coca-Cola bottler in Caracas would be required to relocate to make room for housing for the poor, El Universal reports that President Chavez explains: “We are always looking for a friendly arrangement. But we are required to always look everywhere for available space” for housing. Government officials and representatives of Coca-Cola in Venezuela will reportedly meet today. In comments that were not reported in the U.S., Chavez said yesterday that all companies must simply respect the law, and that his policies are concerned with guaranteeing social justice and protecting the national interest.

The state oil company PDVSA will seek to cut costs by 40%, UPI reports. To do this, it plans to revise contracts with service companies that charge high prices. With regard to state spending, Chavez said that Venezuela is not unlikely to face “serious hardships” due to the world economic crisis, but that “the revolution will not fall to pieces.” Meanwhile, AFP reports that oil futures rose slightly today.

In regional news, a Guardian column argues that the credibility of the US state department’s annual human rights report is crumbling. Serious questions about the report’s accuracy, as well as the moral authority of the U.S. to rate other nations, have come from many countries including Venezuela and China. Likewise, human rights groups with strong ties to Washington, such as Human Rights Watch, have come under increased scrutiny. Scholars contested a Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela last year, saying it lacked “minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy or credibility.”

Venezuela beat the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic last night, moving on to the second round of the tournament. Next, they play the Netherlands on Saturday.

December 22, 2008

Experts Defend Venezuela’s Human Rights Record

The British magazine New Internationalist reports on a letter signed by 100 academics criticizing the most recent Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela. These experts accuse the U.S.-based NGO of “naked political bias” and “failing to do its homework.” To read the full letter on the NACLA website, click here.

Reuters reports that Venezuela may see a referendum on presidential term limits as soon as February 15th. It wrongly states, though, that voters will be asked to weigh in on term limits “for the second time in 14 months.” Last year’s referendum was on 69 diverse constitutional reforms that — in addition to ending term limits — would have lowered the voting age, changed campaign financing laws, promoted the “social economy,” prohibited monopolies, shortened the work week, extended social security, created new forms of property, and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was no indication that opposition to ending term limits caused the reforms to fail.

El Nuevo Herald reports that so-called “backers” of President Chavez have been responsible for violence in recent weeks, misleading readers by failing to point out that these groups have been strongly condemned by government officials. President Chavez and others in his administration have denounced groups like “La Piedrita” and “Tupamarus” and their unlawful tactics.

In other news, sources reported over the weekend that President Chavez ordered a company to cease construction on a shopping mall in the low-income Caracas neighborhood of La Candelaria. The mall, according to the AP, was singled out for hogging space and resources in an area that badly needs social services such as hospitals and schools. Chavez has often criticized the culture of unbridled consumerism. AP reports that it is not yet known how much the government will pay the owners of the shopping mall in compensation.

A Miami Herald column by Andres Oppenheimer states that the U.S. will remain dominant and even “regain some of the ground it lost in the hemisphere” under the Obama administration. By downplaying the historic example of unity among Latin American leaders at the largest ever regional summit last week, it misses the point of increased cooperation and respect for sovereignty.

Finally, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column anticipates the effect of global recession on supposed U.S. foes. Venezuela is wrongly placed in this category. The piece states eerily: “If Mr. Chavez has to cut subsidies — as he must — he could be toppled in a matter of months.” The author blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela has been a democratic country for over fifty years, longer than most countries in the hemisphere, and that President Chavez is an elected leader who is accountable to voters. To suggest that his government should be “toppled” is an insult to Venezuelan citizens, who in 2002 averted a coup backed by U.S. government agencies.

October 17, 2008

Chavez to US: We Need Dialogue, We Need Each Other

“The U.S. is a great country,” President Chavez said yesterday in a speech in which he emphasized the need for dialogue between nations. Dow Jones reports that Chavez dismissed the idea of U.S. energy independence as a myth and an impossibility. “They want to free themselves of what? What we need to do is talk, we need to reach agreements. We need each other,” Chavez said.

In related news, the AP reports that U.S. presidential hopefuls have vastly overestimated the amount of money the U.S. spends on foreign oil; just $246 billion in 2007, instead of the often cited figure of $700 billion. Meanwhile, Reuters refers to Venezuela’s Chavez as a “price hawk” in OPEC, when in fact he has consistently advocated for fair and stable prices. Chavez has at times deemed the price of oil too low, and at other times said that it has become exaggerated, particularly at the expense of poor nations and communities. Venezuela sends 300,000 barrels per day of subsidized oil to needy countries in the region through programs like Petrocaribe.

The government of Venezuela is negotiating the purchase of tanks from Russia. According to AFP, the equipment is intended “to replace aging ordnance and to improve the country’s security and defense capabilities.” Venezuela’s aging U.S.-made military goods have become difficult to maintain in the years since the U.S. imposed an arms embargo preventing further purchases.

Six suspects have been detained in the October 1st murder of a student in Venezuela’s Western state of Zulia. The investigation is pending and motives remain unknown, but the AP reports that those arrested include three army intelligence agents and a police officer. Zulia, which borders Colombia, is a notoriously violent part of Venezuela. Colombia’s paramilitary violence is the subject of two articles today; the AP and Washington Post report that Human Rights Watch research shows President Uribe has blocked investigations of ties between his government and paramilitary thugs.

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.

October 1, 2008

Latin American Leaders Unite to Condemn US “Casino” Economy

South American leaders met in Brazil yesterday. President Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva held their own regular quarterly meeting, at which seven bilateral agreements were signed in the areas of iron and steel production, oil refining, agriculture, and housing. The leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador were also present, and all were critical of the US financial crisis, according to Bloomberg. Lula da Silva said: “Those that spent the last three decades telling us what to do, didn’t do what they had to do. The crisis is very serious and so profound that we don’t know how big it is.” The AP reports that President Chavez likened it to “a hundred hurricanes” and said that “the Washington consensus has collapsed.”

Other Latin American leaders have also spoken out, according to the AP; President Arias of trade-dependent Costa Rica said, “The managers of big business took huge risks out of greed.” Even the right-wing Bush ally Alvaro Uribe of Colombia complained, “The whole world has financed the United States, and I believe that they have a reciprocal debt with the planet.” A Washington Post headline reads that the US financial  crisis “deepens divisions” in South America, but the situation appears quite the opposite.

US Congressmen sent a letter to President Chavez yesterday rebuking him for having expelled two Human Rights Watch employees after their very negative evaluation on his administration, according to the AP. The report, which accused the government of curtailing political rights and free expression, was rejected by Venezuelan officials. Human Rights Watch consulted opposition leaders for their report, which painted a limited picture of human rights in Venezuela. It also came after a series of US attacks, including US Treasury Department sanctions, State Department blacklistings against Venezuela on drugs and terrorism. Venezuelan officials viewed the report as more “meddling” in internal affairs.

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.

September 19, 2008

HRW Attacks Venezuela, McCain Follows Suit

Venezuela’s net oil earnings for the first half of 2008 have risen 961 percent over last year, the AP reports. During that same interval, spending on social programs by the state oil company PDVSA declined to 1.8 billion from last year’s 4.1 billion. President Chavez has been criticized in the US press for “lavishing” funds on the programs, but the practice has caused an unprecedented 35% drop in poverty in Venezuela. This year, PDVSA has been investing more of its funds in oil exploration and production.

According to the AP, a new report by Human Rights Watch released yesterday is being regarded by the Venezuelan government as “attacking the institutions” and “illegally interfering in the internal affairs of our country.” Two Human Rights Watch staff in Venezuela on tourist visas — including Americas Director Jose Vivanco, pictured here — were told to leave.The report wrongly claims that human rights guarantees set out in the constitution are not enforced in Venezuela, and that civil liberties have deteriorated during the Chavez administration. The AP, Miami Herald, and the Guardian quote the Venezuela Information Office as saying that the report is biased and limited in its scope, ignoring progress made under Chavez on guaranteeing all Venezuelans health, education, food, shelter and other needs. “Their reports on Venezuela have typically been politicised. They don’t highlight real advances,” Director Olivia Goumbri told the Guardian. To read the VIO fact sheet, click here.

In a tone similar to that seen in the Human Rights Watch Report, Republican presidential candidate John McCain condemned Venezuela yesterday, making the empty claim that “as we all know, Chavez is moving into an autocracy. He is depriving people of their democratic rights.” He also claimed to “know” that Spain is in Latin America, according to another AP report. During the Chavez administration in Venezuela, elections have occurred more regularly and with more fairness than under Bush in the US. Local and regional politics in Venezuela have incorporated more citizen voices and popular input through new mechanisms such as communal councils.

Finally, ties between Venezuela and Russia remain in the news. The AP reports that US pressures have aimed to disrupt those ties, but that new cooperation is planned in oil, military equipment, and information technology. Bolivia has also just signed oil deals with Russia. The Washington Post reports that, despite this, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicted yesterday that Russia is heading for “self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”

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