VIO News Blog

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 9, 2009

Venezuela Holds Seminars to Celebrate International Women’s Day

“I am not going to let anyone disrespect Venezuela’s sovereignty for anything in the world,” President Chavez said yesterday in response to comments by Colombia’s defense minister suggesting he would pursue so-called “terrorist” groups like the FARC beyond Colombia’s borders. The BBC reports that President Uribe “distanced himself from the defense minister’s remarks – calling them out of place and imprudent.” Meanwhile, according to AFP, Chavez spoke with Uribe “to confirm that we do not want conflicts with Colombia.”

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. IPS reported on the situation of women in Venezuela, where seminars were held to commemorate the day and raise awareness about services available to those facing domestic violence. These include the shelter known as Negra Hipolita and a 24-hour helpline set up by the National Institute for Women. IPS reports that more work is needed to enforce the 2007 Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free from Violence.

In economic news, Bloomberg reports that President Chavez may meet with the billionaire president of Empresas Polar, the beer and foodstuffs company that could face expropriation for violating price controls.

Oil prices will eventually rise again, according to Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez, who said the market should rebound after this year. OPEC meets this month to debate further production cuts to stabilize prices, according to Bloomberg.

March 2, 2009

State Department’s Report on Venezuela “Plagued with Lies”

On Thursday, the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments firmly condemned the U.S. State Department’s report on Human Rights practices in their respective countries shortly after its release yesterday. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was quoted by AP as stating that the report’s allegations are “plagued with lies,” while Bolivia’s Vice Minister Sacha Llorenti said that the report is “a gross simplification of the national reality that is politically motivated.” He also suggested that the U.S. lacked moral authority to raise human rights concerns.

The AP reports that before dawn on Thursday, a small explosive was thrown at a Jewish community center in Caracas. Nobody was injured in the attack, but the explosion damaged the doors to the center and a nearby vehicle. The event sparked fears of rising anti-Semitism in Venezuela as it was the second attack on a Jewish center this year. Reuters reports that authorities have already begun an investigation into the incident. AP quotes an international source – Sergio Widder of Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating that “This is outrageous, it’s turning into an escalation.” It should be noted that the Venezuelan government forcefully denounced the vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue earlier this year, and a police investigation revealed that the perpetrators’ principal motivation was robbery and not anti-Semitism.

Reuters reports that Argentina has summoned the U.S. Ambassador in Argentina, and has demanded an explanation regarding CIA Director Leon Panetta’s comment on Wednesday that Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela could be pushed into instability by the global economic crisis. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana called the comments “unfounded and irresponsible, especially from an agency that has a sad history of meddling in the affairs of countries in the region.”

Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s economy grew at its’ slowest pace since 2003 in the fourth quarter of 2008, expanding 3.2 percent amidst a plunge in the country’s oil revenues. The AP reports that Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said Thursday that Venezuela’s economic outlook for 2009 is stable despite the continued lull in oil prices.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel urges Venezuelan expatriates living in Florida to ponder the reasons why President Chavez remains so popular – with special attention given to his government’s social programs dedicated to ending poverty. The author reminds readers of the disastrous political past, which in 1993 led to riots, high inflation, two failed military coups, and the impeachment of then President Carlos Andres Perez. While the author is not a Chavez supporter, he states that “much of this dissatisfaction with Venezuela’s old political elite fueled Chávez’s rise to power.”

December 10, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt Lauds Chavez’s “Peaceful Revolution”

In Caracas yesterday, Colombia’s Ingrid Betancourt called President Chavez “a great democrat… who has conducted a peaceful revolution in Venezuela.” According to El Universal, she said she always trusted Chavez and flatly rejected allegations by U.S. and Colombian leaders that he ever had “clandestine or sinful liaisons with the FARC.”

Today is the 60th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The AP reports that three former presidents of the Czech Republic, Poland, and South Africa wrote an open letter claiming that “dissent and different thinking” are not tolerated in Venezuela. This is proven wrong by a quick glance at the main headlines in the Caracas newspaper El Universal today, which read: “Chavez demanded to stop his attempt at reelection”; “Provea accuses the government of not guaranteeing the right to life”; “Students distribute flyers against constitutional amendment.”

AFP reports that Venezuela’s National Assembly is beginning to debate a constitutional amendment on presidential term limits. It needs two-thirds approval by lawmakers before being put to a popular vote. According to AFP, anti-Chavez lawmakers contend that a vote on term limits has already been held. However, last year’s referendum differed in that it asked citizens to vote on a package of 69 different reforms, many of which were widely debated, such as the issue of banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Washington Post reports on responses to recession in Latin America. It cites a source that says Venezuela needs oil prices of $95 per barrel to remain stable economically, which is false. Prices have already fluctuated wildly over the last decade, and were as low as $23 when high rates of social spending began in 2003. Venezuela’s 2009 budget is based on estimated oil prices of $60 per barrel. The Post claims Venezuela will “undermine” poor countries by advocating for production cuts in OPEC to increase the value of oil. However, Venezuela’s push to stabilize oil prices in OPEC is accompanied by a very thorough and effective program to reduce the burden of high energy costs in Central America and the Caribbean. The program is called Petrocaribe.

Also in regional news, a new report on poverty in Latin America was released this week by ECLAC. It places Venezuela in the category of “medium-low poverty rates” (less than 32%). IPS reports that Venezuela is also noted for having perhaps the smallest income gap between the rich and the poor, showing progress on reducing inequality in a region known for being the most unequal in the world.

December 9, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt Thanks Chavez for His Generosity and Love

“We owe the first step to President Chavez,” Ingrid Betancourt said yesterday, speaking about the release of hostages by Colombia’s FARC rebels. In a press conference that was not covered in much of the English-language media, she said she wanted to “thank [President Chavez] personally for his commitment, his generosity, his love, his care, and all that he invested in working to achieve our liberation.”

The AP reports that the former FARC captive met with President Chavez yesterday (see image at right) as the final stop on a tour of the region to thank leaders for their support and urge more action. Chavez’s humanitarian mediation in Colombia this year freed six people — including three U.S. citizens — before it was curtailed by Colombian leaders.

A Houston Chronicle report on the armed forces in Venezuela makes a number of tenuous assertions. It claims the country’s new Military Reserves and Territorial Guard are almost exclusively at the service of President Chavez, and are “designed to protect the Venezuelan leader from internal strife.” Meanwhile, it later points out that the forces answer to a national commander, not the President. The armed forces in Venezuela do not repress demonstrations, and are required under the constitution to uphold human rights. Chavez’s own opposition to the military repression he witnessed as a young serviceman during the 1989 “Caracazo” massacre helped to inspire his political project emphasizing humanism.

Finally, another ruling came in the case of Venezuelan men accused of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The AP reports that “Suitcasegate” continued yesterday with a 15-month jail sentence for the second man to be convicted by U.S. prosecutors. Many experts consider the trial a political move by the U.S. against the Venezuelan government, but this fact is often ignored by the media.

September 23, 2008

Venezuela’s Chavez Goes to China, Not New York

President Chavez arrived in China today to discuss trade agreements, including the construction of two joint oil refineries, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Chinese spokesman said, “China-Venezuela relations are normal state-to-state relations, (they) are not based on ideology, are not targeted against any third party and will not affect other countries’ relations with Venezuela.” Reuters notes the Venezuelan leader is not attending the UN Summit in New York. “The only thing we demand is that our nation be respected… We’re no longer the backyard of the United States,” Chavez said. He will also visit Russia, France, and Portugal this week.

A Miami Herald editorial bashes the decision by Venezuelan officials to expel the staff of Human Rights Watch after its unfavorable evaluation of the Chavez administration. The Herald deems this “intolerance” and wrongly states that Chavez has an “anti-democratic agenda.” The act, however, was according to a law on defamation that pre-dates the Chavez government. The Foreign Ministry explained that it considered the report, which was conducted and released in secret, an example of “meddling in internal affairs” by the US group. Recently, Venezuela expelled its US Ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia after an alliance there between the US ambassador and violent anti-government groups was exposed. In an NBC interview, the former Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez discusses his own expulsion from the US.

President Bush will meet opposition leaders from countries including Venezuela at this week’s UN Summit to “discuss the freedom agenda,” according to AFP. The so-called “dissidents” include Marcel Granier, the wealthy media mogul and president of RCTV, a station that lost its right to broadcast on the public airwaves and moved to cable after inciting violence during the 2002 coup against Chavez.

Finally, sources report today on the foreign policy agendas of the US presidential hopefuls. AFP points out that Obama is willing to speak with the leaders of Spain, Venezuela, and other countries, while McCain is not. The BBC reports that Obama is well received among Afro-descendant Latin Americans, who see him as representing minorities in much the same way that President Chavez does in Venezuela.

July 17, 2008

Venezuela and the U.S. Discuss Anti-Drug Cooperation

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 6:18 pm
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Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said today that the government is in dialogue with the U.S. about resuming anti-drug cooperation. El Universal reports that he indicated that the U.S. would first need to establish “a policy of respect” in bilateral relations. U.S. anti-drug officials in Venezuela were in the past accused of spying. State Department rep Thomas Shannon called the talks “a diplomatic opening,” the AP reports. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that President Chavez weighed in on the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, saying: “The two candidates for the U.S. presidency attack us equally, they attack us defending the interests of the empire.”

In other international news, President Chavez and Lula da Silva of Brazil will be in Bolivia on Friday to sign development accords. El Universal reports that this show of solidarity on economic issues comes ahead of recall referendum for Bolivia’s President Morales. Chavez, meanwhile, will continue on to visit other nations in Latin America and Europe. According to the AP, the Venezuelan leader will be received by heads of state in Nicaragua, Spain, Russia, Belarus and Portugal.

Citgo’s new community assistance program began in Houston, Texas today, the AP reports. The program is donating half a million energy efficient light bulbs to low-income families in 11 cities. Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which contributed to a similar switch to low-impact lightbulbs in that South American nation. The program is expected to bring savings and reduced energy use to 23,000 U.S. homes. This is in addition to the quarter of a million homes that received reduced-cost heating oil from Venezuelan-owned Citgo last winter.

Finally, the human rights group Amnesty International has questioned the enforcement of a law passed in Venezuela last year to prevent violence against women. The AP and BBC report that the group is pressing the government to make good on its promise to open hundreds of new shelters for battered women. President Chavez has said that Venezuela has “a very machista society and we need to be equal.”

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