VIO News Blog

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.”

April 3, 2009

Chavez Calls for Elimination of International Monetary Fund

Late Thursday, President Chavez criticized the G-20’s approach to dealing with the global financial meltdown, stating that “it’s impossible that capitalism can regulate the monster that is the world financial system.” He called for the elimination of the International Monetary Fund and attacked the US and Britain for having promoted the financial model that led to the crisis.

Venezuelan authorities arrested Raul Baduel, a former Venezuelan defense minister on corruption charges, Reuters reports. Baduel has said that he is being persecuted politically, as he was once a close ally of Chavez and then became a vocal opponent in 2007. Prosecutors have accused Baduel of illicit enrichment, stating that during his time as minister $14.4 million went missing from the budget of the Armed Forces.

Iran and Venezuela agreed on Thursday to further strengthen ties, according to AFP. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that “a ten-year plan for the two countries’ ties as well as a plan to combat the global crisis will be drawn up” during President Chavez’s visit. The launch of a joint Iranian-Venezuelan development fund is scheduled to take place today.

A Dow Jones article asserts that a dip in Venezuela’s dollar reserves from $29.7 billion in February to $28.6 billion in March, represents a “weaker protection as it faces financial pressures triggered by the collapse in the price of oil” It should be noted that, aside from its significant Central Bank reserves, Venezuela still has billions of dollars of reserves in separate state funds which it can draw from if the price of oil remains low.

Finally, during a trip to China and Japan this week, Chavez said he will seek investment agreements to finance oil projects, Bloomberg reports.

March 25, 2009

Venezuelan City has new Sister in Wisconsin

Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and Edgar Carracaso, mayor of Carora, signed a sister city agreement on Tuesday. It marks the first such agreement between a Venezuelan and a U.S. city in the past 10 years. Mayor Carrasco stated that “Our governments may have differences, but that doesn’t offset our countries’ abilities to know each other.” Carrasco added that Carora will be developing the Casa El Alba to promote cultural and economic ties between the two cities and offer US visitors information about the city of Carora and Venezuela.

Venezuela’s biggest mosque, located in downtown Caracas, was robbed and ransacked according to the Associated Press. No suspects have yet been identified. An administrator said it was the second time the mosque had been broken into since September of last year.  In February of this year, an important Caracas synagogue was also broken into and vandalized.  Though various news outlets presented the incident as an “anti-Semitic” attack, a police investigation indicated that the primary motive was theft.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has decided to move the corruption trial of Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales from the state of Zulia to Caracas, as judges in Rosales’s home state were allegedly caught meeting with the opposition mayor. Four judges in Zulia have also been suspended from their duties by the Supreme Court for participating in the alleged meeting. Rosales asserted that the decision was made by the Chavez government in order to find an “obedient judge.” Zulia lawmaker Calixto Ortega, however, stated that at least one of the four sanctioned judges was in a position to exercise direct influence on the Rosales case.

In economic news, the AP reports that progress is being made in establishing the Bank of the South, a regional financial institution designed to provide an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, both of which have strong ties to the US Treasury Department. The Bank of the South is expected to launch its operations in May with $10 billion in initial capital. Its members are currently Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Finally, McClatchy reports that CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall has claimed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system is not secure and was tampered with by President Chavez during a 2004 referendum on his presidency. Without providing any evidence to back his assertions, Stigall stated that “it was my understanding that” the computer program used for the audit of the voting machines “was provided by Chavez.” Stigall’s claims, made before a hearing in Orlando, Florida, run contrary to the assessment made by independent electoral monitoring missions from the Carter Center and the OAS, that concluded that the 2004 elections had been fair and transparent.

December 1, 2008

Venezuela Hosts ALBA Summit for Latin American Regional Cooperation

President Chavez proposed a common currency for nations at last week’s summit of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). According to Bloomberg, he urged regional, cooperative solutions to financial troubles and less dependence on the IMF and World Bank. At the meeting were the leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, and Dominica (see image at right). Mainstream media coverage of the event was very limited.

Venezuela begins joint naval exercises with Russia today, the AP reports. Presidents Chavez and Medvedev signed several accords on oil and nuclear energy. A New York Times article suggests that such plans may go nowhere, contrary to evidence of greater cooperation. Reuters reports that the Venezuelan leader told his Russian counterpart, “Our mission is a mission of peace, you are leading us to the balanced multi-polar world.”

News comes today that President Chavez, whose approval ratings are at 55 percent by modest estimates, urged supporters to organize if they wish him to have a chance at reelection in 2012. The current constitution allows two term limits, but legislation has been proposed to allow presidents to run for office beyond that point. The media portrays this as a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life,” ignoring the fact that Venezuela would remain a democratic country guided by electoral competition. Reelection was one of 69 items included in a set of constitutional reforms that lost narrowly in a referendum last year. Chavez said that he would no longer put forth such legislation, but that voters have the right to bring about a new referendum on the issue if they gather signatures. Voters pushed a referendum on Chavez’s presidency in 2004, which he won with 59% support.

A New York Times editorial offers advice on Latin America for the Obama administration. Though the paper generally claims the U.S. has successfully “ignored” Venezuela, this time it recognizes — and laments — the Bush administration’s support for the failed coup against Chavez in 2002. The Times also insists that Venezuela’s Chavez is “corrupt and autocratic,” despite recent democratic elections deemed exemplary by the OAS, and predicts declining influence for Venezuela in the region, hinting that it will lose economic clout. Many credible experts, on the other hand, have said that Venezuela will remain a robust economy despite lowered oil prices.

Colombia recalled its consul in Venezuela’s second-largest city of Maracaibo on Sunday after he was chastised for making statements against the government. In comments aired on TV, the consul said the election of opposition governors in Zulia and Tachira was “very good news” and called one of the governors a “a very, very special friend,” according to Bloomberg.

Finally, Colombia’s Ingrid Betancourt is on tour to thank the Latin America leaders who helped her escape captivity from the FARC, including President Chavez. The Venezuelan leader negotiated the release of six hostages this year, and was a vocal advocate for Betancourt.

October 31, 2008

Venezuela Sees Opportunity for Cooperation in Global Financial Crisis

President Chavez spoke again about the world financial crisis yesterday, saying that it should come as an opportunity to create new international institutions. According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, the Venezuelan leader said the “dictatorship of the dollar” and the IMF has collapsed. Venezuela has played a key role in helping create multilateral institutions for regional cooperation such as ALBA, UNASUR, and the Bank of the South. El Universal also reports today that Venezuela donated $1 million to Paraguay to provide drinking water and health care to Indigenous communities suffering from a prolonged drought.

Venezuela’s Ambassador to Argentina visited the holocaust museum in Buenos Aires yesterday. The head of the World Jewish Congress dispelled false rumors that Venezuela’s government subscribed to antisemitism. He said, “it is gratifying to see this sign of recognition by the Venezuelan government of the dark tragedy that befell the Jewish people, something that President Hugo Chavez himself acknowledged during our meeting with him.”

In oil news, the AP reports that prices have fallen again to $64 per barrel. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil made history yesterday when it reported record-breaking quarterly profits. Other private oil firms also saw successes; profits for BP jumped 83% and ConocoPhillips rose by 41%. Meanwhile, oil-producing countries are already feeling the negative effects the drop in the value of crude. An Iranian politician said, “The first wave of the crisis are the low oil prices that have reached us. This is a big loss.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela is inviting companies to purchase shares of oil projects in the Orinoco region. The state bought a majority stake in the projects last year. 47 oil companies are considering bidding on the Orinoco reserves (which comprise 1% of global supplies), including Chevron, Shell and Total.

June 30, 2008

Venezuela at the Forefront of Regional Cooperation

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:30 am
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President Chavez said last Friday that he and Colombia’s Uribe are “accepting each other with whatever differences there may be.” The AP reports that they will meet in July — the first time since Colombia’s campaign to accuse Venezuela and Ecuador of aiding FARC rebels. Last week, President Chavez signed 21 new cooperation agreements with Brazilian President Lula da Silva (pictured here). According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, deals were made in energy, trade, the environment, telecommunications, and border security. “We are showing that progress can be made toward actual integration among the peoples,” Lula said.

Also in regional news, leaders of the 7 member countries of the Bank of the South met Friday. They announced that the institution begins with $10 billion in startup capital. The AP reports that the Bank of the South will have interest rates favorable to those of other international financial institutions. It will offset dependence on conditional loans from the IMF and World Bank among member nations Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Meanwhile, the AFP reports that the World Petroleum Congress is taking place in Madrid this week. An IPS article indicates that this meeting and others demonstrate “a new global energy order that is emerging under the weight of soaring oil prices.”

A Washington Post column by Jackson Diehl once again wrongly states that President Chavez is a “dictator” and cheers the opposition. The Post promotes an opposition candidate for mayor who is among many barred from participating in local elections due to corruption charges. The candidate, Leopoldo Lopez, frequently tours Washington to drum up anti-Chavez sentiment, and this time claimed the Venezuelan leader fears that the U.S. “might press for democracy in Venezuela.” However, polls show that Venezuelan citizens are more satisfied with the state of their democracy than most others in the region. A Wall Street Journal briefing also wrongly deems President Chavez a “dictator,” and repeats the unproven claim made by Colombian officials that he aided the FARC.

Finally, the AP reports that a high-ranking military officer in Venezuela took his opposition to the government to the Supreme Court. He challenged the slogan, “fatherland, socialism or death — we will triumph,” as unconstitutional. Apart from the formal legal challenge, the officer vaguely called on Venezuelan troops to “do what they need to do to uphold their duty.” Another challenge comes from the Miami Herald, which reports that a new reformist church in Venezuela that views the president favorably is disparaged by some. The church does not condemn divorce or homosexuality, and is “inclusive, participatory and with a strong Bolivarian spirit that recognizes Jesus Christ as the Lord of History.”

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