VIO News Blog

December 11, 2008

Venezuela to Harness the Power of Wind

Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, is beginning to invest in renewable energy. A deal was signed yesterday with the Spanish company Gamesa for the purchase of 76 wind turbines that will be Venezuela’s first experience with using wind power. Reuters reports that the turbines cost $150 million and will generate 100 megawatts from a site located in the state of Falcon.

There are about 30,000 Cuban health workers participating in the “Barrio Adentro” social mission that provides free treatments to the poor in Venezuela, according to the country’s Health Minister Jesus Mantilla. AFP reports that Mantilla said Barrio Adentro has 6,571 clinics throughout Venezuela. Cuba provides doctors in exchange for Venezuelan goods such as discounted oil.

Sources report that Cuban President Raul Castro will make his first overseas trip on Saturday to visit President Chavez in Caracas. According to the AP, Castro’s trip was planned to coincide with an ALBA summit that has now been postponed.

The Christian Science Monitor asks whether any action will come of Ingrid Betancourt’s recent tour of countries including Venezuela to drum up support for further efforts to free hostages held by the FARC. The Chavez government is not, as the Monitor suggests, “ideologically akin” to the FARC. The Venezuelan government is a democratic one that does not adhere to the Marxism of the FARC, nor does it endorse armed political struggles. Chavez said as much earlier this year when he declared: “the guerrilla war is history.”

In cultural news today, the AFP reports that the three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone is making a film he says is “about President Chavez and the South American revolution.” According to AFP, “Stone has already with met with Chavez, who is reviled by the outgoing Bush administration.” Finally, see a review of a Venezuelan music ensemble in the San Francisco Chronicle and a review of a South Florida Venezuelan restaurant in the Miami Herald.


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.

December 8, 2008

Venezuelan Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary of President Chavez

Saturday marked ten years since President Chavez was first elected. AFP reports that Chavez spoke before thousands of supporters (pictured at right), and said that a referendum onĀ  presidential term limits will come from the National Assembly. Support is needed from 30 percent of lawmakers in order to hold a vote. Chavez said the measure would give Venezuelans the chance “to successfully complete… the revolutionary process that now has profound ideological content: Bolivarian socialism.” Meanwhile, according to AFP, the political opposition is determined to derail the referendum. Julio Borges of Primero Justicia said: “We are preparing to fight on all fronts — in the courts and in the streets.”

In a similar report, the Washington Post claims that Chavez has tried to “build an anti-Washington alliance,” when in fact the Venezuelan leader has specifically opposed Bush policies of U.S. unilateralism and unbridled free trade. Chavez recently congratulated Obama on his electoral victory and has repeatedly expressed a desire for dialogue and better relations with the U.S. Still, the Post reports that a vote on presidential term limits in Venezuela means a “challenge” for Obama. It also cites, despite a lack of evidence, Venezuela’s alleged support for Colombian guerrillas. President Chavez helped free six captives from the FARC this year. AFP reports that one former hostage, Igrid Betancourt, is currently visiting Venezuela to show thanks and ask for more assistance.

Reuters reported Friday on cabinet changes in Venezuela that put two PSUV candidates who lost in recent regional elections back into the executive branch. Diosdado Cabello, the former governor of Miranda, was appointed infrastructure minister. Jesse Chacon, who lost in the Caracas race for municipal mayor, will replace Andres Izarra as information minister. The Miami Herald’s Spanish-language paper, El Nuevo Herald, airs allegations that pro-Chavez candidates sought to “buy votes” in regional elections — even where they lost. The claims come from opposition politicians of the formerly government-aligned political party Patria Para Todos (PPT). One interviewee says that in the past it was “customary” in Venezuela to offer services and goods in exchange for votes.

On the economy, inflation has fallen for a second straight month in Venezuela. Bloomberg reports that reduced rates of consumption are likely the cause. Overall, consumer prices have risen 27.6% so far in 2008. The AP reports that inflation also went down in Caracas, though it is currently at 32.7%.

Venezuela performed well in a recent Gallup/Inter-American Development Bank poll that ranks citizen satisfaction across different areas of the economy, society, and politics. On a scale of one to ten, where ten is the most satisfied, Venezuelans gave an average of 6.5, making the country the fourth-happiest in Latin America. Among Venezuelan respondents, 90.6% said they were satisfied with their employment situation (the 3rd highest rate in Latin America, and 84% were satisfied with the country’s public education system (2nd highest). The results are published in Venezuelanalysis. A Miami Herald column, meanwhile, takes high rates of satisfaction with public education throughout Latin America as evidence that millions in the region are simply “in denial.” This condescending view sees only “educational backwardness,” and ignores progress made in recent years.

Finally, a letter in the Miami Herald urges a greater focus on Latin America in U.S. foreign policy. It advocates a hemispheric free trade agreement, an initiative that Bush pressed, but that fell flat after being roundly rejected by other nations. Meanwhile, another op-ed in the Tribune by British MP Colin Burgon reviews the new democratic governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, and highlights their alternative proposals for development.

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.

July 10, 2008

Venezuela “Willing to Help” Bring Peace to Colombia

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:50 am
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“We are willing to help” with hostage negotiations and peace talks in Colombia, President Chavez said yesterday. According to the AP, Chavez spoke with Ingrid Betancourt and discussed her role in pushing for peace as well as that of Venezuela. El Universal reports that Chavez stressed unity, saying: “We, Colombia and Venezuela, are the same fatherland.”

Tomorrow, President Chavez will host Colombia’s Uribe in Caracas for their first meeting since Colombia angered Latin countries by bombing a FARC camp in Ecuador. The AFP reports that both leaders have expressed interest in mending ties. Though Uribe has been bolstered by the military’s recent rescue of 15 hostages, a political analyst explains: “This is not Chavez with his back to the wall, just him being ready to speak with Uribe.” Media attention has focused on allegations against President Chavez by Uribe and others who claim he supported the FARC, and meanwhile downplayed the Venezuelan leader’s frequent calls for peace and disarmament. For example, an editorial in the Rocky Mountain News today repeats the unproven allegations against Chavez.

In economic news, retail sales in Venezuela have risen by 38% over last year, according to Bloomberg. This reflects the increased consumer activity that has accompanied high rates of economic growth. Total GDP growth in 2007 was 8.4%, higher than estimates.

In oil, Bloomberg reports that OPEC reserves have recently been bolstered by new discoveries in Venezuela and Libya. Venezuela’s crude reserves rose by 14 percent last year to reach 99.4 billion barrels. Pending certifications promise to push this amount higher. Finally, Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm PDVSA is helping Bolivia to access its oil reserves by providing that country with an oil rig, according to Dow Jones.

July 9, 2008

Betancourt Says Colombia Needs Venezuela’s Help

Ingrid Betancourt has asked President Uribe to accept help from outsiders, including President Chavez, in negotiating FARC hostage releases. Caracas newspaper El Universal reports that Betancourt said, “we alone are not going to solve this problem, a friendly hand that helps us is always needed.” Meanwhile, also according to El Universal, French President Sarkozy (pictured at right) thanked the Venezuelan leader for his “tireless efforts that helped” in the recent rescue of 15 captives including Betancourt.

In related news, the Los Angeles Times reports that Colombian officials are denying that their mission to liberate hostages involved a $20 million payoff to the FARC. The Colombian government often bribes FARC defectors for information. Questions are also raised by IPS articles today. First, a story suggests that Colombian officials may have simply intercepted FARC’s plan to willingly give up the hostages. Second, another piece looks at foreign involvement, noting that Colombia’s defense minister said that he consulted the U.S. ambassador about the rescue operation two weeks in advance. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the US will seek to extradite FARC leaders to try them as terrorists.

Venezuela’s inflation rate at mid year was just reported. According El Universal, inflation is calculated at 15.1% for the first half of 2008. Bloomberg reports that monthly inflation for June was 2.3%, down from 3.2% in May. June inflation was led by a surge in food prices after the recent relaxation of price controls to keep the cost of basic goods low. Inflation in Venezuela is calculated according to the new “national price index,” which measures consumer prices across 10 major cities. Last month, Ali Rodriguez was named Venezuela’s new finance minister.

Finally, emissions laws are changing in Venezuela to reduce the country’s contribution to harmful greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Bloomberg reports that by next April, 30% of vehicles will be required to have dual oil and natural gas tanks. By 2011, 50% of vehicles will have them. Emissions have been a top issue at the G8 summit this week in Japan.

July 8, 2008

Chavez’s Calls for Peace in Colombia Ignored

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:07 am
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News continues on the recent mock humanitarian rescue of 15 FARC captives by the Colombian military. The Washington Post reports that President Chavez has “distanced” himself from the FARC ahead of a meeting with Colombia’s President Uribe, making the problematic claim that the Venezuelan leader backed the rebels. An expert says that U.S. and Colombian officials have “suspected and alleged” that Chavez had ties to the FARC over the course of decades. However, the allegations remain unproven.

This fact is raised in a column in the Independent, which points out that Ingrid Betancourt (pictured at right) was quick to thank President Chavez upon her rescue. According to the piece, lies about Venezuela are common in the English-language press due to the hotly disputed commodity of oil. Despite what the papers print, “Far from fueling the guerrillas, Chavez has repeatedly pleaded with the FARC to disarm.” Meanwhile, a Miami Herald op-ed blatantly ignores this fact and suggests boycotting Venezuelan crude.

In related news, Forbes reports that the Colombian government — buoyed by billions in U.S. military aid — may have paid up to $20 million for its “rescue” of 15 FARC hostages. This was revealed on Swiss radio, which reported that the captives “were in reality ransomed for a high price, and the whole operation afterwards was a set-up.” U.S. Ambassador Brownfield has said that the U.S. lent “technical support” to the operation. Green Left Weekly writes that the victory against the FARC “will be used by the Colombian regime headed by President Alvaro Uribe to strengthen its policies of using military might.”

In other news, the AP reports that anti-Chavez Bishop is speaking out against constitutional laws that prevent individuals undergoing corruption investigations from running for political office. A so-called “blacklist” of 400 candidates, mostly from the opposition, is a hot topic of public debate ahead of local elections in November.

July 3, 2008

Venezuela’s Oil Income Up, Colombia Rescues Captives

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:13 am
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Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA netted US$3.5 billion in the first quarter of 2008 — up 80 percent over 2007 earnings. Some $2.7 billion was reinvested in social programs that benefit citizens in Venezuela, such as programs in health, nutrition, and education. According to the AP, spending by the oil company went up overall amid windfall profits. PDVSA’s investment in oil production and exploration increased 46 percent to US$1.7 billion. PDVSA reports a total oil output of 3.2 million barrels of crude per day.

Yesterday, the Colombian military rescued 15 captives held by the FARC, including Ingrid Betancourt and U.S. military contractors Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes (the latter two are pictured here). The Venezuelan government released a statement saying it hopes that this development will bring an end to the war in Colombia, Bloomberg reports. President Chavez has consistently called for peace in the neighboring country. He helped free six hostages earlier this year through humanitarian talks that President Uribe abruptly canceled despite their success.

The AP reports that Colombian troops achieved the rescue by posing as top rebel commanders to give orders to local leaders, asking them to rally the hostages for a helicopter pickup. All of the hostages had spent several years in the jungle, and were anxious to rejoin their families. According to the New York Times, the U.S. men were captured by the FARC in 2003, when their plane went down during an anti-narcotics mission for the Pentagon.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was visiting President Uribe in Colombia yesterday, and the Washington Post reports that he was privately briefed by the President about the planned hostage rescue on Tuesday night. This was before he gave a key speech advocating freeing hostages. McCain was also in Mexico this week. According to the Christian Science Monitor, his visit to Latin America “will likely do little to woo people in the region… Mexicans say the visit does not instill faith that he will have any greater commitment to Latin America than Bush.”

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