VIO News Blog

June 18, 2009

Suspects Detained in Killing of Opposition Leader

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:22 pm
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The Spanish news agency EFE reports that six individuals suspected of involvement in the recent killing of opposition leader Jhonathan Rivas have been detained by Venezuelan authorities. Rivas, a regional leader of the Primero Justicia opposition party, was shot and killed last Saturday in a public square in the city of El Tigre. According to another opposition leader who suffered a blow to the head, the attack was perpetrated by a group of Chavez supporters. Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami did not identify the detained suspects but stated that the government had no tolerance for violence, no matter the “ideological and political orientation of those who may be affected.”

The Venezuelan foreign ministry released a statement on Tuesday firmly rejecting “the ferocious and unfounded campaign to discredit” the June 12 presidential election in Iran and demanding “the immediate end to maneuvers to intimidate and destabilize the Islamic Revolution.” Though defeated candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi and much of the international media have suggested that massive fraud took place during the election, various independent analysts and pollsters have argued that there is no proof of significant irregularities and that recent polls predicted a large victory for President Ahmadinejad. Whatever the case may be, the current media hype surrounding the Iranian elections and based largely on unsubstantiated claims of fraud and large demonstrations of primarily middle-class Iranians, bears a troubling resemblance to past media-driven electoral controversies in Venezuela.

A smaller media frenzy was generated by rumors that Venezuelan health authorities planned to quarantine a cruise ship anchored at Margarita Island due to the presence of at least three crew members diagnosed with swine flu. Though it was initially reported that the vessel would be quarantined until June 24th, in the end, Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark and the ship continued on to the island of Aruba.

El Universal reports on the decision of Venezuela’s Autonomous Service for Intellectual Property (SAPI) to post on its web site all “technical information” linked to patents licensed in Venezuela. The head of the institution explained that the decision was made in order to allow Venezuelan technicians “to change and improve new technologies that have already been developed.” President Chavez has also instructed the former head of SAPI and current Minister of Trade, Eduardo Saman, to recommend revisions to the country’s property rights legislation in order to ensure that “patents cannot be a restriction or a trap.” While some see this move as a threat and “unconstitutional”, there is an increasing consensus in the developing world that patent laws need to be made more flexible in order, for example, to allow for greater access to life-saving medicine for the poor.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuelan expatriates in southern Florida are collecting funds to help opposition news channel Globovision pay a $4 million government fine. The fund-raising drive was initially organized by Venezuelan opposition student groups and is apparently now the hottest topic of conversation among Florida Venezuelans. Venezuela’s Chargé d’Affaires in Washington told the Herald that due process has been respected in the case of Globovision and that “attempts to portray the station as a victim are nothing but theater.”

May 1, 2009

Chavez Reaffirms Neutrality Regarding Colombia’s Internal Conflict

Following the killing of 8 soldiers near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, President Chavez declared that his government would not allow FARC rebel forces to use Venezuelan territory to mount assaults inside the neighboring country.  Chavez also reaffirmed his country’s traditional policy of neutrality regarding Colombia’s internal conflict and stated that Venezuela would “not permit any type of armed incursion… wherever it comes from.”  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro earlier announced that his government would collaborate with Colombia on efforts to capture the FARC guerrilla members responsible for the killing of the 8 soldiers.

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told foreign service officers today that she did not consider that it was in the US’s interest to attempt to isolate countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, as the Bush Administration had done.  “The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs,” said Clinton. “It didn’t work.”  The Secretary of State explained that the failed policy had allowed Iran, Russia and China to make “disturbing” political and economic gains in the region over the last few years.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal repeats the worn out claim that the Venezuelan government promotes anti-Semitism, despite the fact that President Chavez and other officials have strongly condemned all forms of anti-Jewish behavior and have engaged with Venezuelan Jewish community groups in a manner that has drawn praise from international organizations like the Jewish Latin American Congress.  Rather than consulting representatives of Venezuela’s established Jewish organizations like the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, the author of the piece refers to the extreme views of Pynchas Brenner, a notorious radical opponent of the Chavez government, and US rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.  The piece also re-hashes the discredited claim that President Chavez made anti-Semitic statements in December 2004, despite the fact that Venezuela’s Jewish community representatives argued against the claim.

Finally, US Republicans have produced a new video featuring the recent handshake between Presidents Obama and Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The video, that has been broadcast via the internet, suggests that Obama’s decision to have courteous exchanges with Chavez and other leaders deemed to be unfriendly to US interests, has weakened the country’s national security.

April 29, 2009

Rosales Hides Behind Right-Wing Friends

El Universal reports that the Peruvian government has sent conciliatory signals to Venezuela despite its decision to offer asylum to opposition politician Manuel Rosales who faces charges of corruption in the Venezuelan courts. While the Venezuelan foreign ministry recalled its ambassador in Lima and stated that the relationship with the Andean nation was under “evaluation”, Peru has maintained its ambassador in Caracas. Peruvian President Alan Garcia declared that his government had “a position of friendship with the Venezuelan government” but also had a policy of providing “shelter to whomever feels threatened.” German Saltron, Venezuela’s representative to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, contested the notion that Peru’s offer of asylum was based on “humanitarian reasons”, signaling President Garcia’s “political and ideological affinity” with Rosales and his alleged long-standing friendship with opposition leader Carlos Andres Perez.

On Tuesday, 17 individuals were arrested in Curacao for their alleged involvement in an international drug ring that provided financial support to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to a statement released by Dutch Authorities, the arrests were carried out thanks to a coordinated operation involving police and judicial organisms from Curacao, the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States.

Also on Tuesday, ex President Jimmy Carter announced that he would be meeting with the Presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru over the coming days.

The AP reports that Iran’s defense minister has held talks with his Venezuelan counterpart in Caracas. The Iranian official told Iran’s state media that his country was developing a long-term cooperation plan with Venezuela; however, Venezuelan officials declined to make any comments regarding the ongoing talks.

In economic news, Dow Jones reports that the value of the Bolivar has strengthened against the dollar in Venezuela’s parallel market as a result PDVSA’s announcement of plans to emit several billion dollars worth of dollar-denominated debt. Meanwhile, President Chavez approved the emission of 12 billion bolivars ($4.8 billion) in treasury notes in order to cover the budgetary gap generated by lower oil prices. The National Assembly has authorized the selling of up to $15.8 billion in local treasury bonds before the year’s end.

Finally, on Tuesday Venezuela’s state oil company announced that the round of bidding on three projects to develop the heavy-oil fields in the Orinoco basin has been delayed three months. The company will announce the bidding results on August 14th rather than May 7 as had been originally announced.

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.

April 2, 2009

Venezuela and Iran to Launch Joint Development Bank

President Chavez arrived in Iran Wednesday and is expected to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today, VOA reports. The Venezuelan president will also launch a joint development bank with Iran with a starting capital of $200 million, according to the AP. Venezuela recently created similar bilateral development funds with China ($12 billion) and Russia ($4 billion), and is also involved in the creation of a multilateral fund called Bank of the South with South American countries.

During his visit to Tehran, Chavez said he had little hope of better relations with the United States under President Obama. However, he added that he hoped that “President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire, and the first president of a truly democratic republic, the United States.”

At a summit of South American and Arab countries in Qatar earlier this week, Chavez announced that Venezuela would be prepared to receive detainees from Guantanamo. “We wouldn’t have any problem in taking in human beings,” he said. President Obama has ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp which holds 240 inmates, by next year.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Energy reported on Wednesday that Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. rose 14% from December, despite Venezuela’s earlier promise to OPEC to cut exports. The AP states that a spokesman for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, declined to comment. The Venezuelan government has frequently disputed U.S. Department of Energy’s estimates of Venezuelan oil production in the past.

March 30, 2009

Venezuelan President Travels to Asia

Today President Chavez set off on an official trip that will take him to Qatar, Iran and Japan, the AP reports. In Qatar, Chavez will attend a summit of Arab and South American Countries. In Iran, he will inaugurate a joint development bank between that country and Venezuela. He will then visit Japan to approve a bilateral energy pact, which will give Venezuela access to Japanese technology for its oil industry.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials froze a Bank of America account which had been used to carry out numerous transactions on Venezuela’s black market currency market.  The owner of the Miami-based company that controls the account,  Rama Vyasulu, has been arrested for allegedly laundering $900,000 in drug profits.

An article in the Economist print edition, “Hard landing” argues that spending cuts announced by President Chavez will have a bigger impact than the government is publicly admitting. The Economist states that according to  Finance Ministry’s figures, there was only $6 billion left in the National Development Fund (FONDEM) at the end of December, instead of the $57 billion publicly stated by Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez.  The article does not appear to take into account the vast quantity of foreign reserves that remain in the hands of the Central Bank and the Venezuelan government.

An AP article argues that the slump in oil prices has recently caused Venezuela to begin seeking foreign investment for its oil industry. However, Venezuela has shown openness to oil partnerships with multinational and state oil companies so long as they respect Venezuela’s sovereignty and majority stake. Venezuela began soliciting bids for oil exploration and production in the Orinoco oil belt in the Summer of 2008, when oil prices hit record highs.

Finally, an op-ed in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel argues that Milwaukee’s sister city agreement with Carora, Venezuela serves as a propaganda tool for Chavez.  A Heritage Foundation expert is quoted criticizing the plan for Carora to establish a Casa del ALBA in Wisconsin’s largest city.  The truth is, the “expert” says, Casas del ALBA are “centers of pro-Chavez indoctrination.”

March 17, 2009

Venezuela has the World’s Second Biggest Oil Reserves

Venezuela has the world’s second-biggest oil reserves, Bloomberg reports today. Its proven reserves increased by 14% last year to reach 172.3 billion, passing Iran and putting the country closer to the current leader, Saudi Arabia. More reserves are yet to be certified by independent analysts.

The AP reports that opposition state governors in Venezuela yesterday challenged the decision of President Chavez to bring the maintenance of highways, airports, and seaports under federal management, asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not it is constitutional. Meanwhile, a group of 13 elected lawmakers in the National Assembly issued a statement defending the move as a bid to ensure the efficient use of public services. They asserted that the opposition arguments were designed to “confuse the public.”

Sentencing occurred yesterday in the trial of Franklin Duran, who was given four years in jail and a $175,000 fine. Prosecutors argued that he attempted to help Venezuela cover up the “suitcase scandal,” in which cash was allegedly sent to Argentina. According to the AP, U.S. District Judge Lenard said yesterday that Duran “did not commit espionage against the U.S. or threaten its national interests,” but that “The respect of the sovereignty of the United States is paramount.” The Miami Herald reports: “Federal prosecutor Tom Mulvihill recommended more than 13 years, saying Duran might not have been a “spy” for the Chávez government but that he did ”harm” the United States.” Many commentators agree that the case was heavily politicized.

The Inter American Press Association, a Miami-based group of newspaper editors and owners, said at the close of a meeting in Paraguay on Monday that press freedom is deteriorating in the Americas. It also accused President Chavez of “humiliating the press,” and claimed his “incendiary rhetoric” is being adopted by several other leaders throughout the region. Most of Venezuela’s media is private-owned and virulently anti-government, and criticizes the Chavez administration freely and openly. Meanwhile, IAPA “applauded a drop in violence against journalists in Colombia,” where it found that last year 29 death threats were reported and five journalists went into exile.

Venezuela’s baseball team beat Puerto Rico 2-0 in Miami yesterday to move on to the World Baseball Classic semi-finals. The AP reports that some Venezuelan fans cheered especially loud for Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers due to his public support for the constitutional amendment approved by Venezuelan voters in a referendum last month.

February 11, 2009

Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez Improving the Lives of Millions

Efforts by the Venezuelan government to reduce poverty and improve the lives of average citizens are are the source of President Chavez’s continued popularity, Reuters reported yesterday. Among other initiatives such as an innovative cable car, Chavez is known for “investing in health clinics and projects to move families from precarious shacks.” One supporter explains: “He’s the only president who has really worked for the poor,” a fact that Reuters says is “making Venezuela’s millions of poor feel cared for.”

Reuters also reports that, ahead of Sunday’s referendum, President Chavez “has toned down his usually aggressive rhetoric toward the opposition to focus on getting his supporters out to vote.” A very different story is presented by Bloomberg and the New York Times, the latter of which calls the campaigning “ugly.” It suggests that pro-government groups go unpunished for crimes just before mentioning the arrest of the leader of one such notorious organization. The Chavez government has consistently asked for a peaceful debate on all sides.

In other campaign-related news, President Chavez responded to Venezuela’s overwhelmingly opposition-aligned media yesterday by calling its accusations of antisemitism false and damaging. The AP reports that Chavez called the accusations a “criminal attempt to try to unleash a religious war in Venezuela.” Four days remain until the national referendum.

Finally, the Boston Globe lumps Venezuela together with Iran as a supposed “anti-US regime” in an article but offers no explanation or context. Its claim is that so-called “anti-US” leaders are afraid President Obama will steal their electoral base, as though the US leader were a ballot option abroad. For his part, President Chavez has frequently said publicly that he welcomes better relations with the US under Obama.

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 16, 2009

Chavez: “Obama Threw the First Stone”

President Chavez indicated yesterday that he will wait to see whether President elect Obama — whom he said remains largely “an unknown” — fulfills the intense expectations generated by his election. Bloomberg reports that Chavez cited a TV interview Tuesday in which Obama “remarked that the Venezuelan leader exported terrorist activities and slowed progress in the region.” The Venezuelan leader replied: “Don’t say Chavez is throwing stones, Obama already threw the first one.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met yesterday with U.S. embassy staff in Caracas, according to the AP. Top U.S. rep John Caulfield said afterward, “We spoke about the opportunity for a renewed dialogue.” Caulfield also allegedly met in secret with leaders of Venezuela’s political opposition last week, according to a report in NACLA. It states: “if the allegations are proven, then the opposition will once again find itself on the defensive, trying to disprove that their funding and strategy are not ‘Made in U.S.A.'”

In other international news, the Presidents of Venezuela and Brazil are holding their regular quarterly meeting today. The Caracas newspaper El Universal reports that this signals even closer ties between the countries. The leaders are discussing trade relations, particularly a cooperation agreement on food supply.

The New York Daily News reports on Venezuela’s heating oil assistance program in the Bronx. Recipients of the aid were relieved by the news last week that, despite rumors to the contrary, the program will continue for a fourth year. One man said: “We appreciate what [Chávez] is doing, helping us out from another country… People depend on [it].”

Reuters reports that CIA Director Michael Hayden said that, for oil producers Iran and Venezuela, lowered crude prices are “destabilizing, but it could be positive,” because it will increase the sting of U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, President Chavez has stressed that Venezuela will not be destabilized. He says the government will continue to spend on social programs, and will not force the people to suffer the burden of economic downturn. Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves are at an all-time high.

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