VIO News Blog

February 2, 2009

Venezuelan Government Condemns Vandalism and Vows to Investigate

“We condemn the actions on the synagogue of Caracas… we condemn the violence whatever its source” President Chavez said Saturday, rejecting vandalism against a local synagogue. The vice president and government ministers also spoke out. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (pictured at right) said: “no matter who is involved in this criminal act of vandalism… we urge all Venezuelan people to reject these actions with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinians.” Additionally, in a statement released immediately following the attacks, the government vowed to launch an investigation and prosecute those responsible.

Communications Minister Jesse Chacon also publicly condemned the attack, according to the New York Times. The Times quotes a spokesman for Venezuela’s Jewish community who said “we feel threatened… and attacked,” as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which stated in a report that anti-Semitism “is fostered by the highest levels in the government.” Venezuela’s government, however, is strongly opposed to anti-Semitism and has taken numerous steps to ensure tolerance and religious freedom. Among these is a declaration signed by Chavez in December condemning anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination, which was welcomed by the World Jewish Congress.

Today marks ten years since President Chavez was first sworn into office. A Guardian op-ed provides a firsthand account of Chavez’s continued popular support among the country’s poor majority. Among these “countless government supporters” is one citizen who explained: “Most people who are against Chávez don’t understand this political process.” The Christian Science Monitor also describes the “legions of passionate supporters” in Venezuela. One Caracas resident says of the government: “We now feel free to say ‘It’s good, or it’s bad.’ Now, the National Guard looks at us with respect and dignity. That kind of thing has changed in the last 10 years.”

In contrast, reports by Reuters, the Miami Herald, and Time Magazine cite political polarization and feature the perspectives of Venezuela’s powerful opposition groups. The Herald makes the false claim that President Chavez wishes to be “president for life” and that his goal is to have 20 more years in office, though he himself has expressed a desire to run for one more six-year term. Time reports on the opposition student movement under the particularly misleading headline “Chavez Beats Down his Student Opposition.” It supports the claim that the Venezuelan leader is using a “heavier hand with the students” by quoting the anti-Chavez leaders. Chavez indeed asked security forces to disperse marches that disturb the public order or promote violence, but peaceful demonstrations are permitted.

Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and Pittsburg Tribune-Review oppose a national referendum allowing Venezuelan voters to decide whether or not to end term limits for elected leaders. The Journal’s stridently anti-Chavez columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady claims, despite a lack of evidence, that government intimidation is occurring, and that elections in Venezuela are not free and fair. The Pittsburg Tribune-Review similarly claims President Chavez uses “thuggery to silence Venezuelan critics” and “threatened civil war” if the “no” vote wins, both of which are false. Venezuelan officials frequently denounce the use of violence by any and all parties ahead of the vote, and have repeatedly called for a peaceful dialogue ahead of the democratic vote.

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January 5, 2009

Venezuela Finishes 2008 with Record Level of Foreign Currency Reserves

Venezuela finished 2008 with a record $42.2 billion in foreign currency reserves, a needed cushion given lagging oil prices caused by the world economic crisis. Bloomberg reports that in addition to the foreign reserves, Venezuela has a separate National Development Fund (Fonden) totaling $39 billion, and a central bank stabilization fund worth $828 million. Venezuela’s 2009 budget calls for $78 billion in spending. President Chavez frequently says that low oil prices will not affect social programs that benefit the poor, guaranteeing free health care, education, and subsidized food.

Venezuela’s successful social programs are the theme of an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Times yesterday. It claims the system is working: “Democratic socialism means health care, jobs, food, and security, in neighborhoods where in many cases nothing but absolute poverty existed 10 years ago.” President Chavez retains roughly two-thirds support despite the fact that the media is largely opposition-controlled. While there is still progress to be made, the piece states: “It is a learning process for all involved and certainly a democratic effort from the bottom up.”

The government is condemning a recent incident in which tear gas was thrown into the building of an anti-Chavez TV station. The AP reports that Information Minister Jesse Chacón said he “categorically rejects” the violence, which was attributed to a citizen group often decried by officials.

In international news, Venezuela is sending rescue workers along with 74 tons of humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe in the wake of a cholera outbreak. The AP reports that Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami said last week that the help is modest but Venezuela wants to take action.

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 on  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.

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