VIO News Blog

May 5, 2009

Thousands of Marches Celebrate May Day in Caracas

On Sunday, a Venezuelan military helicopter crashed near the border with Colombia killing a civilian and eighteen soldiers, including a brigadier general.  President Hugo Chavez announced that the Russian-made MI-17 helicopter crashed in the mountainous El Capote region while patrolling the 1400 mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Referring to the latest State Department report on terrorism, Chavez said, “they say that we don’t patrol the border.  How many lives has Colombia’s conflict cost us Venezuelans?”

On May 1st thousands of Venezuelans marched throughout Venezuela to celebrate International Workers’ Day.  In Caracas, as has been the case for the last 8 years, two marches took place simultaneously along different routes.  The larger of the two marches was made up of pro-government unions while the smaller march was convened by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation, a union linked to the opposition party Accion Democratica whose past leadership supported the 2002 coup against Chavez.  A crowd of opposition marchers was confronted with tear gas by Caracas police and National Guard forces after trying to pass through a police barricade.

Also on May 1st, President Chavez strongly rejected the latest State Department report on terrorism that criticizes his government for alleged “sympathy” with the FARC rebel group in Colombia.  He also expressed skepticism regarding President Obama’s agenda of “change” for relations with Latin America, signaling that “if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce.”  On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of foreign service officers that the Bush Administration’s attempts to isolate Venezuela and Bolivia “didn’t work” and that the new administration would engage in a more constructive approach.

An Op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, written by Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, recognizes that Venezuela has “competitive elections and independent political parties, media outlets, labor unions and civil society organizations.”   However, Vivanco also alleges that the Chavez government has implemented “authoritarian policies” that “undermined democratic institutions” which should be met with declarations of “concern” by the Obama Administration.  It should be noted that Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Venezuela received extensive criticism from a group of US academics that questioned the report’s methodology.

Finally, a Washington Post editorial entitled “Beleaguered Mexico” falsely asserts that President Chavez backed a left-wing candidate during Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.  The Post’ editors, in keeping with their policy of extreme bias towards the Venezuelan government, reproduce a baseless claim that was first propagated by right-wing sectors of the Mexican media during the 2006 campaign.

September 19, 2008

HRW Attacks Venezuela, McCain Follows Suit

Venezuela’s net oil earnings for the first half of 2008 have risen 961 percent over last year, the AP reports. During that same interval, spending on social programs by the state oil company PDVSA declined to 1.8 billion from last year’s 4.1 billion. President Chavez has been criticized in the US press for “lavishing” funds on the programs, but the practice has caused an unprecedented 35% drop in poverty in Venezuela. This year, PDVSA has been investing more of its funds in oil exploration and production.

According to the AP, a new report by Human Rights Watch released yesterday is being regarded by the Venezuelan government as “attacking the institutions” and “illegally interfering in the internal affairs of our country.” Two Human Rights Watch staff in Venezuela on tourist visas — including Americas Director Jose Vivanco, pictured here — were told to leave.The report wrongly claims that human rights guarantees set out in the constitution are not enforced in Venezuela, and that civil liberties have deteriorated during the Chavez administration. The AP, Miami Herald, and the Guardian quote the Venezuela Information Office as saying that the report is biased and limited in its scope, ignoring progress made under Chavez on guaranteeing all Venezuelans health, education, food, shelter and other needs. “Their reports on Venezuela have typically been politicised. They don’t highlight real advances,” Director Olivia Goumbri told the Guardian. To read the VIO fact sheet, click here.

In a tone similar to that seen in the Human Rights Watch Report, Republican presidential candidate John McCain condemned Venezuela yesterday, making the empty claim that “as we all know, Chavez is moving into an autocracy. He is depriving people of their democratic rights.” He also claimed to “know” that Spain is in Latin America, according to another AP report. During the Chavez administration in Venezuela, elections have occurred more regularly and with more fairness than under Bush in the US. Local and regional politics in Venezuela have incorporated more citizen voices and popular input through new mechanisms such as communal councils.

Finally, ties between Venezuela and Russia remain in the news. The AP reports that US pressures have aimed to disrupt those ties, but that new cooperation is planned in oil, military equipment, and information technology. Bolivia has also just signed oil deals with Russia. The Washington Post reports that, despite this, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicted yesterday that Russia is heading for “self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”

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