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.

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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 28, 2009

Venezuela Evaluates Bilateral Relations with Peru

On Monday, Peru announced that it would grant Manuel Rosales, a leader of Venezuela’s political opposition, political asylum after he entered that country last week as a tourist. Venezuela in turn recalled its ambassador to Peru and announced, through its Foreign Ministry, that it would be “evaluating” bilateral relations with Lima. Rosales had been scheduled to face trial on charges of having engaged in illicit use of public funds during his term as governor of the State of Zulia. Rosales has denied the charges and accused state prosecutors of engaging in a “political lynching.” Last Friday, Interpol announced that it had sent out an international warrant for Rosales’ detention in response to a request from a Venezuelan court. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry called Peru’s decision to grant amnesty to Rosales a “mockery of international law.”

More opinion pieces have appeared in the press commenting on President Obama’s brief but friendly exchanges with President Chavez during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago from the 17th to the 19th of April. A Kansas City Star op-ed defends Obama’s decision to engage with the Venezuelan leader remarking that Chavez “has a movement of Venezuelans behind him; he has many powerful allies; and he has a lot of oil. We have to work with him.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Times published a piece describing the significance of Eduardo Galeano’s book “The Open Veins of Latin America” which the Venezuelan president gave to Obama on the last day of the Summit. William Hamilton, professor at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro – told the Times that Chavez’s gift to Obama was a sincere gesture rather than a publicity stunt. “Chavez as well as people everywhere are impressed with Obama.” By giving this “rite-of-passage” reading to the US Commander-in-Chief, argues Hamilton, Latin Americans are “giving us a chance to renew our deepest values and redeem our image as a nation.”

Empire Still Kicking, Venezuela Still Kicking Back

The AFP reports that on Friday President Chavez said that while he and President Obama exchanged warm greetings during the Summit of the Americas, the US empire is still “alive and kicking.”

Labor leaders from Delaware left on Sunday as a delegation traveling to Venezuela to participate in meetings and dialogue with the Venezuelan government, businesses, and labor leaders, Delaware Online reports. Delaware was one of at least seven states in which discounted heating oil for those in need was delivered by the Venezuela-owned company CITGO.

On Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki visited Venezuela and announced that his country would open a diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Malki and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Monday were set to sign a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority, AFP reports.

On Sunday, President Rafael Correa was easily re-elected, winning with 52% of the vote, and a 24% point lead against his closest rival. A Reuters article stated that this was “another victory” for the a new generation of left-leaning Latin American leaders like President Chavez who have challenged Washington’s agenda in the region.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Washington Times argues that President Obama lowered his and America’s moral standing by shaking President Chavez’s hand during the Summit of the Americas. The piece makes several baseless allegations, including the claim that the Venezuelan government supports the FARC guerilla army in Colombia.

April 20, 2009

Respect and Better Relations between Venezuela and the US

On Friday and Saturday, President Chavez and President Obama exchanged warm handshakes and chatted several times during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Chavez gave Obama the book “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. On Sunday, President Obama described his several brief meetings with President Chavez over the weekend as good steps, the Washington Times reports.

President Chavez also announced, at the end of the summit on Saturday, that he will send a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. – Roy Chaderton, who is currently Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States. On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said that it would work towards sending an ambassador to Caracas, following a dialogue between President Chavez and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, AFP reports.

President Obama received sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for his amicable meeting with Chavez, Chicago Tribune reports. Obama dismissed such concerns, saying the 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want engagement. “The American people didn’t buy it,” Obama said, referring to the argument that U.S. engagement towards foreign leaders could be perceived as “weakness.” He added “there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it, because it doesn’t make sense.”

Finally, on Sunday, President Chavez announced the creation of a new elite military unit, and the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles from Russia, AP reports. Chavez stated “We don’t want wars with anyone, but we’re obligated to equip ourselves and have a military that is increasingly dedicated to the country.”

April 17, 2009

Chavez Holds Out for Equality in the Americas

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that while no bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Chavez is scheduled during the Summit of the Americas, if Chavez were to approach the US President, it is likely he would agree to talk, CNN reports.

On Thursday, President Chavez said that Venezuela will vote against the Summit of the Americas declaration, arguing that it treats Latin America as subservient to the interests of the United States, AP reports. According to the Miami Herald, Chavez said of the declaration, that it was “as if time had not passed.”

At a meeting in Venezuela, of ALBA-member nations, President Chavez announced the creation of a new regional currency ‘Sucre,’ which he expects will enter into effect in 2010 as an electronic currency to facilitate trade between the member countries. The new regional currency will provide an alternative to the U.S. dollar frequently used for trade throughout the hemisphere. Chavez added that he hoped other nations in South and Central America would later also participate in using the currency.

An editorial in the Dallas News argues that President Obama should ignore Chavez and try to divide the alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, by opening up trade and travel to the island nation.

Finally, in regional news, Bolivian police in Santa Cruz said they foiled a plot to assassinate President Morales, and while attempting to arrest the suspects, a 30-minute gunbattle ensued, ending in the deaths of three suspects and the arrest of two others.

March 18, 2009

Venezuela Prepares for Summit of the Americas

President Chavez said yesterday that he is preparing a strong diplomatic agenda for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which he believes will be “very interesting,” according to the AP. The Venezuelan leader suggested metaphorically that he is “getting our artillery ready,” and “we’ll see what the pitcher throws.” The Venezuelan leader — like many others in the region, including Brazil’s president — will advocate ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which he called “an aggression against all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A Miami Herald article argues that recent moves to federalize control of transportation hubs in Venezuela is an attempt to “siphon” power from regional opposition leaders. The measure was approved by elected lawmakers in Venezuela’s National Assembly, many of whom pointed out that federal management of highways, airports, and seaports would boost national security and anti-drug efforts. Key transportation hubs such as seaports are under federal jurisdiction in many other nations including Canada.

In economic news, Venezuela and China have begun construction on a joint refinery in China. The AP reports that Venezuela expects to boost oil exports to  China to reach 1 million barrels a day in the coming years. Also, Venezuela and Russia have formed a joint oil company with an initial investment of $6 billion to explore and develop Venezuela’s Junin 6 oil field.

Finally, CNN reports that several Cuban experts deemed ‘creative,’ and ‘speculative’ a recent, bizarre report by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s ex-foreign minister linking Cuban President Raul Castro’s recent decision to oust two top Cuban officials for their plotting against the president – with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Even Mr. Castaneda admitted that he had no evidence, and that he was merely speculating.

March 16, 2009

Venezuela to Manage National Transportation Hubs

President Hugo Chavez dispatched the Navy to Venezuela’s seaports yesterday, after elected lawmakers in the National Assembly voted to bring the country’s transportation hubs under federal management. The AP reports that President Chavez said the move is aimed at improving Venezuela’s national security, including counter-narcotics efforts.

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that President Chavez offered an island off the coast of Venezuela for use as a temporary base for Russia’s strategic bombers. Yesterday, though, Chavez made clear that there would be no foreign bases on Venezuelan soil, but that he had told Russian President Medvedev that his country’s strategic aviation was welcome to “make a stop in Venezuela.” While much media attention has surrounded Russia’s improved ties with Venezuela, its diplomacy with other nations including regional heavyweight Brazil have been downplayed.

A commentary in the Guardian suggests that, for Chavez, “it was easy to score points, both at home and abroad, by bashing President Bush,” but that this tactic has proved difficult with President Obama, who is popular in Latin America. However, President Chavez does not seek an antagonistic relationship with Washington. In fact, he has frequently said that he welcomes talks with the Obama administration, and believes bilateral ties could improve. Any recent criticisms directed at Washington have consistently been about U.S. foreign policy.

In a Newsweek article by Jorge Castaneda, the author makes the absurd speculation that Cuban President Raul Castro’s decision to remove two senior Cuban politicians from office was due to their plotting to overthrow him, and that such a move was supported by President Chavez of Venezuela. No supporting evidence is provided.

Also in regional news, Mauricio Funes, the moderate leftist and FMLN candidate in El Salvador’s presidential race, won the election with 51.3% of the vote. The victory breaks a 20-year grip on power by the country’s right-wing Arena party, whose founder was associated with some of the most repressive elements in the country’s U.S.-backed civil war. Funes, whose FMLN party has been in the political arena since a 1992 peace agreement, pledged to work toward Central American integration as well as strengthen ties with the U.S.

March 13, 2009

Venezuelan Law Guarantees Essential Public Services

Another drug-related arrest was made in Venezuela yesterday, according to the AP. A U.S. man was detained in Monagas state for “cooperating in the crime of drug trafficking,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted yesterday to modify the Law on Decentralization to allow federal jurisdiction over the maintenance and management of the country’s airports and highways. The BBC reports that, in debates on the issue, one lawmaker said the measure would “guarantee essential public services.”

The Economist wrongly reports that a Cargill rice factory in Venezuela was “seized.” This has not occurred, despite the fact that President Chavez made the suggestion last week in a speech. The Law on Food Security stipulates that a certain proportion of agricultural goods in Venezuela must be subject to the price controls that rein in the cost of basic foodstuffs, and producers that do not follow the law have come under scrutiny. The Economist does not report that government officials have been in talks with Polar and other food distributors to ensure that they comply.

In international news, sources report that Brazilian President Lula da Silva will discuss Venezuela at a meeting with President Obama in Washington tomorrow. The AP reports that da Silva said “I’m going to ask that the U.S. take a different view of Latin America. We’re a democratic, peaceful continent, and the U.S. has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug trafficking or organized crime.” In addition to U.S.-Latin American relations, other top issues on the leaders’ agenda are biofuels, the global financial crisis.

Oil futures rose to $48 per barrel yesterday ahead of an OPEC meeting this weekend. Venezuela and China will build a joint refinery this year in Guangdong province that Bloomberg says will “reinforce their energy ties.”

Finally, Venezuela and Mexico signed a cooperation agreement on music education yesterday. Mexican students will visit Venezuelan Youth and Child Orchestras in the coming months. Mexico’s education minister said “the promotion of music in Mexico is part of a plan to improve education and culture as a way to prevent crimes.”

March 2, 2009

Venezuela has taken Unprecedented Steps to Boost Agricultural Productivity

On Thursday, the representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Venezuela, Francisco Arias Milla, said that “there is a group of countries, including Venezuela, that is better prepared to confront this crisis and whatever other crisis that may come,” adding that “this is due to the institutionalization of food security in the region.” The Chavez government has taken unprecedented steps to boost agricultural productivity in Venezuela, resulting in the country’s corn production increasing by 205%, rice by 94%, sugar by 13%, and milk by 11% over the last decade, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.

President Chavez on Saturday rejected a U.S. State Department report that alleges that drug trafficking is soaring in Venezuela, the AP reports. The report, which covers global anti-drug efforts in 2008, was prepared during the final months of the Bush presidency, but was approved and presented by the Clinton State Department. “Is there really a new government in the United States, or is Bush still in charge?” Chavez told supporters in a poor Caracas neighborhood. Although not reflected in the State Department report, Venezuela’s anti-drug efforts have been widely documented. Venezuela is now the country with the fourth largest seizures of cocaine in the world, and in 2008, Venezuelan authorities destroyed over 220 illicit landing strips used by suspected drug runners.

The AFP reports that President Chavez stated he will be attending the April 17-19th Summit of the Americas to “defend the integration of the Caribbean and Latin America and demand that the empire Obama leads lift its blockade of Cuba, abide by UN resolutions and condemns Israel.” Chavez said he was unconcerned with whether he would meet Obama there or not.

Bloomberg reports that on Saturday, President Chavez ordered troops to occupy some rice processing facilities in the country due to their failure to market rice at the regulated price set by the government. The seizure of Arroz Primor rice mill, owned by Empresas Polar SA, will last three months according to El Nacional. Chavez said that rice processors have been buying crops from local farmers but have refused to sell white rice at the controlled price. Instead, they have added colors and artificial flavors to evade these controls. “They’ve refused 100 times to process the typical rice that Venezuelans eat,” Chavez said yesterday during his “Alo Presidente” program on state television. “I’m tired of it and if they don’t take me seriously I’ll expropriate the plants and turn them into social property from private property.”  Chavez also announced that if the companies processing rice followed through with their threat to paralyze production, they could end up facing nationalization.

An article in the Miami Herald, argues that Venezuela faces many problems which are only growing. The article discusses the current financial crisis and the impact of continued low oil prices on government expenditures and debt payments. While Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez has acknowledged the difficult economic outlook, it should be noted that Venezuela has over $70 billion in reserves which can help buffer the economy in the event of a protracted global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal argues that the collapse of a Venezuelan bank owned by R. Allen Stanford is causing concern that the economy could be threatened if other banks in the country also experience massive capital flight. However, there is no evidence that the failure of Stanford’s bank (that represents only a small proportion of total deposits in Venezuela) has generated uncertainty in the Venezuelan banking system as a whole, and the speculation is largely based on rumors. The Venezuelan government has guaranteed the deposits of Stanford Bank and says it will sell the bank.

Finally, on Friday, President Chavez said Venezuela should bring to justice those responsible in the brutal repression of the Caracazo riots that took place in major urban centers throughout the country 20 years ago. Chavez blamed the government in power at the time and said Venezuela “should make greater efforts to search for justice.” It is believed that anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people were killed in the riots. “I’m asking them to review the whole thing.” President Chavez also urged the U.S. to extradite former president Carlos Andres Perez in order for him to be brought to justice for his role in the repression.

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