VIO News Blog

December 17, 2008

Latin American Summit Highlights Progress in the Region

A Latin American summit is taking place in Brazil with the participation of leaders from 31 countries. Sources report that leaders pointed to the absence of the U.S. as a sign of change. “There was a time when our friend Chavez was all alone,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva, highlighting new progressive democratic governments in Bolivia and Paraguay. The AP reports that Chavez said: “The important thing is that we are here together, without the patronage of the empire.” The Times reports that the U.S. was made a “punching bag” at the event, but the AP quotes an expert who says: “This is a healthy development and should not be seen as a rejection of the U.S.”

The 12 member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) agreed to form a South American Defense Council, according to AFP. The decision was reached in Brazil yesterday just before the broader Latin American summit. The AP wrongly states that Venezuela “challenged Brazil’s idea for a regional defense council” by holding joint military exercises with Russia, but the council was in fact Chile’s initiative, and South American countries have not expressed wariness over the maneuvers. Nor did U.S. leaders — according to CBS, the head of Southern Command said: “I don’t think that Russia and Venezuela are really serious about putting together a military coalition… to oppose anybody.”

OPEC oil ministers are meeting in Algeria today, and the AFP reports that they have moved to cut output by up to up to 2.6 million barrels. This could be the largest production cut made by OPEC since its formation. “We think it should stabilize at $70, $80, $90. That would be fair,” Chavez said yesterday, according to Reuters.

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December 2, 2008

Venezuela to Aid Nicaragua if US and Europe Refuse

Venezuela has offered economic assistance to Nicaragua if the U.S. and Europe follow through on threats to withdraw anti-poverty aid, according to the AP today. President Ortega said the offer came “without conditions of any sort.”

More news appears today on comments made by President Chavez about the possibility that lawmakers or voters could push a referendum soon on ending presidential term limits. The AP reports that Chavez emphasized that such an initiative should not drag on, saying “I wouldn’t like to spend 2009 in a debate, a long campaign.” Last December, this and 68 other constitutional reforms were defeated by less than two percentage points in a referendum, but experts emphasize continued support for the president. Reuters and Time present the possible end to term limits as an autocratic move by President Chavez, even though his mandate would remain subject to democratic elections. Many other democracies throughout the world — including Canada, Chile, and Peru — do not impose term limits on the top executive.

The BBC reports today that joint naval exercises between Venezuela and Russia are intended to “evaluate the skills and capabilities of the fleets of both nations to fight against terrorism and drug-trafficking,” according to a Russian Vice-Admiral. The exercises, as well as a potential deal on the production of nuclear energy for civilian use, have been portrayed the media as a revival of Cold War-era dynamics. President Chavez, however, has emphasized the issues of sovereignty and multilateralism. The Miami Herald persists in calling the naval exercises an “anti-U.S.” move and reports that Chavez tried to “politicize” the visit of President Medvedev by giving him a Simon Bolivar award.

The Russian leader in fact spent less time in Venezuela than in the other countries he visited: Peru, Brazil, and Cuba. A Washington Post op-ed suggests that the visit was a “farce” that served only to show that Russia “can play games in America’s back yard.” The “back yard” designation is one Latin America has sought to shake.

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.

November 20, 2008

Global Cooperation Abounds as Venezuela Reaches out to Africa and Asia

Reuters reported yesterday on the political scene in Venezuela ahead of Sunday’s elections. President Chavez, it states, is “still popular” with 60 percent approval and “polls show his party will likely hold onto a large majority of states even though the opposition could make some gains.” Chavez’s suggestion that he would pursue more policy changes if his PSUV political party emerges with sufficient support could mark a change from “slowed reforms” in response to the rejection of constitutional reforms by voters in a national referendum last December. One analyst said: “The stakes are high on both sides.”

World leaders are heading to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Peru this weekend. The leaders of Russia and Vietnam planned stops in Venezuela on either side of the meeting. Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet (pictured at right) discussed oil and gas ties with President Chavez yesterday, according to AFP. Dow Jones reports that PetroVietnam may invest $9 billion in oil production in Venezuela. Meanwhile, media buzz has surrounded Russian President Medvedev’s visit to Venezuela. Press accounts such as a Reuters article today deem this an attempt to “rile the U.S.” and revive Cold War-era politics, while downplaying the fact that Medvedev will also go to Brazil and Peru, and will likely meet with President Bush at the APEC meeting.

Venezuela’s expansion of relations with Africa continued yesterday with the announcement of a new cooperation deal with Zimbabwe. According to AFP, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolivar, emphasized the importance of “south-south cooperation.” Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s top rep in Brazil said: “Venezuela provides great assistance to our country through donations made through the World Food Program.” Agriculture has been a key area of cooperation for the countries.

Finally, in cultural news, two articles today feature the classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose origins in Venezuela’s state-funded music program led him to global fame. The Washington Times deems Dudamel “better than the hype.” The L.A. Times reports that the music program, called “el sistema,” receives $29 million from the Venezuelan government each year. It teaches “the values of self-discipline and teamwork in service of social harmony.”

November 18, 2008

Venezuelans Satisfied with their Democracy

Venezuela will host a meeting for members of the regional cooperation agreements Petrocaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) next Wednesday, November 26th, according to El Universal. The session was announced as a counterpoint to the G-20 summit in Washington. President Morales of Bolivia said that the intention is “not to discuss the financial crisis, but how to enhance and complement our economies to serve our people.”

Immigrants in Venezuela, often hailing from neighboring Colombia, tend to support President Chavez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Miami Herald reports today. The social program called “Mission Identity” is helping extend the benefits of citizenship to this sector. Critics say that it is a bid to gain votes ahead of regional elections this Sunday, but Mission Identity was founded in October 2003. One expert explained: “This is an effort to integrate into society Colombians who have been here for decades, and long after they would have been required to be [naturalized] by law.” According to UN estimates, there are over 200,000 Colombian asylum seekers in Venezuela. Government programs also provide refugees with job training and low-interest loans to help stimulate economic development.

Approval ratings for President Chavez remain steady at over fifty percent, though the leader is described as “increasingly unpopular” in the U.S. media. A Washington Post editorial today makes this claim. The editorial advises President-elect Obama not to speak with Chavez, although Obama has said that he would indeed seek dialogue. It wrongly states that Chavez, who has several electoral victories under his belt and has boosted Venezuela’s ties to many nations in Latin America and the world, is “grabbing the coattails” of Obama in order to earn popularity. The Times also deems unconstitutional a law that prohibits individuals from running for public office while they face corruption investigations. This point is not addressed in the Venezuelan charter, but has been upheld by the country’s Judiciary and electoral authority.

A New York Times editorial today urges free trade with Colombia and asserts that President Chavez uses anti-U.S. rhetoric to “distract attention” from so-called “autocratic policies” at home. The claim that Chavez is “anti-U.S.” ignores his overtures to the American people and hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty assistance in the U.S. As the Post points out today, he congratulated Obama on his electoral win and said he anticipates better relations with the U.S. The Chavez administration has seen 11 electoral processes, certified as free and fair by all international observers. In a recent poll by Latinobarometro, Venezuelans expressed more satisfaction with democracy than citizens in any other country in the region besides Uruguay. Venezuelans were also by far the most likely to agree that voting is the best way to influence change.

Finally, an argument in favor of taking Venezuela seriously and improving relations appears in a George Mason University publication; it states that “U.S. officials should open their minds to a new relationship with Caracas.” Two other opinion pieces consider the effects of the financial crisis in Latin America. A Washington Post op-ed finds that the region is not well isolated from the crisis, while a ZNet op-ed views Latin America as less dependent on the U.S. and therefore less vulnerable to collapse.

November 4, 2008

President Chavez Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel in US-Venezuela Relations

As U.S. voters go to the polls today, AFP reports that President Chavez said he sees Barack Obama as “a small light on the horizon” for relations between the two countries. He predicted an Obama victory and said he looked forward to meeting him as “equals” and “with respect.” Chavez is often cast as an “anti-U.S.” figure in the media, which often passes over the context of aggression against Venezuela by the Bush administration.

Franklin Duran will appeal the guilty verdict he received yesterday from a jury in Miami, which propped up FBI allegations that Duran acted as an unregistered foreign agent. The AP reports that Duran’s lawyer contends that his client was entrapped by the FBI, and called the trial “a political circus” created by the U.S. government to discredit the Chavez government. According to the Miami Herald, Duran’s rep said, “We’re going to keep this fight up.”

If indeed the Miami trial is as politicized as some experts suggest, a Wall Street Journal editorial today provides the fruits of the FBI’s agenda. The Journal claims the trial shows President Chavez is a “danger to democracy” in the region. This is despite the fact that Venezuela has seen a democratic revival during Chavez’s two terms in office. The editorial also suggests that the Venezuelan leader funded the electoral victories of leaders in Argentina and elsewhere, an analysis that amounts to little more than a baseless conspiracy theory. Like many other new elected leaders in Latin America in recent years, Argentina’s Fernandez was legitimately popular, and would not have needed aid.

Finally, ahead of regional elections in Venezuela on November 23rd, Reuters provides a particularly flimsy report on the political scene there. Repeating  Chavez’s claim last week that he would seek to jail an opposition mayor aligned with those who staged a coup in 2002, Reuters wrongly states that campaigns for Venezuela’s ruling party revolve only around a “common enemy.” To make this suggestion, government policies are taken out of context.

November 3, 2008

VIO to Post: Enough with the Name-calling

A VIO letter to the editor published in the Washington Post today takes issue with an editorial that labeled Venezuela a “rogue” and misrepresented its economic situation in the face of the global crisis. Though booms and busts affect Venezuela, its robust credit and foreign currency reserves will allow the country to sustain social programs to benefit the poor even with lower oil prices. Venezuela seeks stable oil prices, but has weathered far more volatility than that seen in recent months. The letter also states that President Chavez is not “anti-U.S.,” but seeks dialogue with U.S. leaders in the wake of recent aggression.

This sentiment is echoed in news today about Chavez’s comment that an Obama victory in the U.S. elections could lead to improved U.S.-Venezuela relations. Chavez said “I am ready to sit down and talk … and I hope we can enter a new stage,” according to Reuters. The AP reports that Chavez said he looks forward to meeting Obama “on equal and respectful terms.” Sadly, an Obama spokesperson countered that the Venezuelan leader “does not govern democratically.” The country has seen a dozen electoral processes under Chavez, certified as free and fair by all international observers. Analysts praised the democratic comportment of the Chavez administration during December’s referendum on constitutional reforms in particular. The reforms were narrowly defeated, prompting Chavez to concede defeat and change tack.

Bloomberg reports that Chavez also commented: “A black man may become president of the U.S., and we can say that’s no small thing…. I send an overture to the black man, from us here, who are of Indigenous, black, Caribbean, South American race.” Similarly, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said the possibility of an Obama win brings “a little bit of happiness.” He said: “Just as Brazil elected a metal worker, Bolivia elected an Indian, Venezuela elected Chavez and Paraguay a bishop, I think that it would be an extraordinary thing if, in the largest economy in the world, a black were elected president of the United States.”

Jurors take a break this week in the Florida trial of Franklin Duran, in which the U.S. accuses  the Venezuelan man of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Duran claims he was duped by the FBI. Last week, jurors could not agree on a verdict, but the judge ordered them to try again. “If he is found guilty, those that are anti-Chávez will be happy,” according to a Venezuelan journalist quoted by the New York Times.

Venezuela’s state oil company opens bidding next month on oil projects in the Orinoco River belt. The AP reports that this area has the capacity to produce 400,000 barrels of crude per day. Foreign oil companies are invited to bid on the projects. Finally, the Houston Chronicle reports that U.S. energy independence is something that is “easier said than done.” One expert called campaign promises to stop importing foreign oil “hogwash.” “It’s not doable, but it plays well with audiences,” said another.

October 31, 2008

Venezuela Sees Opportunity for Cooperation in Global Financial Crisis

President Chavez spoke again about the world financial crisis yesterday, saying that it should come as an opportunity to create new international institutions. According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, the Venezuelan leader said the “dictatorship of the dollar” and the IMF has collapsed. Venezuela has played a key role in helping create multilateral institutions for regional cooperation such as ALBA, UNASUR, and the Bank of the South. El Universal also reports today that Venezuela donated $1 million to Paraguay to provide drinking water and health care to Indigenous communities suffering from a prolonged drought.

Venezuela’s Ambassador to Argentina visited the holocaust museum in Buenos Aires yesterday. The head of the World Jewish Congress dispelled false rumors that Venezuela’s government subscribed to antisemitism. He said, “it is gratifying to see this sign of recognition by the Venezuelan government of the dark tragedy that befell the Jewish people, something that President Hugo Chavez himself acknowledged during our meeting with him.”

In oil news, the AP reports that prices have fallen again to $64 per barrel. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil made history yesterday when it reported record-breaking quarterly profits. Other private oil firms also saw successes; profits for BP jumped 83% and ConocoPhillips rose by 41%. Meanwhile, oil-producing countries are already feeling the negative effects the drop in the value of crude. An Iranian politician said, “The first wave of the crisis are the low oil prices that have reached us. This is a big loss.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela is inviting companies to purchase shares of oil projects in the Orinoco region. The state bought a majority stake in the projects last year. 47 oil companies are considering bidding on the Orinoco reserves (which comprise 1% of global supplies), including Chevron, Shell and Total.

October 29, 2008

Venezuela to Launch “Simon Bolivar” Satellite

Venezuela and China will jointly launch a telecommunications satellite today, the BBC reports. The satellite, named “Simon Bolivar” for the independence leader, is the result of a $400 million accord signed four years ago. The BBC mentions rumors that Venezuela would use the satellite for intelligence purposes. The Chavez government has said, though, that it will be shared with other Latin American countries to provide people in remote areas with TV, radio and internet access and also to expand social programs through tele-education and tele-medicine.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Ecuador’s Amazonian region yesterday, where Latin American leaders met to discuss the economy. Chavez advocated production cuts within OPEC to stabilize the price of oil, according to the AFP. AFP also reports that the financial crisis “hangs over” the annual Ibero-American Summit, which begins today in El Salvador. The summit focuses on youth and development.

A column by a former Bush administration official in the New York Post makes the false and damaging claim that Venezuela would make an atomic bomb. Without citing evidence, the op-ed denies that Venezuela’s nuclear energy program is meant for peaceful purposes, as has been consistently indicated by Venezuelan leaders and independent analysts. Empty threats about collaboration with Iran are trumped up, yet the op-ed blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela plans to work with France — a world leader in the production of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Finally, Venezuela is helping Cuba triple its capacity to refine oil. According to Reuters, “Venezuela is revitalizing Cuba’s downstream operations and plans to use the island as a bridge to supply the Caribbean with crude and derivatives with preferential financing.” This is done through the program called “Petrocaribe.”

October 28, 2008

Venezuela Joins Latin American Nations to Urge Reform of International Financial System

Latin American leaders met in Brazil yesterday to discuss the economy, urging reform to the international financial system. Representatives were present from eleven countries and included Venezuela’s foreign minister, finance minister, and central bank president. The AP reports that Brazil’s foreign minister (pictured at right) said, “There’s a consensus that integration will help to mitigate the effects of the international crisis.”

According to Reuters, the value of Venezuela’s currency has reached a one-year low. The BBC looks at oil prices and considers the possibility of economic woes for Venezuela, and like many articles in recent days, trumps up the threat of a bust. The BBC also points out, thought, that “not all analysts paint a bleak picture.” The Houston Chronicle meanwhile reports that Latin America’s economic growth in 2009 will likely suffer due to downturn in the US, but that the region is better prepared to deal with crises today than it has been in the past.

Finally, the jury in the “suitcasegate” trial in Florida continues deliberating today, according to the Miami Herald. Allegations of corruption in the Chavez government have been at the heart of the trial, though they are unrelated to the charges faced by defendant Franklin Duran, who is accused by the U.S. government of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Venezuelan officials and independent analysts alike see the trial as politically motivated

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