VIO News Blog

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.

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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.”

April 23, 2009

Venezuela Alerts Interpol in Corruption Case

On Wednesday, Republican legislators criticized Barack Obama for shaking President Chavez’s hand last weekend. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed saying “I found it somewhat amusing, to be honest…why should we be afraid of shaking somebody’s hand?, Reuters reports.

Manuel Rosales,a Venezuelan opposition leader who fled to Peru seeking asylum because he believes corruption charges against him are politically motivated, has said that he will fight Chavez from Peru, the AFP reports. However, Peru’s Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said that Rosales could not use his country as a political platform. “Peru can’t be used as a political platform for any foreigner because that would violate the very nature of the refuge or political asylum that could be granted,” he added. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Venezuelan courts have issued an arrest warrant for Rosales and sent out alerts to Interpol after Rosales failed to appear at a preliminary hearing.

Finally, more reports are circulating regarding Venezuela’s donation of an island in the Delaware River to New Jersey. The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that a ceremony of the transfer of Petty Island from Venezuela’s Citgo to the State of New Jersey was canceled due to miscommunication between Citgo and Governor Corzine’s office.

April 22, 2009

Sometimes a Handshake is Just a Handshake

More articles are circulating regarding the several brief meetings between Presidents Chavez and Obama this past weekend. Reuters reports that President Obama received a sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for these meetings. Obama dismissed their concerns by mentioning that 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.” The two countries have already begun talks on reinstating ambassadors.

The BBC reports that Venezuelan opposition leader and Mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales failed to appear in court on the first day of his trial on alleged illicit enrichment. Reuters reports that Manuel Rosales believes the trial is politically motivated and that he escaped from hiding and is now in Peru where he will seek political asylum.

A Boston Herald editorial asserts that the Summit of the Americas has “turned into a thug-fest, a showcase for the hemisphere’s bullies to express their contempt for their big, bad neighbor to the north.” The author of the piece fails to take into account the fact that these ‘thugs’ are actually democratically elected leaders of their respective countries, or that the hemisphere’s leaders interactions with Obama were cordial, if not friendly.

Finally, a letter to the editor in the Washington Times, argues that President Obama was correct in reaching out to President Chavez, adding that “It would ill serve our president and our people if Mr. Obama were to enter the world stage with preordained hatred and contempt for the leaders of nations with which we have been at odds in the past.”

April 7, 2009

Venezuela Hails US Initiative to Free the World from Nuclear Weapons

On Tuesday, President Chavez praised President Obama’s initiative to see the future world free of nuclear weapons, adding that he was open to cooperation with the Obama administration, AP reports. Chavez added “in the framework of respect, anything is possible: closer ties, including a possible dialogue.”

While in Japan, Chavez signed an agreement with Japan that could bring over $33 billion of additional investment to Venezuela’s oil industry. On Tuesday, Venezuela and Japan created a $4 billion investment fund, that will be part of a larger agreement on investment.

Finally, a Reuters article on recent corruption charges against opposition leaders Manuel Rosales and Raul Baduel asserts that the charges are part of a recent crackdown on the opposition.  It should be noted that, in the case of Rosales, the courts have not yet decided on whether the charges have legal merit. Meanwhile, Raul Baduel was recently arrested after having failed seven times to appear in court after having been summoned to testify about the disappearance of over $14 million during his tenure as defense minister.

April 1, 2009

Venezuela in Qatar to Help Create a Multipolar World

On Tuesday a summit of South American and Arab governments took place in Doha, Qatar, in which leaders discussed ways in which to deepen economic and political ties between the two regions. President Chavez called on his colleagues to work together to help create a “multipolar world” and pressed for the creation of an oil-backed currency. AP and AFP report that heads of state agreed on the need to further expand technological exchanges and develop instruments of financial cooperation. According to AFP, trade between the regions has tripled since the first summit of this kind was held in Brasilia in 2005.

Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales, who has been accused of ‘illicit enrichment’ during his roles as governor of Zulia, is now in hiding somewhere in the city of Maracaibo, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Rosales stated that he would not “turn himself in without the possibility of a fair trial.” Though a prosecutor has called for Rosales to be detained, the courts have not issued a warrant for his arrest or determined whether he will need to go to trial.

In economic news, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s central bank cut interest rates on credit cards, savings accounts and short-term deposits in order to promote economic growth.

Finally in last night’s soccer match, Venezuela defeated Colombia 2-0, increasing the team’s chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

March 25, 2009

Venezuelan City has new Sister in Wisconsin

Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and Edgar Carracaso, mayor of Carora, signed a sister city agreement on Tuesday. It marks the first such agreement between a Venezuelan and a U.S. city in the past 10 years. Mayor Carrasco stated that “Our governments may have differences, but that doesn’t offset our countries’ abilities to know each other.” Carrasco added that Carora will be developing the Casa El Alba to promote cultural and economic ties between the two cities and offer US visitors information about the city of Carora and Venezuela.

Venezuela’s biggest mosque, located in downtown Caracas, was robbed and ransacked according to the Associated Press. No suspects have yet been identified. An administrator said it was the second time the mosque had been broken into since September of last year.  In February of this year, an important Caracas synagogue was also broken into and vandalized.  Though various news outlets presented the incident as an “anti-Semitic” attack, a police investigation indicated that the primary motive was theft.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has decided to move the corruption trial of Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales from the state of Zulia to Caracas, as judges in Rosales’s home state were allegedly caught meeting with the opposition mayor. Four judges in Zulia have also been suspended from their duties by the Supreme Court for participating in the alleged meeting. Rosales asserted that the decision was made by the Chavez government in order to find an “obedient judge.” Zulia lawmaker Calixto Ortega, however, stated that at least one of the four sanctioned judges was in a position to exercise direct influence on the Rosales case.

In economic news, the AP reports that progress is being made in establishing the Bank of the South, a regional financial institution designed to provide an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, both of which have strong ties to the US Treasury Department. The Bank of the South is expected to launch its operations in May with $10 billion in initial capital. Its members are currently Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Finally, McClatchy reports that CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall has claimed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system is not secure and was tampered with by President Chavez during a 2004 referendum on his presidency. Without providing any evidence to back his assertions, Stigall stated that “it was my understanding that” the computer program used for the audit of the voting machines “was provided by Chavez.” Stigall’s claims, made before a hearing in Orlando, Florida, run contrary to the assessment made by independent electoral monitoring missions from the Carter Center and the OAS, that concluded that the 2004 elections had been fair and transparent.

March 23, 2009

Chavez and Delahunt Meet in Caracas

United States Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA) met with President Chavez in Caracas, and told reporters that he had a “very positive and constructive conversation.” The AP states that Mr. Delahunt left the meeting expressing hopefulness about the prospect of improved relations between the United States and Venezuela.

On Thursday, Venezuelan public prosecutor Katiuska Plaza called for the arrest of Manuel Rosales, mayor of the city of Maracaibo, on charges of corruption during his previous years as governor of the state of Zulia. The Miami Herald quotes an opposition-aligned commentator who suggests that the decision is a political one by President Chavez aimed at inciting fear within the opposition. . The Herald also quotes Human Rights Watch to substantiate the claim that Chávez has “effectively neutralized the judiciary as an independent branch of government.”  The article states that the Venezuelan government accuses HRW of anti-Chavez bias.  It fails to inform readers that critics of HRW’s work on Venezuela also include an independent group of 100 academics that recently signed a letter arguing that HRW’s 2008 report on the Chavez government’s human rights record was methodologically flawed and highly biased.

The government of Venezuela is to announce measures to combat the effects of the global economic crisis Saturday. Reuters reports that the Bolivar is losing value due to economic fears, and Bloomberg reports that Goldman Sachs believes that President Chavez may announce a currency devaluation tomorrow.  President Chavez said that public officials needed to stop living “lavish lifestyles”but insisted that the government’s many popular social programs would be maintained.

Japan and Venezuela signed an oil cooperation agreement yesterday. Bloomberg reports that the deal clears the way for Japanese companies to co-develop oil reserves in the Orinoco Delta, with Venezuela’s state oil company.

President Chavez said Thursday that Venezuela will go ahead with the nationalization of Santander bank, and that negotiations regarding payments are continuing. Reuters quotes Chavez as stating “We are not retreating. Today we have returned to the subject, I announce the nationalization of Banco de Venezuela to strengthen the national public banking system.”

A letter to the editor “Misguided guilt by association” by Jacob Feinspan of Jews United for Justice in the Washington Times sends a strong rebuttal to a previous letter from Brad Botwin on Monday titled “The new face of anti-semitism.” Botwin argued that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was promoting anti-semitism and that Casa de Maryland, a community organization in the DC area, was expressing approval for antisemitism by accepting funding from Citgo, a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company. Feinspan stated that the “Jewish community also knows all too well the dangers of false and baseless accusations or conspiracy theories.”

Finally, Korea and Venezuela will face off against one another in the World Baseball Classic tomorrow.

December 12, 2008

United Socialist Party of Venezuela Begins Presidential Referendum Process

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began collecting signatures yesterday in support of a national referendum on presidential term limits. It will hand the list over to the National Assembly next Thursday, according to Venezuelanalysis, when lawmakers are scheduled to begin debating the measure. The AP does not mention the PSUV, wrongly attributing the signature collection campaign to President Chavez himself. It notes that Chavez expressed in a speech that allowing him to run for election again is “a guarantee of peace.”

Sources report that Manuel Rosales, the former Zulia governor and new mayor of Maracaibo who lost to Chavez in the last presidential race, was charged with illicit enrichment by prosecutors yesterday. The AP, Reuters, and the AFP quote liberally from statements made by Rosales at a press conference after his indictment for corruption, for which he could face three to ten years in jail. Rosales called it “a terrorist trial,” and joked about being accused of assassinating JFK.

An op-ed in the Guardian by former AP Venezuela correspondent Bart Jones suggests that President Chavez “is sure to give more ammunition to his critics” during his bid for reelection. He also says, though, that unlike other politicians in Venezuela including opposition members involved in the 2002 coup, “Chávez has generally remained within the bounds of democracy.”

On the economy, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuela’s 2009 budget has been approved by the National Assembly. Spending is up by 22 percent, despite decreased oil revenues. The Herald deems the budget “optimistic.” However, finance experts in Venezuela have pointed out the country’s foreign currency reserves are high, and that by boosting official spending and reducing discretionary spending, the budget shows increased transparency.

Venezuela is upping its natural gas production with the help of foreign partners, according to Bloomberg. Firms with a minority stake in the first two natural gas plants include Chevron, Mitsubishi, Energia Argentina, and Galp of Portugal. Finally, in oil news, Reuters reports that 19 companies are bidding for contracts in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt projects.

December 3, 2008

Manuel Rosales Summoned by Venezuelan Attorney General

Manuel Rosales, the opposition candidate who lost to Hugo Chavez in the last presidential elections, has been called to a hearing by Venezuela’s Attorney General. According to the AP and Bloomberg, prosecutors will determine next Thursday whether to file criminal charges against him for the misuse of public funds.

An electoral official in Venezuela has said that a referendum to amend the constitution and end presidential term limits could occur in February, according to the AP. Voters can bring about a referendum through petitioning, as they did in 2004, but fifteen percent (about 2.5 million) will need to sign on. Reuters reports that President Chavez also mentioned the end of February as a possible referendum date. The Electoral Council has 30 days to hold a vote once a petition is complete. The Miami Herald insists that the initiative is a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life” — an inaccurate statement given that the Venezuelan leader would simply be allowed to compete in future democratic elections, giving voters more candidates from which to choose. The Herald also puts inflation rates in Venezuela at 35 percent, which is about 5 percentage points too high, according to estimates published this month in the Caracas newspaper El Universal.

The BBC reports that Venezuela’s opposition is determined to block a referendum on presidential term limits. They say the initiative was rejected by voters a year ago, when a set of 69 constitutional reforms did not pass. According to a Dow Jones article which quotes only opposition sources, the referendum is being pushed through quickly ahead of an impending economic crash. Many experts, though, do not share Dow Jones’s picture of a “bleak economic outlook” for 2009; Venezuela’s economy has been deemed robust and able to survive lowered oil prices by analysts from CEPR and IDEAGlobal.

In other economic news, the Financial Times reports that private companies including banks have thrived under the administration of President Chavez, giving rise to new business elites. It profiles Wilmer Ruperti, who broke the PDVSA oil sabotage in 2002 and has become one of the so-called “Boligarchs.” The subtext here is that corruption permeates the Chavez administration — a claim also made in the Miami Herald and Christian Science Monitor today. According to one expert, oil booms have always produced new elites, and this “is history repeating itself.”

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor reports on crime in Venezuela and citizen concerns about security despite the fact that “extreme poverty and unemployment have been halved since Chávez took office.” It deems Caracas the “murder capital” of South America, but does not mention that murder rates in Venezuela overall are lower than those in neighboring Colombia and in El Salvador. The president, meanwhile, has not been “punished at the ballot box” for high crime rates because many understand the problem as an inherited one.

CORRECTION: yesterday’s roundup incorrectly stated that Reuters and Time Magazine articles portrayed President Chavez’s call for new legislation ending presidential term limits as “autocratic.” The word autocratic ought not to have had quotation marks around it, for it was not taken verbatim from either article.

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