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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March 24, 2009

Venezuelan Economy Adjusts to Oil Prices

After President Chavez on Saturday announced a series of economic measures to adjust for lowered oil prices, the Associated Press reports that on Monday several analysts warned that the steps would not be enough to tackle the more serious economic problems of inflation and slowed growth. Reuters quotes a Morgan Stanley analyst as saying that, after several years of record economic growth, Venezuela’s economy will likely contract by 4% this year.  However, with over $70 billion in foreign currency reserves, Venezuela is sticking to its plan to invest $20 billion in non-oil sector development projects this year.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s Bolivar strengthened on Monday in the parallel market after Chavez ruled out a currency devaluation.

The AFP reports that President Chavez denied rumors of a rift between Raul Castro and himself, and described such talk as “a little campaign.” The rumor of such a rift was promoted by former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, who later signaled that he has absolutely no evidence to back up his claim.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has proposed that the nation’s charter be re-drafted in order to adapt to the “substantial and significant changes” that have occurred since the adoption of the current constitution in 1982. Zelaya wants voters to decide by June 24th whether a constitutional assembly should be convoked. The move would follow in the footsteps of other countries in the region such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

In an op-ed distributed by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Angelo Rivero Santos, the charge d’affaires of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, responds to allegations of anti-Semitism directed at the government of Venezuela.   Rivero states that “Venezuela’s Jewish community is an integral and essential part of our country’s singularly diverse society.” Given President Chavez’s efforts to fight racism and discrimination,  accusations of anti-Semitism have been “especially painful for the government of Venezuela.”  But Rivero signals that these accusations have been made primarily by organizations based outside of Venezuela and that an organization representing Venezuelan Jews has rejected the claims and expressed disappointment at not having been consulted beforehand.

Finally in an interview by Fareed Zakaria, President Lula da Silva of Brazil was questioned about why his government does not speak out against how Hugo Chavez has “destroyed democracy in Venezuela.” Da Silva responded by stating that “…no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. He (Chavez) has been through five, six elections. I’ve only had two.”  There have in fact been fourteen national elections in Venezuela since Chavez first came to power in 1998, all of which have been characterized as free and fair by independent electoral monitoring groups.

December 18, 2008

Venezuelan National Assembly Begins Review of Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Debates began yesterday in Venezuela’s national assembly regarding an amendment to the constitution to allow indefinite reelection. AFP reports that a “similar” proposal was struck down in a national referendum last year, however, that vote was regarding a package of 69 reforms. Citizens did not weigh in on the issue of term limits specifically, which may be why, as AFP notes, the result of this voting process remains “an open question.”

Yesterday marked the end of the Rio Group summit that brought together the leaders of 33 Latin American countries. It was the largest regional meeting ever to take place without the U.S. or Europe, according to the AP. Mexico’s President Calderon suggested the creation of a Union of Latin American Nations, and host Lula da Silva said: “Two-hundred years is a long time to wait, but it is better late than never.” Bloomberg reports that countries appealed to the U.S. and international financial institutions for debt relief, and according to Reuters, they also advocated an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

After the convivial Latin American summit, the Financial Times oddly reports that Venezuela’s effort to find allies is “running out of gas.” The Times misses the point of the “multilateralism” that President Chavez advocates, reporting instead suggesting that Chavez tries to dominate other countries through “largesse.” Aid programs such as Petrocaribe and ALBA were powerful precursors to the recent regional summit in Brazil, at which Chavez made few headlines. Venezuela’s oil assistance abroad will indeed shrink with the lowered price of crude, but poor countries will also need less assistance.

Finally, yesterday’s OPEC summit concluded with a firm decision to cut output that will see Venezuela’s oil production go down by 189,000 barrels per day, according to the AP. The AP wrongly states that there is a discrepancy between Venezuela’s official oil output and its real output. Bloomberg reports that the new production cut lowers output by about 5.9 percent. Government officials in Venezuela emphasize that they seek to stabilize oil prices.

December 5, 2008

Mayor of Caracas Borough Sworn In

Continuing with coverage on the elections, the AP reports on the barrio of Petare, a traditionally pro-Chavez area which is part of a Caracas district that elected an opposition mayor in last month’s elections. The mayor, Carlos Ocariz, was sworn in yesterday. The article points to crime, trash collection, and public services as reasons why Petare went to the opposition. The AP downplays the fact that the largest, most populous district in Caracas, Libertador, was won by the pro-government PSUV candidate Jorge Rodriguez by over 100,000 votes.

Regarding the continuing slump in oil prices, Bloomberg reports that an analyst at the Eurasia group believes that Chavez may be trying to “rush through a vote” on term limits before the impact of low oil prices affects his popularity. This claim has been made in several other news stories recently. However, other analysts have said that Venezuela is well prepared to weather a world-wide economic crisis that has led to the lower price of oil. The country has over $40 billion in international reserves. The Chavez administration has repeatedly said that it will continue to fund the social missions that have helped millions of poor Venezuelans and contributed to a 35% drop in poverty.

Finally, Mexico’s Cemex is seeking arbitration through the World Bank after rejecting compensation proposed by the Venezuelan government for cement manufacturing assets nationalized earlier this year. The AP wrongly calls the nationalization process a “confiscation,” when in fact laws in Venezuela guarantee compensation to firms. President Chavez said last week that talks with Cemex are ongoing, at that the company can expect less than the value it initially demanded because its plants require investment to meet environmental standards.

August 20, 2008

Economic Growth Continues, Cement Companies Go National

Venezuela’s Central Bank shows economic growth of 7.1 percent during the second quarter of 2008, reports the Associated Press today. Non-oil related GDP continues to rise at the fastest rate by 7.8 percent, while oil-related GDP grew 3.2 percent. Communications and construction showed the largest expansion at 24.6 percent and 11.7 percent respectively. In related news, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said that if there appears to be a trend in the decline of oil prices, “Venezuela would have to analyze the possibility of a production cut.” He made the remarks while talking about an upcoming OPEC meeting which Venezuela will attend next month.

In other economic news, the Los Angeles Times covers the negotiation process between foreign cement companies operating in Venezuela and the government, as a two month long negotiation period draws to a close. Although, French and Swiss companies have agreed to new terms and will sell a majority stake of their companies to the Venezuelan government, Cemex, a Mexican owned operation, failed to come to an agreement with Venezuela. Cemex asked for roughly $1.3 billion in compensation, which Venezuela deemed excessive. Despite this, Venezuela took control of the operation yesterday and will pay “fair value for the firm” according to Venezuela’s energy minister, Rafael Ramirez. The government plans to utilize the cement companies in a national project to build homes for the poor.

Finally, the South African press reports that President Chavez will visit South Africa in early September on the invitation of President Thabo Mbeki. According to the Venezuelan embassy there, the visit is scheduled to take place between September 2-3 and aims to bring closer cooperation between the two nations and the creation of a bi-national commission.

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