VIO News Blog

January 6, 2009

Venezuelan Unemployment Halved under Chavez

Venezuela ended 2008 with 6 percent unemployment, just half of what it was when President Chavez first entered office in 1999. The Spanish news agency EFE reports that the figure, the lowest in a decade, was released by the National Statistics Institute. Job security measures continue to be in place in Venezuela to guard against losses. In comparison, U.S. unemployment in November was 6.7 percent, and Reuters reported yesterday that analysts say it could reach a high of 11 percent by 2010.

President Chavez said yesterday that the right to run for indefinite reelection should be extended to governors, mayors, and representatives in the National Assembly. A bid to permit reelection for the executive office has been before lawmakers since December, and could be put to citizens in a national referendum as soon as February. Reuters reports that Chavez suggested changing the language of the proposed amendment to include all elected offices. Dow Jones claims this is “something that voters rejected in a referendum in December 2007,” however, reelection was not singled out among the package of 69 reforms that were narrowly voted down.

The world economic crisis has sadly caused Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil firm Pdvsa, to suspend donations of home heating oil through the Boston-based charity Citizens Energy. Citgo has provided heating assistance to nearly a quarter of a million low-income families in the U.S. since 2005. Donations last winter alone were valued at $100 million, according to the Boston Globe. Bloomberg reports that recipients also included 250 shelters and 37 Native American tribes.

New York Post cruelly calls Joseph Kennedy of Citizens Energy a “propaganda tool” of President Chavez, and wrongly claims Venezuela’s show of solidarity with the American people was not genuine. Chavez has often stressed that his criticisms are of the Bush administration and U.S. interventionism, not U.S. citizens. Last October, he said: “the U.S. is a great country . . . what we need to do is talk.” After the Venezuelan leader visited New York City and witnessed poverty there, Citgo also gave over $1 million to charities for children in the South Bronx. The Boston Globe quotes a professor who says Chavez “tried to communicate directly with segments of the American population with the understanding that Americans are not monolithic in their perspectives.”

The AP and the BBC report that Joseph Kennedy of Citizen’s Energy said yesterday in a press conference: “This shouldn’t be the responsibility of another country. I don’t get one barrel from one US company. Not one.” Indeed, Citgo was the only oil company to respond to requests from U.S. senators in Fall 2005. Meanwhile, as recently as last summer, conservatives in congress blocked legislation that would have provided federal funding for low-income energy assistance.

Finally, in other news, Bloomberg reports on the prospects for U.S.-Venezuela relations under the Obama administration. In an interview, former Ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez called Bush’s “with-us-or-against-us” stance “simplistic,” and said: “What we have to do is sit down and discuss issues.”

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September 24, 2008

Venezuelan Local Election Campaigns Begin as Latin American Leaders Discuss Global Economy

Campaigning for local elections began yesterday in Venezuela. According to the AP, the mayoral and gubernatorial races will be “a key test” for the political party of President Chavez (the PSUV) and for opposition groups. A war of words has already begun, with opposition leaders claiming that it is unfair for the government to have “exclusive use” of state television, even though most private networks are staunchly anti-Chavez. Meanwhile, the Caracas mayoral candidate Jorge Rodriguez appealed to the opposition to “Leave behind the violent behavior.” Voting will take place on November 23rd.

In China yesterday, President Chavez promised to raise Venezuelan exports to the fast-growing country to 1 million barrels a day by 2012, according to the AP. Reuters reports that a preexisting joint development fund between China and Venezuela will be doubled to reach $12 billion, and that the countries will create two joint oil refineries. Forbes claims that these economic ties are spurred by Venezuela’s supposed desire to “cozy up to left-leaning rivals of the United States,” though the US certainly does more trade each year with China than Venezuela does.

The trial of Venezuelan businessmen accused by the US government as acting as unregistered foreign agents continues in Florida. The BBC and AP report that one of the accused men, who have plead guilty, now says that the funds in question totaled $4.2 million. US prosecutors refuse to see the trial as a politically motivated move by the US against Venezuela, though experts point out that the circumstances are suspect and that no similar trial would likely be brought against any other country in the region.

At the UN Summit in New York, Latin American leaders from many countries decried government bailouts in the US and expressed fears about the volatile “casino” economy of the northern nation, according to the Miami Herald. “We must not allow the burden of boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all… The economy is too serious an undertaking to be left in the hands of speculators. Ethics must also apply to the economy,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva. Meanwhile, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina lamented the fact that “In South America, they told us that the market would solve everything.”

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