VIO News Blog

January 28, 2009

Venezuelan FM: Relationship with the Middle East is Transparent

Venezuela has a “transparent relationship” with the Middle East, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said yesterday. The AFP reports that he explained: “We have no official relations with (Hamas and Hezbollah) and if we did we would say so. …Our government totally and absolutely guarantees religious equality and nondiscrimination on religious issues.” The comments were a response to allegations in an Israeli newspaper the same day Israel expelled Venezuelan diplomats.

Maduro also said yesterday that Venezuela respects President Obama’s plan for energy independence, but that “at the same time we have been asking them to respect Venezuelan and Latin American decisions concerning the path we have taken.” According to the Financial Times, Obama plans to cut U.S. oil use by 4m barrels a day within 10 years. U.S. oil consumption has grown over the decade to reach 20.7 million barrels per day, an amount greater that of than any other nation.

The AP and Reuters report on comments by Venezuela’s foreign minister with headlines declaring that Venezuela-U.S. relations will remain on hold under Obama. The actual statements suggest a far more measured position, though; Maduro said that Venezuela will seek to restore diplomatic ties with the U.S. “in the best and most correct manner,” and that this “will probably take some time.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (seen at right) accused Iran of “subversive activity” in Latin America yesterday at a senate hearing in Washington. He claimed Iranians are opening “a lot of offices” in “a number of places.” Venezuela was mentioned as the site of a visit by the Russian navy on its tour of the region last year. Gates joked that the Russians would have had more fun had they visited Miami.

An ALBA summit will be held in Venezuela next week, according to CNN. Set to attend are the leaders of Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia, as well as representatives from Ecuador and other observer nations. They will discuss common initiatives, including a shared currency. CNN mentions the upcoming referendum in Venezuela on term limits, claiming Venezuelans rejected similar legislation last year. However, that referendum concerned 69 proposals including communal property rights, recognition for Afro-Venezuelans, ending foreign funding for political campaigns, and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

USA Today provides a very misleading account of the issue of term limits in Venezuela and other Latin American nations. It wrongly classifies democratic leaders in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as a new class of “strongmen.” The leaders are described as authoritarian despite the fact that they are “generally civilians instead of soldiers, and they take office via elections instead of coups… [and] are staying in office because they are so popular.” Bolivia is singled out for its new constitution, approved in a national referendum last Sunday. The charterĀ  recognizes the rights of Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians and guarantees healthcare, education, water, and a safe environment to all citizens.

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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.

September 18, 2008

Chavez Says ‘Capitalism is Sinking’

Today’s top news is on the economy, due to a slide in the US that is affecting many other parts of the world. The AP reports that President Chavez encouraged Venezuelans yesterday to save money and said that government agencies would do the same. He predicted, “capitalism is sinking, and it’s going to hit the world hard.” The US Federal Reserve has recently shouldered the bankruptcies of major insurance and lending firms by purchasing massive shares of them using taxpayer dollars, a process Bush called “adjustments,” according to AFP.

Meanwhile, Bush’s Deputy Assistant defended the record of the White House in the region while insulting regional leaders, saying “The president has established strong relations with the countries of Latin America… Unfortunately, Venezuela and Bolivia are more interested in using the US as an excuse so they don’t have to confront their own problems.” On the contrary, after expelling the US ambassador for colluding with violent opposition groups, the Bolivian government initiated talks with those same groups. AFP reports that facilitators are present from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Roman Catholic church, the EU and the UN.

In other regional news, Reuters reports deems the success of left-leaning elected governments in Latin America a “feisty” challenge to the US. One expert says this is because the US “doesn’t care” about the region, while another explains: “Latin Americans are stepping in and managing their own crises, some of which the United States played a role in generating — but not so much resolving.” In a similar story, Bloomberg reports that the US has lost some influence over Latin America to Russia. New cooperation on military issues and trade between Russia and countries in the region is seen as a “threat,” but in many ways, it is a response to US actions; Venezuela’s purchases of military equipment from Russia came only after the Bush administration banned all sales to Venezuela. In another example, Reuters reports today that Cuba has refused emergency hurricane assistance from the US in protest of its longstanding economic embargo against the island.

Finally, the Financial Times reports today on Venezuela’s energy assistance in Nicaragua. New power plants that run on Venezuelan oil have ended blackouts there so that, as one woman put it, “Now we can live normally again.”

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