VIO News Blog

May 1, 2009

Chavez Reaffirms Neutrality Regarding Colombia’s Internal Conflict

Following the killing of 8 soldiers near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, President Chavez declared that his government would not allow FARC rebel forces to use Venezuelan territory to mount assaults inside the neighboring country.  Chavez also reaffirmed his country’s traditional policy of neutrality regarding Colombia’s internal conflict and stated that Venezuela would “not permit any type of armed incursion… wherever it comes from.”  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro earlier announced that his government would collaborate with Colombia on efforts to capture the FARC guerrilla members responsible for the killing of the 8 soldiers.

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told foreign service officers today that she did not consider that it was in the US’s interest to attempt to isolate countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, as the Bush Administration had done.  “The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs,” said Clinton. “It didn’t work.”  The Secretary of State explained that the failed policy had allowed Iran, Russia and China to make “disturbing” political and economic gains in the region over the last few years.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal repeats the worn out claim that the Venezuelan government promotes anti-Semitism, despite the fact that President Chavez and other officials have strongly condemned all forms of anti-Jewish behavior and have engaged with Venezuelan Jewish community groups in a manner that has drawn praise from international organizations like the Jewish Latin American Congress.  Rather than consulting representatives of Venezuela’s established Jewish organizations like the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, the author of the piece refers to the extreme views of Pynchas Brenner, a notorious radical opponent of the Chavez government, and US rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.  The piece also re-hashes the discredited claim that President Chavez made anti-Semitic statements in December 2004, despite the fact that Venezuela’s Jewish community representatives argued against the claim.

Finally, US Republicans have produced a new video featuring the recent handshake between Presidents Obama and Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The video, that has been broadcast via the internet, suggests that Obama’s decision to have courteous exchanges with Chavez and other leaders deemed to be unfriendly to US interests, has weakened the country’s national security.


April 28, 2009

Empire Still Kicking, Venezuela Still Kicking Back

The AFP reports that on Friday President Chavez said that while he and President Obama exchanged warm greetings during the Summit of the Americas, the US empire is still “alive and kicking.”

Labor leaders from Delaware left on Sunday as a delegation traveling to Venezuela to participate in meetings and dialogue with the Venezuelan government, businesses, and labor leaders, Delaware Online reports. Delaware was one of at least seven states in which discounted heating oil for those in need was delivered by the Venezuela-owned company CITGO.

On Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki visited Venezuela and announced that his country would open a diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Malki and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Monday were set to sign a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority, AFP reports.

On Sunday, President Rafael Correa was easily re-elected, winning with 52% of the vote, and a 24% point lead against his closest rival. A Reuters article stated that this was “another victory” for the a new generation of left-leaning Latin American leaders like President Chavez who have challenged Washington’s agenda in the region.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Washington Times argues that President Obama lowered his and America’s moral standing by shaking President Chavez’s hand during the Summit of the Americas. The piece makes several baseless allegations, including the claim that the Venezuelan government supports the FARC guerilla army in Colombia.

March 2, 2009

State Department’s Report on Venezuela “Plagued with Lies”

On Thursday, the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments firmly condemned the U.S. State Department’s report on Human Rights practices in their respective countries shortly after its release yesterday. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was quoted by AP as stating that the report’s allegations are “plagued with lies,” while Bolivia’s Vice Minister Sacha Llorenti said that the report is “a gross simplification of the national reality that is politically motivated.” He also suggested that the U.S. lacked moral authority to raise human rights concerns.

The AP reports that before dawn on Thursday, a small explosive was thrown at a Jewish community center in Caracas. Nobody was injured in the attack, but the explosion damaged the doors to the center and a nearby vehicle. The event sparked fears of rising anti-Semitism in Venezuela as it was the second attack on a Jewish center this year. Reuters reports that authorities have already begun an investigation into the incident. AP quotes an international source – Sergio Widder of Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating that “This is outrageous, it’s turning into an escalation.” It should be noted that the Venezuelan government forcefully denounced the vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue earlier this year, and a police investigation revealed that the perpetrators’ principal motivation was robbery and not anti-Semitism.

Reuters reports that Argentina has summoned the U.S. Ambassador in Argentina, and has demanded an explanation regarding CIA Director Leon Panetta’s comment on Wednesday that Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela could be pushed into instability by the global economic crisis. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana called the comments “unfounded and irresponsible, especially from an agency that has a sad history of meddling in the affairs of countries in the region.”

Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s economy grew at its’ slowest pace since 2003 in the fourth quarter of 2008, expanding 3.2 percent amidst a plunge in the country’s oil revenues. The AP reports that Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said Thursday that Venezuela’s economic outlook for 2009 is stable despite the continued lull in oil prices.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel urges Venezuelan expatriates living in Florida to ponder the reasons why President Chavez remains so popular – with special attention given to his government’s social programs dedicated to ending poverty. The author reminds readers of the disastrous political past, which in 1993 led to riots, high inflation, two failed military coups, and the impeachment of then President Carlos Andres Perez. While the author is not a Chavez supporter, he states that “much of this dissatisfaction with Venezuela’s old political elite fueled Chávez’s rise to power.”

February 13, 2009

Venezuelan Jewish Community Thanks Government for Swift Action

The President of Venezuela’s Israelite Association thanked the government for “returning peace and tranquility to our congregation” yesterday at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (seen at far right). He also praised police “for apprehending the perpetrators” a synagogue was vandalized January 30th. According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, Maduro said Venezuela’s government will continue to offer the Jewish community “cooperation, respect and solidarity.” Despite this and other evidence to the contrary, the New York Times reports that Jews in Venezuela have “a sense of dread” and the government has only “sown confusion.”

Tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas yesterday in support of a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum on whether or not to allow elected officials to run for more than two terms. The AP provides Chavez’s statements in favor of the amendment and quotes heavily from critics who say they amount to intimidation, ignoring the fact that the Venezuelan leader vowed again yesterday that he will remain democratic. “We will abide by whatever results; we will acknowledge the authority of institutions,” Chavez said.

Venezuelan lawmakers who recently visited Washington discuss the referendum and the issues at stake in Foreign Policy Magazine. Calixto Ortega said: “Venezuela is a victim of an ongoing campaign of disinformation, poor information, and sometimes demonizing of our own [electoral] process.” Meanwhile, according to Francisco Torrealba, Sunday’s referendum is “a recognition of the political rights of Venezuelans. We want to perfect our democracy.” An op-ed in Green Left Weekly offers an argument in favor of respecting Venezuela’s democracy. It concludes: “The Venezuelan people have the right to determine their political system and decide for themselves who can or cannot stand for election.”

A Washington Times editorial is emblematic of U.S. media treatment Venezuela ahead of the referendum. Contrary to what the editorial claims, voters are not bribed by so-called “shock troops” that support Chavez, nor does the opposition face intimidation. As always, opposition groups have demonstrated and had ample access to the country’s largely private media. Rather than an accurate evaluation of the realities of Venezuela, the Washington Times offers the following opinion of President Chavez: “We would be delighted to see him leave office some day, preferably soon.”

In the U.S. yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair addressed the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. He issued warnings about Venezuela, claiming the country offers a “safe haven” to Colombian rebels, though this is not — nor has it ever been — a policy of the Chavez government. He also alleged that Venezuela is making the region a “permissive environment for Hezbollah to exploit.” Again, this runs counter the the positions of Venezuelan government officials, who repeatedly reassert that they do not support terrorism.

Finally, in energy news, sources report that Venezuelan-owned Citgo will carry out layoffs of less than two percent of personnel. Lowered demand for oil is also causing OPEC to adjust its forecasts for 2009, according to Bloomberg. The French oil firm Total will maintain its investments in Venezuela rather than moving on to Brazil, however; the company says it will expand investments there because “Venezuela is an important target for acreage.”

February 5, 2009

Venezuelan Officials Hold Productive Dialogue with Jewish Community Leaders

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met with leaders of the Jewish community on Wednesday to discuss the attack against a Caracas synagogue that took place on the night of January 30th.  After this meeting, Abraham Levy, president of the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela, expressed satisfaction with the government’s response to the attack.  According to Bloomberg, Levy told reporters that the government’s condemnation of the incident “was very strong.”  Meanwhile, Maduro called on “those that profess their faith in this religion to turn a deaf ear to the campaign that’s trying to politically manipulate an act that we condemn.” AFP quotes Maduro adding “we’ll capture [the perpetrators of the attack] and we’ll punish them with the full weight of the law, whoever they are.”

President Chavez, who over the last few days has also repeatedly condemned the incident, stated on Wednesday that his government  “rejects any attack against any temple of the Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or any other faith.”

AFP reports on a Congressional hearing on US relations with Latin America that took place on Wednesday with a series of “experts”.  Despite the fact that President Chavez has repeatedly expressed his hope that his government’s relations with Washington will improve under the Obama Administration, polling expert Sergio Bendixen told Congressional members and staff that Venezuela and other left-wing Latin American governments “are not friends”  as they “have worked to diminish (US) power” in Latin America.

Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan labor union Fedepetrol announced that it took control of four oil rigs owned and operated by Helmerich & Payne Inc. A spokesman for the Tulsa-based company denied this and said that they were planning on moving the rigs out of the oil fields following a payment dispute with state oil company PDVSA. “Labor unions appear to be pleading for continuity of operations on all of the company’s rigs in Venezuela,” Helmerich said today in its statement. “The company will continue to work with PDVSA to resolve pending receivable collections and potentially resume operations under new contracts with rigs that are currently idle.”

Finally, the Associated Press reports that Venezuela’s annual inflation eased slightly in January to 30.7 percent. The article mentions that this inflation rate is the highest in Latin America but fails to note that Venezuela has also seen the strongest economic growth in the region over the past few years.

February 2, 2009

Venezuelan Government Condemns Vandalism and Vows to Investigate

“We condemn the actions on the synagogue of Caracas… we condemn the violence whatever its source” President Chavez said Saturday, rejecting vandalism against a local synagogue. The vice president and government ministers also spoke out. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (pictured at right) said: “no matter who is involved in this criminal act of vandalism… we urge all Venezuelan people to reject these actions with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinians.” Additionally, in a statement released immediately following the attacks, the government vowed to launch an investigation and prosecute those responsible.

Communications Minister Jesse Chacon also publicly condemned the attack, according to the New York Times. The Times quotes a spokesman for Venezuela’s Jewish community who said “we feel threatened… and attacked,” as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which stated in a report that anti-Semitism “is fostered by the highest levels in the government.” Venezuela’s government, however, is strongly opposed to anti-Semitism and has taken numerous steps to ensure tolerance and religious freedom. Among these is a declaration signed by Chavez in December condemning anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination, which was welcomed by the World Jewish Congress.

Today marks ten years since President Chavez was first sworn into office. A Guardian op-ed provides a firsthand account of Chavez’s continued popular support among the country’s poor majority. Among these “countless government supporters” is one citizen who explained: “Most people who are against Chávez don’t understand this political process.” The Christian Science Monitor also describes the “legions of passionate supporters” in Venezuela. One Caracas resident says of the government: “We now feel free to say ‘It’s good, or it’s bad.’ Now, the National Guard looks at us with respect and dignity. That kind of thing has changed in the last 10 years.”

In contrast, reports by Reuters, the Miami Herald, and Time Magazine cite political polarization and feature the perspectives of Venezuela’s powerful opposition groups. The Herald makes the false claim that President Chavez wishes to be “president for life” and that his goal is to have 20 more years in office, though he himself has expressed a desire to run for one more six-year term. Time reports on the opposition student movement under the particularly misleading headline “Chavez Beats Down his Student Opposition.” It supports the claim that the Venezuelan leader is using a “heavier hand with the students” by quoting the anti-Chavez leaders. Chavez indeed asked security forces to disperse marches that disturb the public order or promote violence, but peaceful demonstrations are permitted.

Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and Pittsburg Tribune-Review oppose a national referendum allowing Venezuelan voters to decide whether or not to end term limits for elected leaders. The Journal’s stridently anti-Chavez columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady claims, despite a lack of evidence, that government intimidation is occurring, and that elections in Venezuela are not free and fair. The Pittsburg Tribune-Review similarly claims President Chavez uses “thuggery to silence Venezuelan critics” and “threatened civil war” if the “no” vote wins, both of which are false. Venezuelan officials frequently denounce the use of violence by any and all parties ahead of the vote, and have repeatedly called for a peaceful dialogue ahead of the democratic vote.

January 29, 2009

Venezuelan Constitutional Amendment: “Yes” Vote Leads in Public Opinion Polls

Public opinion data in Venezuela indicate that slightly more than half of voters support a constitutional amendment allowing indefinite reelection for holders of public office. Reuters reports that the “yes” camp is leading 51.5 percent to 48.1, a significant jump since campaigns on either side kicked off this month. The AP suggests that the referendum result could hinge on voter turnout.

Reuters makes the false assertion that President Chavez “has consolidated his support in a sometimes violent campaign.” Administration officials have consistently denounced violence among both opposition groups and government supporters, and has called for a peaceful debate. In another article, Reuters writes Chavez “sent police to clash with students,” but in fact the police were asked to stop violence or public disturbance. Opposition to the government is said to be a result of Chavez’s apparent “combative style, disrespect for institutions and attacks on old elites.” No context is offered regarding the coup d’etat, oil industry sabotage, and elections boycotts carried out by the country’s still powerful opposition.

CNN and the BBC report that Israel expelled the Venezuelan ambassador in Jerusalem Tuesday. Venezuela had ended diplomatic relations with Israel in protest of its attacks on Palestine earlier this month. Foreign Minister Maduro said the decision was “just, correct, [and] aligned …with the spirit of our constitution, which mandates that we seek international peace.”

The World Social Forum is taking place this week in Brazil. IPS reports that Indigenous and environmental issues are highlighted at this year’s forum, which focuses on the Amazon. The presidents of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay are attending the event. Its protagonists, though, are social movements and civil society groups. IPS quotes a Brazilian Indigenous leader who explains that this is because “we are the ones who were born and raised in the middle of the forest, and who lead a lifestyle that contrasts with the ambition of capitalism, which does not bring benefits to all.”

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 charter  recognizes the rights of Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians and guarantees healthcare, education, water, and a safe environment to all citizens.

January 22, 2009

Venezuelan Students March on Caracas in Support of Chavez

Pro-Chavez students marched in Caracas yesterday, turning out by the hundreds (see image at right). Reports by Bloomberg and the AP focus mainly on the anti-government protests occurring in previous days. Bloomberg reports that President Chavez ordered authorities to “dissolve any disturbance,” while the AP makes the more accurate statement that the Venezuelan leader said security forces should dissolve crowds “if they turn violent.”

Government officials have publicly condemned the acts of violence and vandalism occurring at protests this week and last week. Higher Education Minister Luis Acuna said: “We can’t use the amendment to block streets. This amendment doesn’t need Molotov cocktails. What the amendment needs is a pluralist debate.”

An alarmist Washington Post op-ed today claims that the governments of Venezuela and Russia are authoritarian and eschew human rights. In Venezuela, things could not be more the opposite. Elections are free and fair, and their results do not always favor the Chavez government. Crime is indeed high and has persisted in part because Venezuela is not ruled by an “iron fist” as the op-ed claims. Where past leaders cracked down and killed civilians, Chavez has opted for slower reforms with citizen involvement. Demonstrations are not repressed; protesters have often been allowed to bring their demands before the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. They also get an enormous amount of attention in the media and abroad. Indeed, the Post op-ed is based on a visit to the U.S. Congress by opposition students. Meanwhile, many elected officials in the Venezuelan government are denied U.S. visas, as Time reported yesterday.

Another perspective is offered in an interview with political scientist Daniel Hellinger published by the Venezuela Information Office. Of the upcoming national referendum on term limits for public officials, he says: “I believe the president will win the referendum to make possible indefinite re-election. I anticipate that this will bring a predictable wave of condemnation from the media in the United States. But if the expressed will of the Venezuelan people is to allow re-election, we need to respect their decision. ”

In other news, the AP reports that Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said he hopes Obama rectifies his recent assertion that Venezuela is “a destructive force in the region.” Maduro said: “President Chavez has won 12 of the 14 elections in the past 10 years. He is the legitimate president and his leadership has gone beyond the region and helped create solidarity among the peoples of the world.”

January 16, 2009

Chavez: “Obama Threw the First Stone”

President Chavez indicated yesterday that he will wait to see whether President elect Obama — whom he said remains largely “an unknown” — fulfills the intense expectations generated by his election. Bloomberg reports that Chavez cited a TV interview Tuesday in which Obama “remarked that the Venezuelan leader exported terrorist activities and slowed progress in the region.” The Venezuelan leader replied: “Don’t say Chavez is throwing stones, Obama already threw the first one.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met yesterday with U.S. embassy staff in Caracas, according to the AP. Top U.S. rep John Caulfield said afterward, “We spoke about the opportunity for a renewed dialogue.” Caulfield also allegedly met in secret with leaders of Venezuela’s political opposition last week, according to a report in NACLA. It states: “if the allegations are proven, then the opposition will once again find itself on the defensive, trying to disprove that their funding and strategy are not ‘Made in U.S.A.'”

In other international news, the Presidents of Venezuela and Brazil are holding their regular quarterly meeting today. The Caracas newspaper El Universal reports that this signals even closer ties between the countries. The leaders are discussing trade relations, particularly a cooperation agreement on food supply.

The New York Daily News reports on Venezuela’s heating oil assistance program in the Bronx. Recipients of the aid were relieved by the news last week that, despite rumors to the contrary, the program will continue for a fourth year. One man said: “We appreciate what [Chávez] is doing, helping us out from another country… People depend on [it].”

Reuters reports that CIA Director Michael Hayden said that, for oil producers Iran and Venezuela, lowered crude prices are “destabilizing, but it could be positive,” because it will increase the sting of U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, President Chavez has stressed that Venezuela will not be destabilized. He says the government will continue to spend on social programs, and will not force the people to suffer the burden of economic downturn. Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves are at an all-time high.

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