VIO News Blog

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.

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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.

November 7, 2008

Chavez Meets with Russian Officials to Discuss Bilateral Initiatives

President Chavez met with Russian officials on Thursday to discuss several bilateral initiatives on topics including nuclear energy, direct flights between the two countries, gas exploration in the Gulf of Venezuela, and gold mining in Southern Venezuela. The AP reports that Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said “We can say that our relations are taking on the characteristic of strategic partners.” Meanwhile, President Chavez noted the November 26th historic visit of President Medvedev, who will be the first Russian President to visit Venezuela.

The AP and Bloomberg report that a joint venture between Venezuela’s state energy company PDVSA and Russia’s Gazprom regarding a new gas production site in the Gulf of Venezuela, will be inaugurated today.

In a Reuters article discussing Bolivia’s plans to fund its own counter-narcotics operations after a rift with the DEA, President Chavez is referred to as “Washington’s leading regional foe.” Meanwhile, no mention is made of Venezuela’s repeated intent to seek better relations with a new US administration. AP notes that Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said “Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president is a historic moment for international relations.”

In an article in the Guardian, British scholar Richard Gott is cautiously optimistic about US-Latin America relations in the wake of the Obama victory. He suggests that the new administration should end the embargo against Cuba and reach out to new elected leaders in the Andes. Dialogue with Venezuela’s Chavez would be particularly productive, Gott predicts: “If a personal meeting can be engineered, these two improbable leaders, with many similarities in their outsider backgrounds, will get on famously.”

In economic news, the AP reports that annual inflation in Caracas reached 35.6 percent, partly due to soaring food prices. The article however fails to note that inflation is still significantly lower than rates seen in the 1990s and that current inflation is also largely a result of increased consumer demand due to government policies designed to reduce poverty and empower citizens.

October 29, 2008

Venezuela to Launch “Simon Bolivar” Satellite

Venezuela and China will jointly launch a telecommunications satellite today, the BBC reports. The satellite, named “Simon Bolivar” for the independence leader, is the result of a $400 million accord signed four years ago. The BBC mentions rumors that Venezuela would use the satellite for intelligence purposes. The Chavez government has said, though, that it will be shared with other Latin American countries to provide people in remote areas with TV, radio and internet access and also to expand social programs through tele-education and tele-medicine.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Ecuador’s Amazonian region yesterday, where Latin American leaders met to discuss the economy. Chavez advocated production cuts within OPEC to stabilize the price of oil, according to the AFP. AFP also reports that the financial crisis “hangs over” the annual Ibero-American Summit, which begins today in El Salvador. The summit focuses on youth and development.

A column by a former Bush administration official in the New York Post makes the false and damaging claim that Venezuela would make an atomic bomb. Without citing evidence, the op-ed denies that Venezuela’s nuclear energy program is meant for peaceful purposes, as has been consistently indicated by Venezuelan leaders and independent analysts. Empty threats about collaboration with Iran are trumped up, yet the op-ed blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela plans to work with France — a world leader in the production of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Finally, Venezuela is helping Cuba triple its capacity to refine oil. According to Reuters, “Venezuela is revitalizing Cuba’s downstream operations and plans to use the island as a bridge to supply the Caribbean with crude and derivatives with preferential financing.” This is done through the program called “Petrocaribe.”

October 3, 2008

Venezuela May Develop Energy Project with France

Yesterday, France announced its willingness to help Venezuela build civilian nuclear energy facilities, the AP reports. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (pictured here with his French counterpart) said that his country is interested in developing peaceful nuclear energy projects. The offer by France follows comes a week after Russian officials said they would help Venezuela build its nuclear energy industry.

On Thursday, just a day after Julio Soto, a leader of a Copei-aligned student group was murdered, investigators had already carried out raids and questioned several people. It remains unclear what the killers’ motives were.  AP coverage provides little context around the murder.

A Miami Herald article discusses the banning of Chacao Mayor Leopoldo López from running in the upcoming elections, but fails to report that he was banned due to criminal charges. The article alludes that criminal charges against opposition candidates are political, but in fact, many of the 250 candidates affected by these charges are Chavez supporters. The article also portrays López as a martyr, mentioning the death of his bodyguard, but no evidence to has suggested that his bodyguard’s murder was political in nature.

The Washington Times reports on an ‘angry’ letter sent by a group of U.S. Congressmen to President Chavez, which states their outrage over the expulsion of two high-level Human Rights Watch personnel. The letter and the article do not recognize that the Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela had serious methodological flaws which led to its gross omissions and biased conclusions.

A Sun-Sentinel op-ed on Venezuela falsely states that Venezuela purchased $4 billion in Russian military equipment over the past few weeks. Meanwhile, Bloomberg correctly reports that Venezuela purchased $4.4 billion worth of arms from Russia from 2005-2007. Venezuela’s military purchases from Russia have indeed increased since a U.S. imposed military embargo on the country.

September 30, 2008

Venezuela Pursues New Energy Avenues, Ecuador Renews Democracy

Spain’s foreign minister said Monday that he supports Venezuela’s decision to pursue nuclear energy as long as “it meets all the safeguards and protections” established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and it is not for “military purposes,” according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. President Chavez has affirmed that the nuclear power would indeed be for peaceful purposes only. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Costa Rica is promoting a nuclear test-ban treaty for Latin American countries that would ensure peaceful conduct, a treaty Venezuela already ratified in 2002.

More news comes today on Venezuela’s deal with Portugal to purchase 1 million kid-friendly laptops for use in schools across the country (at right, President Chavez and Portugal’s Socrates check out a model). The BBC reports: “The deal to buy the machines is the largest yet for laptops created for school children.”

After voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum last Sunday, sources allege that President Correa is “tightening his grip” on the economy with new laws that give the state a broader role in setting monetary and oil policy. Reuters reports that opposition groups say Correa has “too much authority.” For most, though, the vote was seen as a democratic renewal that demonstrated the strong legitimacy of the government. Such legitimacy has been a long time coming; Correa is set to be the first leader in over a decade to serve a full term in office. The Christian Science Monitor says Correa is “not a lackey” of Venezuela’s Chavez, when in fact, neither are any of the other the popularly elected leftist Latin American presidents.

The recent expulsion of US Ambassadors from Bolivia and Venezuela are the subject of a Bay State Banner article which points out that “Chávez has consistently alleged that U.S. officials have been involved in efforts to destabilize the Venezuelan government.”

September 29, 2008

Venezuela Has Good Credit, Donates Laptops to Schools

President Chavez was in Portugal last Saturday, where he and Prime Minister Socrates signed deals worth $3 billion on technology, housing, and other issues. The AP reports that Venezuela purchased 1 million low-cost laptops from Portugal for use in schools.

In Russia last Friday, Chavez signed deals to create an oil and gas consortium and purchase $1 billion worth of military equipment. Sources do not report that Venezuela’s military purchases in Russia are partly the consequence of an embargo imposed by the US in 2006. Reuters reports that Russia and Venezuela may also work together on nuclear energy, according to Chavez, “for peaceful purposes, for medical purposes, for purposes of electricity generation.” Sources, however, emphasize the strategic dimensions of this issue, claiming that the move is “anti-US.” Venezuela, though, maintains stable trade relations with North America, and President Chavez has said he looks forward to improved diplomatic relations with a new US administration.

On the economy, Reuters reports that Standard & Poor’s gave Venezuela a good credit rating. According to Reuters, Venezuela has “robust external and fiscal balance sheets, which continue to improve as a result of high and increasing oil revenues.” Meanwhile, IPS reports on the expanding role of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, in the region.

Finally, voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum yesterday (seen at right), bolstering the mandate of President Correa. The AFP reports that exit polls showed 65-70 percent approval of the new charter. The Washington Post reports that Correa said, “Today Ecuador has decided on a new nation. The old structures are defeated… This confirms the citizens’ revolution.”

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