VIO News Blog

April 20, 2009

Respect and Better Relations between Venezuela and the US

On Friday and Saturday, President Chavez and President Obama exchanged warm handshakes and chatted several times during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Chavez gave Obama the book “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. On Sunday, President Obama described his several brief meetings with President Chavez over the weekend as good steps, the Washington Times reports.

President Chavez also announced, at the end of the summit on Saturday, that he will send a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. – Roy Chaderton, who is currently Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States. On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said that it would work towards sending an ambassador to Caracas, following a dialogue between President Chavez and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, AFP reports.

President Obama received sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for his amicable meeting with Chavez, Chicago Tribune reports. Obama dismissed such concerns, saying the 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want engagement. “The American people didn’t buy it,” Obama said, referring to the argument that U.S. engagement towards foreign leaders could be perceived as “weakness.” He added “there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it, because it doesn’t make sense.”

Finally, on Sunday, President Chavez announced the creation of a new elite military unit, and the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles from Russia, AP reports. Chavez stated “We don’t want wars with anyone, but we’re obligated to equip ourselves and have a military that is increasingly dedicated to the country.”

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March 25, 2009

Venezuelan City has new Sister in Wisconsin

Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and Edgar Carracaso, mayor of Carora, signed a sister city agreement on Tuesday. It marks the first such agreement between a Venezuelan and a U.S. city in the past 10 years. Mayor Carrasco stated that “Our governments may have differences, but that doesn’t offset our countries’ abilities to know each other.” Carrasco added that Carora will be developing the Casa El Alba to promote cultural and economic ties between the two cities and offer US visitors information about the city of Carora and Venezuela.

Venezuela’s biggest mosque, located in downtown Caracas, was robbed and ransacked according to the Associated Press. No suspects have yet been identified. An administrator said it was the second time the mosque had been broken into since September of last year.  In February of this year, an important Caracas synagogue was also broken into and vandalized.  Though various news outlets presented the incident as an “anti-Semitic” attack, a police investigation indicated that the primary motive was theft.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has decided to move the corruption trial of Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales from the state of Zulia to Caracas, as judges in Rosales’s home state were allegedly caught meeting with the opposition mayor. Four judges in Zulia have also been suspended from their duties by the Supreme Court for participating in the alleged meeting. Rosales asserted that the decision was made by the Chavez government in order to find an “obedient judge.” Zulia lawmaker Calixto Ortega, however, stated that at least one of the four sanctioned judges was in a position to exercise direct influence on the Rosales case.

In economic news, the AP reports that progress is being made in establishing the Bank of the South, a regional financial institution designed to provide an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, both of which have strong ties to the US Treasury Department. The Bank of the South is expected to launch its operations in May with $10 billion in initial capital. Its members are currently Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Finally, McClatchy reports that CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall has claimed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system is not secure and was tampered with by President Chavez during a 2004 referendum on his presidency. Without providing any evidence to back his assertions, Stigall stated that “it was my understanding that” the computer program used for the audit of the voting machines “was provided by Chavez.” Stigall’s claims, made before a hearing in Orlando, Florida, run contrary to the assessment made by independent electoral monitoring missions from the Carter Center and the OAS, that concluded that the 2004 elections had been fair and transparent.

February 4, 2009

Venezuelan Officials Repeatedly Condemn Synagogue Vandalism

More reports have come out regarding the deplorable attack on a Caracas synagogue. On the night of January 30th, around 15 people broke into a synagogue, damaged a copy of the Torah, and sprayed anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls. The AFP quotes Israeli officials asserting that “such acts could not have taken place without the benevolent gaze of the authorities at the highest level.” Yet President Chavez and other high-level officials have repeatedly condemned the attacks and have, furthermore, emphasized that the Venezuelan government repudiates all forms of anti-Semitic behavior. The OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza stated “I trust the people responsible for this attack will be found and punished and that the government will do anything in its power to protect the lives and property of the Jewish community in Venezuela.”

On Monday, Venezuelans celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Bolivarian Revolution. A brief New York Times article by Simon Romero is titled “Venezuela: Chávez Celebrates Chávez.”  This and other articles often fail to note the fundamental gains in human development that the Chávez government has brought to Venezuela over the past 10 years. Since 1998, the rate of households living in extreme poverty has declined by 54%, and the overall poverty rate has declined by 35%.

An article by McClatchy Newspapers marks the 10 years of President Chavez’s administration by writing that high inflation and continued food shortages pose challenges for Chavez in the February 15th referendum on term limits. The article fails to mention that rates of inflation remain significantly lower than those seen in the 1990’s.  Food shortages have also largely decreased, in comparison with previous years, due to the government’s efforts to boost domestic food production, and its easing of price controls on many staple food items.

January 13, 2009

Venezuela’s Political Reality Distorted Again Today

The Washington Times reports that Aruba is “worried” by a Venezuelan natural gas project located 14 miles off its shore. The article, written by a freelance Dutch journalist, is based on one comment by Dutch embassy staff and provides no insights from Venezuelan authorities.

In Foreign Policy Magazine, a Washington-based analyst says President Chavez will not win a referendum on ending term limits, but gives little accurate information about the proposed legislation. An amendment would not, as the piece states, end term limits “among other things.” A single question approved in rough draft form by the National Assembly yesterday simply asks voters if they agree with ending term limits for all public offices. Nor is the legislation a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life.” It would allow all elected officials the chance to compete in free and fair elections as many times as they wish. The referendum will likely occur on February 15th.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed presents an intensely distorted picture of Venezuela by arguing that it is not a democracy. It is unclear how the Journal determined that elections are not free and fair in Venezuela, when all international observers (the OAS, the Carter Center, the EU, NAACP, and others) have certified them as such. The Chavez government is not a “military government”; dismissals from the armed forces came in 2002 after some factions helped overthrow the democratic order, which would be standard procedure in any country. Meanwhile, civilians involved in the coup were pardoned by the president in January 2008. Children are not “indoctrinated” in public schools; a re-write of curricula along socialist lines was sidelined last year due to criticisms. Economic freedom is not “dead,” nor is a currency devaluation planned. Venezuela is rendered unrecognizable in the Journal’s opinion page.

A Washington Post op-ed from the National Endowment for Democracy similarly deems Venezuela “nondemocratic.” This is despite the fact of free and fair elections, the separation of powers, and abundant human rights guarantees under the constitution. The misperception is particularly sad because Venezuela is among the longest-running democracies in Latin America, and has seen an explosion of popular participation in politics under President Chavez. Polls like Latinobarometro show that Venezuelans are the most likely in the region to support democracy, and second most likely to express satisfaction with the actual functioning of the democratic process.

Finally, two more contrasting reports on the economy appear today. A McClatchy wire story says Latin America is better prepared to handle an economic crisis than it has been in the past. Meanwhile, a Miami Herald op-ed argues that the region cannot insulate itself and recommends more of the same capitalist policies that have helped cause repeated crashes.

December 19, 2008

More than Four Million Venezuelan Citizens Sign Petition to Reelect Chavez

Nearly 4.8 million signatures supporting a constitutional amendment to end presidential term limits were turned over to Venezuela’s National Assembly yesterday, according to Bloomberg. This was a symbolic gesture from members of the pro-Chavez United Socialist Party of Venezuela. After a first round of debates, lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bid to hold a national referendum on the amendment. The AP reports that one Congresswoman called this an expression of “the voice of the people.”

A second round of debates in the National Assembly is set to take place next month. The BBC reports that the issue of indefinite reelection “was rejected in a referendum last year,” however, it was not singled out in this way. The referendum was regarding a package of 69 different constitutional reforms.

A Washington Post editorial opposing an amendment makes the blatantly false claim that elections in Venezuela are not free and fair. All international observers have verified the transparency of Venezuela’s democratic elections, including the OAS, the EU, the Carter Center, the NAACP, and the National Lawyer’s Guild. The Post jettisons these official findings in favor of one unsubstantiated report from the Miami Herald last week that claimed pro-Chavez candidates tried to bribe voters with free refrigerators in a state where they lost. Contrary to what the Post writes, President Chavez conceded defeat in the last referendum on constitutional reforms quickly and calmly, with no pressure from the military. The official results of that referendum have indeed been released by the country’s independent National Electoral Council.

In economic news, Venezuela’s Central Bank announced yesterday that it seeks to cut inflation by half in 2009. The AP reports that Director Armando Leon said that there are no plans to devalue the currency, and that the country is fairly insulated from the world economic crisis, with $37 billion in international reserves. The Economist reports on alternative currencies that are used in some parts of Venezuela. Allowed under the constitution, these currencies foster increased commercial exchange in local markets.

Finally, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed the sentiments of OPEC countries yesterday by emphasizing the need for oil price stability. According to the AFP, Brown said: “volatility is in no-one’s interest. Wild fluctuations in market prices harm nations all around the world, they damage producers and consumers alike.”

December 15, 2008

With Patience and Good Faith, US-Venezuela Relations will Improve

U.S.-Venezuela relations “are going to improve” under Obama, President Chavez said yesterday. According to AFP, Chavez said Venezuela will work with the U.S. on energy issues, “the struggle against terrorism and international crime,” as well as anti-drug efforts. Specifically on the topic of drug cooperation, he stated: “We can remake an agreement with the DEA that respects the sovereignty of Venezuela.”

Chavez stressed the need for patience and good faith in repairing U.S.-Venezuela ties, according to the AP. He also expressed approval of Senator Clinton’s new role as Secretary of State. “I feel that there are winds of change,” Chavez said.

The AP reports that Bolivia is similarly poised to repair relations with the U.S. One expert called President Morales’ recent meetings with Congressmen in Washington “pretty revolutionary.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that a regional summit for Latin America that begins in Brazil tomorrow will exclude lame duck President Bush, signaling reduced U.S. influence in the hemisphere. According to Bloomberg, “The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.”

Much media attention surrounds a visit by Cuban President Raul Castro to Venezuela. The trip is first over-seas visit as head of state. Yesterday, Castro and Chavez (pictured at right) signed joint projects on energy and communications worth $2 billion. The AP reports that President Chavez spoke during the visit to call on Obama to recognize a long-ignored extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for crimes against humanity including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 civilians. Posada Carriles is living in Miami, where he recently avoided charges of immigration fraud.

An op-ed in Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader weighs in on a possible national referendum on ending presidential term limits. The piece portrays the measure as a power grab for Chavez, claiming he wishes to “make himself South America’s most powerful leader.” Rather than seeking to dominate the region, though, Chavez has helped bring regional leaders together in new multilateral institutions such as ALBA and UNASUR to advance social aims and defend sovereignty. At home, Chavez’s reforms have succeeded in reducing poverty by over 30%, a fact which explains his continued popularity in Venezuela. This and other progress is enumerated in another op-ed from Global Research that sees Venezuela as experiencing “a democratic effort from the bottom up.”

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 25, 2008

OAS: Peaceful, Exemplary Elections Reflect Venezuela’s Democratic Maturity

Despite the fact that Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 77 percent of governorships and 81 percent of mayorships in Sundays elections, which were deemed free and fair by observers, news reports emphasize opposition victories and persist in calling the President an “authoritarian” and “strongman.” Only Time Magazine offers a different perspective, saying “his acceptance of Sunday’s results preserved his democratic bona fides.” This sentiment was expressed by Jose Miguel Insulza (pictured here), Secretary General of the OAS, which has observed elections in Venezuela. Insulza is quoted in the Caracas newspaper El Universal, saying that the “peaceful, exemplary” elections reflected “maturity that strengthens democratic institutions.”

A Washington Post editorial today claims that President Chavez had threatened not to recognize opposition victories, which is false. In fact, he said before and during voting, “We are prepared to recognize any result.” In a speech after votes were counted, Chavez stated: “we are consulting the people, the voice of the nation. We have to acknowledge what they say… we will respect the will of the majority.”

A New York Times editorial accuses President Chavez of “authoritarianism and incompetence” and attempts to “skew the elections.” Chavez, though, has one of the highest approval ratings of any elected leader in the hemisphere, and citizens in Venezuela show rates of satisfaction with democracy that are far above average for Latin America. The Times states that the disqualification of candidates facing corruption charges ahead of elections was carried out by a “government watchdog,” when in fact it was done by elected leaders in Congress. It also claims that more than 50 percent of Venezuela’s population will now be under opposition leadership, when in fact that number is 43.5 percent. The Wall Street Journal makes the same error today.

The Miami Herald reports that President Chavez will seek a referendum to remove term limits, allowing him to run in elections again in 2012. To make this case, the paper quotes the same opposition pollster that appears in many stories today, Luis Vicente Leon of Datanalisis. The president of Datanalisis has publicly advocated the assassination of Chavez, though this does not seem to have affected its credibility in the U.S. — the firm is treated as an “independent” source by the AP, Washington Post, L.A. Times, and Christian Science Monitor.

In other news today, Venezuela and Russia will soon conduct joint military exercises. AFP reports that President Chavez said in a news conference yesterday: “They’re not a provocation but an exchange” between “two free, sovereign countries that are getting closer. We carried out maneuvers with Brazil recently, with France, with the Netherlands and now with Russia.” An official from Holland is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor is quoted as saying: “The Dutch point of view is that Venezuela is entitled … to have military exercises with befriended nations.” Mainstream media coverage today, however, suggests that this is not likely the U.S. point of view.

November 13, 2008

President of Venezuelan Electoral Council Welcomes Foreign Observers to Regional Elections

Venezuela’s regional elections on November 23rd will be monitored by 130 foreign observers from groups such as the OAS, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. Observer missions have been invited from 34 different countries. El Universal also reports that Spain’s Secretary of State for Latin America recently said that “the election campaign is going normally.” Tibisay Lucena, President of the National Electoral Council (pictured at right), said that the observation missions will be accompanied by a program “to learn about the Venezuelan electoral system” that has inspired “confidence, curiosity and admiration” in foreign visitors.

The economy of Venezuela is in the news today, after comments made by President Chavez yesterday. Bloomberg and Reuters report that Chavez said: “The price of oil has been falling as a product of the global crisis… That’s the factor, that if it continues to extend itself for a period of time, could affect us, of course it would affect us.”

As an oil-exporting country for about a century, Venezuela is familiar with the volatility of crude prices and has become more adept at managing the highs and lows. The recently released 2009 budget is based on the conservative estimate of oil prices of $60 per barrel. Oxford Analytica explains this and many other factors that suggest Venezuela will not likely suffer an economic collapse due to the global financial crisis. It states: “Venezuela is likely to be able to continue its high public and social spending in 2009.” The country’s economy is bolstered by $40 billion in foreign currency reserves and tens of billions in development funds.

Finally, the price of oil remains in the news. The AP reports that the International Energy Association estimates that oil prices will average $80 per barrel in 2009. OPEC countries may meet later this month in Cairo to evaluate current rates of production, according to Bloomberg.

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