VIO News Blog

April 8, 2009

Venezuelan National Assembly Moves to Appoint Caracas Administrator

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s National Assembly approved a new law which creates a federally appointed administrator of Caracas that will serve as a direct link between the federal government and the city’s opposition-aligned mayor. The AP asserts that the new law weakens the authority of the Caracas mayoralty. Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma accused the government of trying to subordinate his authority, however pro-Chavez Jose Albornoz rejected the idea that the new law is politically motivated and stated that it will help improve basic services in the city, like trash collection.

Catholic leaders in Venezuela from the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference also accused Chavez of subordinating his regional opponents. Chavez told Venezuelan state television from China, that “This group of bishops is shameless,” and siding with “crooks,” AP reports. The Bishop’s Conference has often sided with the opposition in its differences with the Chavez government.

On Monday night, the widely acclaimed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, under the baton of the Venezuela star conductor Gustavo Dudamel performed to a sold out crowd at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC. The orchestra is part of Venezuela’s world-renowned ‘El Sistema’ music program which gives poor kids in Venezuela access to musical instruments and lessons.

Finally, AFP reports that Chavez is expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, Chavez said that during his meetings in Japan, he was able to obtain $33.5 billion of investments in Venezuelan oil and gas projects.

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March 31, 2009

Chavez Meets with Arab Leaders in Qatar

At a summit of Arab and South American leaders in Qatar, President Chavez appealed to oil-producing states to support the creation of a petroleum-backed currency, AP reports. Chavez also supported the Arab League’s declaration Monday to reject the International Criminal Court charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Chavez noted the hypocrisy of the ICC, saying “Why don’t they order the capture of (former President George W.) Bush? Or the president of Israel?”

In an interview with the pan-Arab TV network Al-Jazeera, Chavez said there were no plans to restore relations with Israel, according to the AP. He added that he would only reconsider if Israel’s leaders cease being a “genocidal elite subordinated to the United States.”

Finally, Central American leaders met yesterday in Costa Rica with Vice President Joe Biden and urged Washington to slow deportations of Central Americans. According to the AP, Biden said there would be no immediate response but asked the group to be patient and assured them that the US would put together a policy with the region, not for the region.  El Salvador’s President-elect, Mauricio Funes, was present and told reporters that while his party has close ties with Chavez, “that does not mean my foreign policy will be subordinated to Chavez.”

March 23, 2009

Chavez and Delahunt Meet in Caracas

United States Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA) met with President Chavez in Caracas, and told reporters that he had a “very positive and constructive conversation.” The AP states that Mr. Delahunt left the meeting expressing hopefulness about the prospect of improved relations between the United States and Venezuela.

On Thursday, Venezuelan public prosecutor Katiuska Plaza called for the arrest of Manuel Rosales, mayor of the city of Maracaibo, on charges of corruption during his previous years as governor of the state of Zulia. The Miami Herald quotes an opposition-aligned commentator who suggests that the decision is a political one by President Chavez aimed at inciting fear within the opposition. . The Herald also quotes Human Rights Watch to substantiate the claim that Chávez has “effectively neutralized the judiciary as an independent branch of government.”  The article states that the Venezuelan government accuses HRW of anti-Chavez bias.  It fails to inform readers that critics of HRW’s work on Venezuela also include an independent group of 100 academics that recently signed a letter arguing that HRW’s 2008 report on the Chavez government’s human rights record was methodologically flawed and highly biased.

The government of Venezuela is to announce measures to combat the effects of the global economic crisis Saturday. Reuters reports that the Bolivar is losing value due to economic fears, and Bloomberg reports that Goldman Sachs believes that President Chavez may announce a currency devaluation tomorrow.  President Chavez said that public officials needed to stop living “lavish lifestyles”but insisted that the government’s many popular social programs would be maintained.

Japan and Venezuela signed an oil cooperation agreement yesterday. Bloomberg reports that the deal clears the way for Japanese companies to co-develop oil reserves in the Orinoco Delta, with Venezuela’s state oil company.

President Chavez said Thursday that Venezuela will go ahead with the nationalization of Santander bank, and that negotiations regarding payments are continuing. Reuters quotes Chavez as stating “We are not retreating. Today we have returned to the subject, I announce the nationalization of Banco de Venezuela to strengthen the national public banking system.”

A letter to the editor “Misguided guilt by association” by Jacob Feinspan of Jews United for Justice in the Washington Times sends a strong rebuttal to a previous letter from Brad Botwin on Monday titled “The new face of anti-semitism.” Botwin argued that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was promoting anti-semitism and that Casa de Maryland, a community organization in the DC area, was expressing approval for antisemitism by accepting funding from Citgo, a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company. Feinspan stated that the “Jewish community also knows all too well the dangers of false and baseless accusations or conspiracy theories.”

Finally, Korea and Venezuela will face off against one another in the World Baseball Classic tomorrow.

March 13, 2009

Venezuelan Law Guarantees Essential Public Services

Another drug-related arrest was made in Venezuela yesterday, according to the AP. A U.S. man was detained in Monagas state for “cooperating in the crime of drug trafficking,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted yesterday to modify the Law on Decentralization to allow federal jurisdiction over the maintenance and management of the country’s airports and highways. The BBC reports that, in debates on the issue, one lawmaker said the measure would “guarantee essential public services.”

The Economist wrongly reports that a Cargill rice factory in Venezuela was “seized.” This has not occurred, despite the fact that President Chavez made the suggestion last week in a speech. The Law on Food Security stipulates that a certain proportion of agricultural goods in Venezuela must be subject to the price controls that rein in the cost of basic foodstuffs, and producers that do not follow the law have come under scrutiny. The Economist does not report that government officials have been in talks with Polar and other food distributors to ensure that they comply.

In international news, sources report that Brazilian President Lula da Silva will discuss Venezuela at a meeting with President Obama in Washington tomorrow. The AP reports that da Silva said “I’m going to ask that the U.S. take a different view of Latin America. We’re a democratic, peaceful continent, and the U.S. has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug trafficking or organized crime.” In addition to U.S.-Latin American relations, other top issues on the leaders’ agenda are biofuels, the global financial crisis.

Oil futures rose to $48 per barrel yesterday ahead of an OPEC meeting this weekend. Venezuela and China will build a joint refinery this year in Guangdong province that Bloomberg says will “reinforce their energy ties.”

Finally, Venezuela and Mexico signed a cooperation agreement on music education yesterday. Mexican students will visit Venezuelan Youth and Child Orchestras in the coming months. Mexico’s education minister said “the promotion of music in Mexico is part of a plan to improve education and culture as a way to prevent crimes.”

March 4, 2009

Venezuelan Government Announces Cabinet and Ministry Changes

Reuters reported yesterday that President Hugo Chavez reshuffled his cabinet and merged the housing ministry and social protection ministry into other ministries, to reduce government spending in the backdrop of continued low oil prices. The Wall Street Journal posted a statement by the Venezuelan government which said that “These structural movements…are aimed at boosting the dynamics for making the state’s administration more efficient for the construction of the collective welfare and interest.”

The President of Venezuela’s state oil company, Rafael Ramirez, said that PDVSA will cut costs by 40% in order to strengthen the company’s economic position as it deals with low oil prices and the impact of the global financial crisis. AP reports that the company will renegotiate contracts with oil services firms in order to lower costs.

The Wall Street Journal falsely reports that “for years, Mr. Chávez has been battling private food manufacturers and farmers for periodic shortages of foods ranging from chickens to coffee.” However, the Venezuelan government has mainly accused food processors and distributors, not farmers, of hoarding food and averting price controls. The article also erroneously states that “last weekend, Mr. Chávez announced the Venezuelan government would take over the country’s rice mills.” President Chavez merely stated that private rice processors who flout price controls and follow through with their threat to paralyze production could face expropriation.

An article in the Toronto Globe and Mail argues that President Chavez is reversing course on resource nationalism by inviting oil companies to participate in the development of the oil-rich Orinoco. However, the Venezuelan government has been soliciting bids from foreign oil companies for the development of the Orinoco fields since the summer of 2008, when oil prices had skyrocketed. The Chavez government has always welcomed partnerships in oil exploration and production, provided that Venezuela remains a majority stakeholder and that agreements respect the country’s sovereignty.

Finally, the Latin America Herald Tribune reports on Venezuela’s reaction to a statement made by Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos. On Sunday, Mr. Santos defended Colombia’s cross-border raid on guerrillas in Ecuador earlier last year, terming it a “right to legitimate defense.” Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said that Santos’ statement represents “a threat to the stability and sovereignty of the countries of the region,” and that the “arrogant attitude of Minister Santos is abominable.”

February 19, 2009

Venezuela and China Create Strategic Alliance

The joint development fund between Venezuela and China grew by $6 billion in deals signed this week to reach a total of $12 billion, according to the AP. The BBC reports that the funds could be used in Venezuela to support education, health, infrastructure, farming, and mining. Citing common interests and a “strategic alliance,” President Chavez said Venezuela would supply China with a million more barrels of oil per day (a fourfold increase) by 2015.

Also in oil news, Venezuela will boost its oil output by 12 percent over seven years through joint ventures with foreign firms in the Orinoco oil belt. Bloomberg reports that a leaked government document cited development costs of $18.4 billion for the projects. Meanwhile, rumored oil production cuts by OPEC are now said to be aimed at raising crude prices to $70 per barrel, according to the AP. Venezuela’s oil minister said the market is oversupplied and prices should be stabilized.

Two opinion pices today weigh in on Venezuela’s recent national referendum, in which voters chose to end term limits for elected officials. A Washington Times op-ed — one of nearly half a dozen recent ones in that paper criticizing Venezuela’s referendum — accuses the president of “buying votes.” The elections were free and fair, though, and social programs that have redirected oil revenues to the poor have helped halve the poverty rate over nearly a decade. The op-ed also overlooks the fact that Venezuela has been democratic for over half a century, citing just “two decades” of democratic gains. It also ignores the fact that experts recognize a dramatic increase in popular participation in politics under President Chavez. An editorial in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times of Texas makes similar doom-and-gloom economic predictions with little basis in fact in order to claim that Venezuela is “in sorry shape.”

The only bad news on the economy in Venezuela today concerns fraud by private foreign firms. After $8 billion in fraud by Stanford International Bank was revealed and investors rapidly withdrew yesterday, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez tried to ease concerns, saying: “The public needs to maintain confidence in Venezuelan banks. This is an immediate takeover. The problem facing Stanford is separate from the Venezuelan financial system.” Venezuela followed Panama and Colombia in taking over Stanford operations.

Reuters reports that Stanford Bank, owned by a Texas billionaire, was long “a favored investment vehicle for Latin America’s wealthy and upper class.” The New York Times describes how the bank “lured clients in provincial cities,” amassing about $2.5 billion from among 10,000 clients in Venezuela — about a third of Stanford’s business, but only 0.2 percent of total banking deposits throughout Venezuela.

February 18, 2009

US Seeks Positive Relationship with Venezuela

More news comes today about remarks by State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid, who said the US seeks a “positive relationship” with Venezuela. The AFP reports that he also called the national referendum last Sunday “a matter for the Venezuelan people.” For his part, President Chavez has made clear in recent weeks an openness to dialogue with the Obama administration, and positive relations with the United States.

An opinion piece in the Guardian sees continuity in U.S.-Latin America relations so far under the Obama administration, but urges change. Meanwhile, a Miami Herald editorial argues that a strong, united opposition in Venezuela is “the only hope of keeping democracy alive under Mr. Chávez.” The Herald fails to acknowledge the very democratic nature in which elections and referendums are held. Over 70% of eligible voters voted in Sunday’s referendum, and 54% voted in favor of the measure.

A Boston Herald op-ed accuses President Chavez of continuing to support the FARC rebel group in Colombia. However, the Chavez administration has repeatedly denied support for the group, and has even made an appeal to FARC that it must lay down its arms and join Colombian society. Furthermore, Chavez was instrumental in the release of several FARC hostages over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the financial challenges facing the Chavez administration in lieu of the continued lull in oil prices. It notes that Chavez has “weathered lean times before,” but forgets that he has vowed to continue important social programs. Bloomberg reports that Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez acknowledges that the global economic crisis will affect Venezuela and has said that the country will need to curtail spending and limit imports. However, he added that Venezuela would be able to withstand the crisis without too much “anguish.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela and China signed various economic agreements as Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived in Caracas yesterday. The two countries renewed a bilateral development fund, with an additional $6 billion in joint funding. In a address to the Chinese delegation, President Chavez said: “All the oil China needs for the next 200 years, it’s here. It’s in Venezuela.” China will also increase cooperation with Venezuela in agriculture and telecommunications.

February 17, 2009

Venezuelan Referendum Hailed as Democratic by US State Department

Last Sunday’s referendum in Venezuela was “a process that was fully consistent with democratic practice,” according to President Obama’s State Department Spokesperson, Gordon Duguid. Pressed for a reaction, he said the referendum “was a matter for the Venezuelan people” and “I don’t have an opinion on the democratic practices of Venezuelans. In the United States, we have term limits, but that’s our practice.” According to the AP, this amounted to “rare praise for a U.S. antagonist after years of criticism from the Bush administration.”

The opposite approach is seen in three nearly indistinguishable editorials in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Dallas Morning News. They label Venezuela’s national referendum undemocratic, call President Chavez “authoritarian” and “dictatorial,” and anticipate an economic crash. None provides any facts to back up their claims. The Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning news ask President Obama to ignore Venezuela, while the L.A. Times says he must “reengage.” The editorials do not advance either of these goals, though, by rejecting the majority decision made by the Venezuelan people and their right to make such choices.

The AP, Reuters, and AFP continue to report on reactions to the referendum. Most state that the administration of President Chavez feels its mandate has been strengthened by another solid victory at the polls, meanwhile, criticisms by the opposition have not lessened. The Los Angeles Times features these by printing an interview with Teodoro Petkoff, who was briefly a presidential challenger in 2006 and was planning minister under the neoliberal Caldera government.

Finally in economic news, the BBC news reports that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will soon visit Venezuela as part of a regional tour to boost trade ties. The two countries are expected to sign a long-term joint oil production agreement worth several billion dollars.

February 6, 2009

Alleged Destabilization Plot Thwarted in Venezuela

Two National Guard commanders not yet identified were detained Wednesday for “preparing destabilization plans,” according to televised statements made by President Chavez yesterday. The AP reports that the men allegedly conspired against the government in conjunction with local opposition groups and ex-lieutenants living in the U.S. The latter are said to be Jose Antonio Colina and German Rodolfo Varela, who tried to overthrow the government in 2002 and for whom Venezuela has been denied extradition requests since early 2004.

The AP also reports that private oil contractors in Venezuela are stopping work to protest back payments they are owed by the state oil firm PDVSA. Meanwhile, PDVSA says service providers increased their prices by as much as 40 percent last summer. Oil Minister Ramirez has said Venezuela will repay all its debts, according to the AP.

The Economist prints an article and an opinion piece on Venezuela that are nearly indistinguishable in their tone and message. The article ignores evidence to make the ludicrous claim that “a climate of hostility against Jews” is fostered by the Venezuelan government. Leaders consistently advocate religious freedom and tolerance — values that were made law in the 1999 constitution — and have also met with Jewish leaders and signed anti-discrimination accords. The Economist opinion piece claims vandalism at a synagogue last week was only “eventually condemned” by government officials, but it was immediately and forcefully denounced by the president, vice president, and government ministers who promised the culprits would be fully punished. The Economist also claims the President Chavez’s ten years in elected office have yielded no gains for Venezuela, dismissing social missions as “hard to assess.” UN data shows Venezuela has lowered the income gap and reduced poverty by 20 percent since 2002.

Finally, in other news today, El Universal reports that Venezuela will soon have a new Indigenous news agency with nationwide distribution thanks to the new Simon Bolivar Satellite, Venesat-1.

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.

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