VIO News Blog

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.


March 17, 2009

Venezuela has the World’s Second Biggest Oil Reserves

Venezuela has the world’s second-biggest oil reserves, Bloomberg reports today. Its proven reserves increased by 14% last year to reach 172.3 billion, passing Iran and putting the country closer to the current leader, Saudi Arabia. More reserves are yet to be certified by independent analysts.

The AP reports that opposition state governors in Venezuela yesterday challenged the decision of President Chavez to bring the maintenance of highways, airports, and seaports under federal management, asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not it is constitutional. Meanwhile, a group of 13 elected lawmakers in the National Assembly issued a statement defending the move as a bid to ensure the efficient use of public services. They asserted that the opposition arguments were designed to “confuse the public.”

Sentencing occurred yesterday in the trial of Franklin Duran, who was given four years in jail and a $175,000 fine. Prosecutors argued that he attempted to help Venezuela cover up the “suitcase scandal,” in which cash was allegedly sent to Argentina. According to the AP, U.S. District Judge Lenard said yesterday that Duran “did not commit espionage against the U.S. or threaten its national interests,” but that “The respect of the sovereignty of the United States is paramount.” The Miami Herald reports: “Federal prosecutor Tom Mulvihill recommended more than 13 years, saying Duran might not have been a “spy” for the Chávez government but that he did ”harm” the United States.” Many commentators agree that the case was heavily politicized.

The Inter American Press Association, a Miami-based group of newspaper editors and owners, said at the close of a meeting in Paraguay on Monday that press freedom is deteriorating in the Americas. It also accused President Chavez of “humiliating the press,” and claimed his “incendiary rhetoric” is being adopted by several other leaders throughout the region. Most of Venezuela’s media is private-owned and virulently anti-government, and criticizes the Chavez administration freely and openly. Meanwhile, IAPA “applauded a drop in violence against journalists in Colombia,” where it found that last year 29 death threats were reported and five journalists went into exile.

Venezuela’s baseball team beat Puerto Rico 2-0 in Miami yesterday to move on to the World Baseball Classic semi-finals. The AP reports that some Venezuelan fans cheered especially loud for Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers due to his public support for the constitutional amendment approved by Venezuelan voters in a referendum last month.

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.”

December 17, 2008

Latin American Summit Highlights Progress in the Region

A Latin American summit is taking place in Brazil with the participation of leaders from 31 countries. Sources report that leaders pointed to the absence of the U.S. as a sign of change. “There was a time when our friend Chavez was all alone,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva, highlighting new progressive democratic governments in Bolivia and Paraguay. The AP reports that Chavez said: “The important thing is that we are here together, without the patronage of the empire.” The Times reports that the U.S. was made a “punching bag” at the event, but the AP quotes an expert who says: “This is a healthy development and should not be seen as a rejection of the U.S.”

The 12 member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) agreed to form a South American Defense Council, according to AFP. The decision was reached in Brazil yesterday just before the broader Latin American summit. The AP wrongly states that Venezuela “challenged Brazil’s idea for a regional defense council” by holding joint military exercises with Russia, but the council was in fact Chile’s initiative, and South American countries have not expressed wariness over the maneuvers. Nor did U.S. leaders — according to CBS, the head of Southern Command said: “I don’t think that Russia and Venezuela are really serious about putting together a military coalition… to oppose anybody.”

OPEC oil ministers are meeting in Algeria today, and the AFP reports that they have moved to cut output by up to up to 2.6 million barrels. This could be the largest production cut made by OPEC since its formation. “We think it should stabilize at $70, $80, $90. That would be fair,” Chavez said yesterday, according to Reuters.

November 3, 2008

VIO to Post: Enough with the Name-calling

A VIO letter to the editor published in the Washington Post today takes issue with an editorial that labeled Venezuela a “rogue” and misrepresented its economic situation in the face of the global crisis. Though booms and busts affect Venezuela, its robust credit and foreign currency reserves will allow the country to sustain social programs to benefit the poor even with lower oil prices. Venezuela seeks stable oil prices, but has weathered far more volatility than that seen in recent months. The letter also states that President Chavez is not “anti-U.S.,” but seeks dialogue with U.S. leaders in the wake of recent aggression.

This sentiment is echoed in news today about Chavez’s comment that an Obama victory in the U.S. elections could lead to improved U.S.-Venezuela relations. Chavez said “I am ready to sit down and talk … and I hope we can enter a new stage,” according to Reuters. The AP reports that Chavez said he looks forward to meeting Obama “on equal and respectful terms.” Sadly, an Obama spokesperson countered that the Venezuelan leader “does not govern democratically.” The country has seen a dozen electoral processes under Chavez, certified as free and fair by all international observers. Analysts praised the democratic comportment of the Chavez administration during December’s referendum on constitutional reforms in particular. The reforms were narrowly defeated, prompting Chavez to concede defeat and change tack.

Bloomberg reports that Chavez also commented: “A black man may become president of the U.S., and we can say that’s no small thing…. I send an overture to the black man, from us here, who are of Indigenous, black, Caribbean, South American race.” Similarly, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said the possibility of an Obama win brings “a little bit of happiness.” He said: “Just as Brazil elected a metal worker, Bolivia elected an Indian, Venezuela elected Chavez and Paraguay a bishop, I think that it would be an extraordinary thing if, in the largest economy in the world, a black were elected president of the United States.”

Jurors take a break this week in the Florida trial of Franklin Duran, in which the U.S. accuses  the Venezuelan man of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Duran claims he was duped by the FBI. Last week, jurors could not agree on a verdict, but the judge ordered them to try again. “If he is found guilty, those that are anti-Chávez will be happy,” according to a Venezuelan journalist quoted by the New York Times.

Venezuela’s state oil company opens bidding next month on oil projects in the Orinoco River belt. The AP reports that this area has the capacity to produce 400,000 barrels of crude per day. Foreign oil companies are invited to bid on the projects. Finally, the Houston Chronicle reports that U.S. energy independence is something that is “easier said than done.” One expert called campaign promises to stop importing foreign oil “hogwash.” “It’s not doable, but it plays well with audiences,” said another.

October 31, 2008

Venezuela Sees Opportunity for Cooperation in Global Financial Crisis

President Chavez spoke again about the world financial crisis yesterday, saying that it should come as an opportunity to create new international institutions. According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, the Venezuelan leader said the “dictatorship of the dollar” and the IMF has collapsed. Venezuela has played a key role in helping create multilateral institutions for regional cooperation such as ALBA, UNASUR, and the Bank of the South. El Universal also reports today that Venezuela donated $1 million to Paraguay to provide drinking water and health care to Indigenous communities suffering from a prolonged drought.

Venezuela’s Ambassador to Argentina visited the holocaust museum in Buenos Aires yesterday. The head of the World Jewish Congress dispelled false rumors that Venezuela’s government subscribed to antisemitism. He said, “it is gratifying to see this sign of recognition by the Venezuelan government of the dark tragedy that befell the Jewish people, something that President Hugo Chavez himself acknowledged during our meeting with him.”

In oil news, the AP reports that prices have fallen again to $64 per barrel. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil made history yesterday when it reported record-breaking quarterly profits. Other private oil firms also saw successes; profits for BP jumped 83% and ConocoPhillips rose by 41%. Meanwhile, oil-producing countries are already feeling the negative effects the drop in the value of crude. An Iranian politician said, “The first wave of the crisis are the low oil prices that have reached us. This is a big loss.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela is inviting companies to purchase shares of oil projects in the Orinoco region. The state bought a majority stake in the projects last year. 47 oil companies are considering bidding on the Orinoco reserves (which comprise 1% of global supplies), including Chevron, Shell and Total.

August 18, 2008

President Chavez Pledges Oil to Paraguay

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 4:28 pm
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Last weekend, President Chavez was in Paraguay meeting with the newly inaugurated Fernando Lugo (seen here). The two leaders signed a dozen accords, including one in energy that the AP reports will guarantee Paraguay 23,500 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day. According to Bloomberg, President Chavez said “All of the oil that Paraguay needs during this century it will have guaranteed by Venezuela for the development of its people, industry and agriculture.” Chavez addressed a crowd of poor Paraguayans, the Los Angeles Times reports, and demonstrated his desire for strong ties with the new leader of that small South American nation.

In other regional news, Venezuela will sell more gasoline to border areas of Colombia in an attempt to discourage the smuggling of that product. The Information Ministry said that this is part of “a series of measures in the border region of Venezuela will be activated, with the objective of eradicating the illegal extraction of gasoline.” Meanwhile, Venezuelan officials hope to launch an observation satellite within five years to improve telecommunications. Reuters wrongly deems Venezuela a “Washington foe,” when in fact the Chavez administration seeks dialogue with the U.S.

In economic news, nationalizations in Venezuela’s cement industry are going ahead, according to the AP. Compensation talks have been held with foreign companies, and private investment will remain present — the Venezuelan state aims for 60% ownership. Some mining industry activity will be curtailed in the southern region of Venezuela due to environmental concerns, according to Bloomberg. Gold mining, in particular, will be limited to an area the size of 10 million acres.

Finally, Venezuela’s President Chavez weighed in on the Russian attacks on Georgia last week, issuing a critical perspective on the U.S. role. Reuters reports that Chavez said that the Russians were responding to provocation. He also suggested, according to the AP that the Georgian president is “a puppet” of the U.S., which seeks to weaken Russia.

August 14, 2008

Venezuela’s Chavez Holds Key Meeting with Jewish Leaders

Yesterday, President Chavez met Jewish leaders in Venezuela (pictured at right). The head of the World Jewish Congress said, “We mentioned our concerns about anti-Semitism and asked him what his position was… And he said he was certainly not an anti-Semite.” This issue has for years been among the worst media misrepresentations of the Venezuelan leader. President Chavez called it “very important meeting,” according to the AP. To read a transcript of statements made at yesterday’s meeting, click here.

In regional news, Bolivian President Evo Morales has extended an olive branch to his political opponents after winning a recall referendum last Sunday. Reuters reports that Morales and opposition leaders agreed yesterday to meet “with an open mind.”

President Chavez is attending today’s inauguration of the new Paraguayan leader, Fernando Lugo. Newsweek prints an interview with Lugo, a former Bishop who says, “I am a centrist, like the hole of a poncho, standing above political parties.” Reuters reports that Lugo plans to help the poor by pursuing land reform and other policies. His administration marks a break from 61 years of one-party rule.

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