VIO News Blog

April 2, 2009

Venezuela and Iran to Launch Joint Development Bank

President Chavez arrived in Iran Wednesday and is expected to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today, VOA reports. The Venezuelan president will also launch a joint development bank with Iran with a starting capital of $200 million, according to the AP. Venezuela recently created similar bilateral development funds with China ($12 billion) and Russia ($4 billion), and is also involved in the creation of a multilateral fund called Bank of the South with South American countries.

During his visit to Tehran, Chavez said he had little hope of better relations with the United States under President Obama. However, he added that he hoped that “President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire, and the first president of a truly democratic republic, the United States.”

At a summit of South American and Arab countries in Qatar earlier this week, Chavez announced that Venezuela would be prepared to receive detainees from Guantanamo. “We wouldn’t have any problem in taking in human beings,” he said. President Obama has ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp which holds 240 inmates, by next year.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Energy reported on Wednesday that Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. rose 14% from December, despite Venezuela’s earlier promise to OPEC to cut exports. The AP states that a spokesman for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, declined to comment. The Venezuelan government has frequently disputed U.S. Department of Energy’s estimates of Venezuelan oil production in the past.

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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 12, 2009

Venezuela Makes Room for more Housing

After news last week that a Coca-Cola bottler in Caracas would be required to relocate to make room for housing for the poor, El Universal reports that President Chavez explains: “We are always looking for a friendly arrangement. But we are required to always look everywhere for available space” for housing. Government officials and representatives of Coca-Cola in Venezuela will reportedly meet today. In comments that were not reported in the U.S., Chavez said yesterday that all companies must simply respect the law, and that his policies are concerned with guaranteeing social justice and protecting the national interest.

The state oil company PDVSA will seek to cut costs by 40%, UPI reports. To do this, it plans to revise contracts with service companies that charge high prices. With regard to state spending, Chavez said that Venezuela is not unlikely to face “serious hardships” due to the world economic crisis, but that “the revolution will not fall to pieces.” Meanwhile, AFP reports that oil futures rose slightly today.

In regional news, a Guardian column argues that the credibility of the US state department’s annual human rights report is crumbling. Serious questions about the report’s accuracy, as well as the moral authority of the U.S. to rate other nations, have come from many countries including Venezuela and China. Likewise, human rights groups with strong ties to Washington, such as Human Rights Watch, have come under increased scrutiny. Scholars contested a Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela last year, saying it lacked “minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy or credibility.”

Venezuela beat the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic last night, moving on to the second round of the tournament. Next, they play the Netherlands on Saturday.

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.”

March 3, 2009

Venezuelan Government Steps up Rice Plant Inspections

Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government is stepping up inspections of privately-owned rice processing plants that are accused of failing to abide by price controls and not producing at full capacity. Reporting from the Arroz Mary processing plant, Business Week quotes army Colonel Carlos Osorio saying, “We aren’t expropriating” the plant or confiscating its rice, instead the government is ensuring that companies distribute the necessary amounts of rice.

The AP reports that PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, announced on Monday that it will begin to settle its outstanding debts with around 6,000 contractors and suppliers, after a “review and analysis of debt.” Rafael Ramirez, president of PDVSA, stated that due to the drop in oil prices, the company will be “reviewing five-year contracts because the prices [that PDVSA pays contractors] can’t remain the same and that should be understood.”

Finally, on Monday, Venezuelan authorities found the wreckage of a small plane in the Andes which had disappeared over the weekend. Unfortunately, none of the 7 passengers survived the accident.

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.

January 15, 2009

Venezuela’s National Assembly Votes in Favor of Referendum

Lawmakers in Venezuela’s National Assembly voted 156 to 6 in favor of holding a national referendum on the issue of term limits. AFP reports that one lawmaker explained he supported the amendment “so that all legally able citizens can run for election and the people can choose from them without limitations of any kind.”

AFP reports that President Chavez said his intention is not to remain in office indefinitely. He said: “What we have here is a national independence project that still needs more work to consolidate. It’s not consolidated yet.” The referendum will likely occur on February 15th.

The AP and AFP report that Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday a formal break in diplomatic ties with Israel, citing “inhumane persecution of the Palestinian people.” A statement quoted by AFP says: “Israel has systematically ignored United Nations (ceasefire) calls, repeatedly and unashamedly violating approved resolutions…and placing itself increasingly outside international law.” Bolivian President Evo Morales also cut ties with Israel, saying its attacks “seriously threatened world peace.”

A contradictory report from the New York Times states that Venezuela is “quietly courting” foreign firms to help exploit the Orinoco Belt oil projects nationalized in 2007. Bidding by private investors like Chevron, Shell, Total, and BP is presented as a something Chavez was forced to do after oil prices crashed, but in fact, the article states that it began when oil prices were high. Several foreign firms have remained on throughout the nationalization. To bring the Orinico Belt oil projects under the rubric of national control established in 1976, Venezuela’s PDVSA is simply purchasing the majority of shares.

Finally, in international relations, a letter in the International Herald Tribune asks Obama to take “a new approach to Chavez,” for “many Latin Americans see him as the symbolic voice for those who Washington has all too often ignored.” The letter states that Venezuela should at least be treated as a “legitimate business partner.”

January 12, 2009

Venezuela Sends Heating Oil to US, Medicine to Gaza

“No, it was never suspended,” President Chavez said Saturday in reference to Venezuela’s home heating oil assistance program in the U.S. through Citgo. The aid effort is in its fourth year, and has grown to reach about a quarter of a million poor families. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader finally weighed in to counter those who claimed the aid was being cut off, saying, “they built this analysis on a lie.”

Another issue in the media refuted by officials over the weekend was that of oil industry layoffs. The AP reports that anti-Chavez labor unionists had claimed that Venezuela’s PDVSA dismissed 4,000 contract workers due to output cuts, but on Friday, the company’s vice president dismissed the rumors. Also in economic news, the AP states that oil output cuts mandated by OPEC are contributing to slowed economic growth in Venezuela, but fails to mention that the longer term intent of those cuts is to adjust to lowered demand and move toward more stable prices. Venezuela’s gross domestic product grew by 8.4 percent in 2007 and 4.8 percent in 2008. Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez indicated last week that the government is developing new measures to address economic downturn, but will not devalue the currency or impose new taxes.

Venezuela is sending 12.5 metric tons of medicine to the Gaza strip via Egypt, according to the latest AP report. “It is the least we can do,” President Chavez said yesterday. The AP states that Chavez “has forged strong ties with numerous Arab nations,” forgetting that Venezuela’s ties with the Middle East go back at least to the 1960s when OPEC was formed.

Chavez spoke yesterday of suspicions that a U.S. Embassy official attended a meeting of opposition leaders in Puerto Rico, sources report. “If this is proven,” he said, the diplomat would be expelled. In his televised address, Chavez recalled the U.S. backing enjoyed by Venezuela’s last dictatorship, which ended in 1958, and the U.S. role in negotiating a subsequent failed power-sharing pact between two political parties.

Finally, in other international news, the Financial Times proclaims: “Washington’s clout in Latin America is waning.” This refers chiefly to the economy, and the rising importance of other nations such as China and Russia. The Times calls it a tough “battle for influence.” Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reports on Venezuela’s strengthened economic and military ties with China.

January 9, 2009

Venezuelans March in Support of the Palestinian People

Yesterday, over 1,000 people attended a march in Caracas protesting Israel’s attacks on Palestine. The AP reports that marchers showed support for President Chavez’s decision to expel the Israeli ambassador in Venezuela, Shlomo Cohen, who said he left “without hate or rancor.” The decision riled Jewish leaders who, after a meeting at the presidential palace in August, said Chavez “demonstrated he is a great friend of the Jewish community who wants to fight anti-Semitism in Latin America.”

Venezuela’s inflation reached 30,9 percent, according to figures released by the central bank yesterday. The rate is an 11-year high, but remains well below average inflation during the 1990s, which was about 50 percent. Rumors of a potential currency devaluation have again surfaced; Bloomberg reports that Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez did not rule out the option. Rodriguez said: “We’re applying measures to maintain reserves at an adequate level… We have to restrict all unnecessary spending. We’re doing it in the public administration, and we should do it together as an economy.” He also maintained that altering the exchange rate (fixed since 2005) would fuel inflation.

Opposition labor leaders in Venezuela are claiming that production cuts agreed upon recently by OPEC member countries caused contractors to be laid off in Venezuela. The AP reports that PDVSA did not confirm this. On Wednesday, Venezuela’s Oil Ministry said it will reduce exports of 166,000 barrels a day to the United States, 18,000 a day to China and 5,000 a day to Europe.

Finally, sentencing is expected Monday in the case of Franklin Duran — one of several Venezuelan men accused by the U.S. government of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The AP reports that he will seek a reduced 3-year sentence. His lawyer said: “This case did not involve professional spies or agents employed by a foreign government or individuals out to do harm or create mischief in this country.”

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