VIO News Blog

April 29, 2009

Rosales Hides Behind Right-Wing Friends

El Universal reports that the Peruvian government has sent conciliatory signals to Venezuela despite its decision to offer asylum to opposition politician Manuel Rosales who faces charges of corruption in the Venezuelan courts. While the Venezuelan foreign ministry recalled its ambassador in Lima and stated that the relationship with the Andean nation was under “evaluation”, Peru has maintained its ambassador in Caracas. Peruvian President Alan Garcia declared that his government had “a position of friendship with the Venezuelan government” but also had a policy of providing “shelter to whomever feels threatened.” German Saltron, Venezuela’s representative to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, contested the notion that Peru’s offer of asylum was based on “humanitarian reasons”, signaling President Garcia’s “political and ideological affinity” with Rosales and his alleged long-standing friendship with opposition leader Carlos Andres Perez.

On Tuesday, 17 individuals were arrested in Curacao for their alleged involvement in an international drug ring that provided financial support to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to a statement released by Dutch Authorities, the arrests were carried out thanks to a coordinated operation involving police and judicial organisms from Curacao, the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States.

Also on Tuesday, ex President Jimmy Carter announced that he would be meeting with the Presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru over the coming days.

The AP reports that Iran’s defense minister has held talks with his Venezuelan counterpart in Caracas. The Iranian official told Iran’s state media that his country was developing a long-term cooperation plan with Venezuela; however, Venezuelan officials declined to make any comments regarding the ongoing talks.

In economic news, Dow Jones reports that the value of the Bolivar has strengthened against the dollar in Venezuela’s parallel market as a result PDVSA’s announcement of plans to emit several billion dollars worth of dollar-denominated debt. Meanwhile, President Chavez approved the emission of 12 billion bolivars ($4.8 billion) in treasury notes in order to cover the budgetary gap generated by lower oil prices. The National Assembly has authorized the selling of up to $15.8 billion in local treasury bonds before the year’s end.

Finally, on Tuesday Venezuela’s state oil company announced that the round of bidding on three projects to develop the heavy-oil fields in the Orinoco basin has been delayed three months. The company will announce the bidding results on August 14th rather than May 7 as had been originally announced.

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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.

February 9, 2009

Venezuela Counts Down to Sunday’s Referendum

As the February 15th vote on term limits nears in Venezuela, there has been much coverage on the lead up to the referendum. AP reports that a grenade exploded at the headquarters of Democratic Action, an opposition party.  President Chavez has condemned violence by the opposition as well as supporters alike, and has said that those who break the law will be held accountable.  On Saturday, he called on the Venezuelan Attorney General to bring to justice a small group called La Piedrita which has claimed responsibility for several incidents that have taken place over the last few weeks.

The AFP reports that “tens of thousands” protested the upcoming referendum on term limits in Caracas on Saturday.  The protest unrolled peacefully along an 11-mile stretch of roadways that ran from the city outskirts to the downtown area.

An AP article about the coming referendum falsely asserts that President Chavez “has long cast himself as the only one who can save the region from a meddling United States”.  The article also suggests that Chavez doesn’t wish to have good relations with the new US Administration even though he has repeatedly stated that he is willing to sit down with President Obama and work on building better relations.

The AP also reports that the Venezuelan government announced that 11 people suspected of involvement in the January 30th vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue were arrested. The arrest included 7 police officers and 1 security guard from the synagogue. Elias Farache, president of the Venezuelan-Israelite Association said “We thank the authorities for the quick detention of the suspects. We also want to thank all of those who showed their solidarity with us.”

Meanwhile, an article that appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday, leaves the impression that the Venezuelan government has fostered a climate of antisemitism by failing, in the words of ADL president Abraham Foxman, “to differentiate between criticism of Israel and criticism of the Jewish people.”  However, President Chavez and other high officials in the Venezuelan government have consistently signaled that, while their government is critical of Israel’s military action in Gaza it wishes to have the best possible relations with the Jewish community, both in Venezuela and internationally.

Reuters reports that Venezuela’s finance minister Ali Rodriguez discussing oil prices in the context of the Venezuelan economy has said “We have prepared different scenarios that go from $20 upward. We don’t think it will fall below that level.” Rodriguez added that “If we have to make great sacrifices in public spending, we must make the maximum effort to ensure it is not in the social sector.” Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government will tap into $1.65 billion from its National Development Fund in the first quarter, to maintain public spending amidst a steep decline in the price of oil. President Chavez stated that Venezuela plans to invest $225 billion in oil and non-oil projects over the next four years.

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 21, 2009

Chavez Looks Forward to New Views, Respect from Washington

“From here we salute the people of the United States,” President Chavez said Tuesday in reference to the inauguration of President Obama, according to the New York Times. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader said he has no illusions, but that he hopes the new U.S. president “looks to Latin America with a new view, with a new focus of respect toward the democracies and the changes.”

Chavez is referred to as a “world-changer” with immense energy in an AP interview with Oliver Stone, who spent time with the Venezuelan leader in order to make a documentary. “Bolivar is back,” he said, and the winds of change are “huge” and “sweeping all over the place.”

The Washington Post reports on Obama’s interview a week ago on the Spanish-language channel Univision. The president-elect had called Chavez an obstacle to progress in the region and said he was concerned by the allegations that “Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities or supporting malicious entities like the FARC.” Chavez’s response — that Obama “cast the first stone” — was reported as a sign of emerging tensions. Time Magazine reports that last May, Obama gave a speech in which he called the Venezuelan leader a “demagogue” with a “predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government and checkbook diplomacy.” Time indicates that the Summit of the Americas in April will provide another early test of Obama’s Latin America policy.

The Washington Times reports that over the weekend President Chavez “ordered authorities to break up student protests if they turn violent.” Reuters points out that opposition marches are indeed “sometimes violent,” but then assigns blame to the government with its headline: “Venezuela opposition attacked after Chavez speech.” Much of the press today similarly misrepresents the use of tear gas by Caracas police to disperse opposition marchers, failing to mention that it was a response to public outcry when the marchers blocked freeways and paralyzed the city. Authorities did not target the opposition; an AP news photo shows  pro-Chavez demonstrators being arrested by police over the weekend.

An editorial in the Chicago Tribune claims President Chavez “squandered the proceeds” of last year’s oil boom. However, the country has $42 billion in foreign currency reserves and tens of billions more in discretionary government funds. Venezuela also reinvested over $15 billion in the oil industry in 2008. The Tribune argues that the country is desperately courting private investors because of the dive in oil prices, when in fact, firms like Chevron, BP, and Shell never left Venezuela. They began the process of bidding on Orinoco Belt oil projects last year when the value of crude was still extremely high.

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 8, 2009

Getting Warmer: Venezuela Continues Home Heating Oil Donations to US

“We never stopped the program,” Citgo’s President Alejandro Granado (pictured at right) said yesterday at a press conference confirming that Venezuela’s oil subsidiary will continue to dole out cut-rate heating oil to low-income Americans. Although news sources had reported that Citgo suspended heating oil deliveries, no Venezuelan officials — including President Chavez — ever said the program would cease.

The Boston Globe highlights the discrepancy: because of a slight delay, the charity Citizens Energy “said it thought Citgo’s indecision meant the program would be suspended.” Venezuela had indeed been examining its charitable spending, but there was no “reversal” on the U.S. program. Joe Kennedy of Citizens Energy yesterday thanked Chavez for his “genuine concern for the most vulnerable, regardless of where they may live.”

Time Magazine points out that, for four years, Venezuela has helped offset the burden of energy costs faced by American families while U.S. oil firms and the Bush administration have refused to do so. Citgo’s donations last year totaled $100 million, and reached about a quarter of a million families.

In other news, the AP reports that Chavez commented on the U.S. role in Gaza yesterday, saying he will wait to see if President elect Obama can “stop the aggression.” The Venezuelan leader added: “This is Obama’s first test along with the war in Iraq, and respect for the people of Latin America.” An analyst told the AP that differing views on the Middle East means more hurdles for U.S.-Venezuela relations, but that they are “not insurmountable.”

Protests against Israel’s attacks have been occurring in many Latin American countries, according to a McClatchy wire story. The largest has been in Argentina. Marches are expected in Caracas today.

January 7, 2009

Venezuela Expels Israeli Ambassador, Sends Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

After President Chavez deemed Israel’s invasion into Gaza “genocidal” earlier this week, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry acted to expel the Israeli ambassador in Caracas. A communique quoted by the AP and Bloomberg “emphatically condemns the flagrant violations of international law by the state of Israel, and denounces the use of state terrorism that has pushed the country to the margins in the concert of nations.” The AP also reports that Venezuela and Brazil are sending food and medical aid to Gaza.

CNN reports that an Israeli rep responded by claiming Venezuela gives “automatic support to the Iranian extremists” and has an “affinity with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.” Venezuelan officials only advocate peace, though, and are not alone in doing so. France’s Sarkozy, whom the Wall Street Journal calls “a sincere friend of the Jewish state,” is pushing for a settlement and has criticized Israel for using “disproportionate force” against Palestine.

The BBC reports that Venezuela’s sizable Arab community, which has openly protested the Israeli attacks, welcomed the expulsion of the Israeli diplomat. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Abraham Levy, the President of the Venezuelan Jewish Community, expressed disapproval. Levy was among those Jewish leaders invited to the presidential palace to meet personally with Chavez last August. The Venezuelan leader also signed a joint declaration with Brazil and Argentina condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of religious discrimination and racism on December 18th.

The AP reports that Venezuela’s energy assistance in the U.S. and elsewhere is jeopardized by the slump in oil prices, failing to point out that less assistance is needed at this time. Last year, prices were at a record $100 per barrel — double what they are now. Programs like Petrocaribe, which sells oil to small Caribbean and Central American Nations on preferential terms, have been altered slightly in response to changing demand.

Meanwhile, after news yesterday that Venezuela’s Citgo suspended deliveries of cut-rate oil to the U.S. charity Citizens Energy, company officials still have not given word of any final decision. ABC News quotes critics of Venezuela’s heating oil assistance program who reject it as an attempt to “buy friends.” Low-income Americans, though, welcomed last year’s $100 million in aid, provided at the behest of U.S. senators and with no strings attached.

Finally, the AP is reporting that oil prices will not remain low for long. Another price spike is expected by next year, according to experts.

December 18, 2008

Venezuelan National Assembly Begins Review of Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Debates began yesterday in Venezuela’s national assembly regarding an amendment to the constitution to allow indefinite reelection. AFP reports that a “similar” proposal was struck down in a national referendum last year, however, that vote was regarding a package of 69 reforms. Citizens did not weigh in on the issue of term limits specifically, which may be why, as AFP notes, the result of this voting process remains “an open question.”

Yesterday marked the end of the Rio Group summit that brought together the leaders of 33 Latin American countries. It was the largest regional meeting ever to take place without the U.S. or Europe, according to the AP. Mexico’s President Calderon suggested the creation of a Union of Latin American Nations, and host Lula da Silva said: “Two-hundred years is a long time to wait, but it is better late than never.” Bloomberg reports that countries appealed to the U.S. and international financial institutions for debt relief, and according to Reuters, they also advocated an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

After the convivial Latin American summit, the Financial Times oddly reports that Venezuela’s effort to find allies is “running out of gas.” The Times misses the point of the “multilateralism” that President Chavez advocates, reporting instead suggesting that Chavez tries to dominate other countries through “largesse.” Aid programs such as Petrocaribe and ALBA were powerful precursors to the recent regional summit in Brazil, at which Chavez made few headlines. Venezuela’s oil assistance abroad will indeed shrink with the lowered price of crude, but poor countries will also need less assistance.

Finally, yesterday’s OPEC summit concluded with a firm decision to cut output that will see Venezuela’s oil production go down by 189,000 barrels per day, according to the AP. The AP wrongly states that there is a discrepancy between Venezuela’s official oil output and its real output. Bloomberg reports that the new production cut lowers output by about 5.9 percent. Government officials in Venezuela emphasize that they seek to stabilize oil prices.

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