VIO News Blog

December 12, 2008

United Socialist Party of Venezuela Begins Presidential Referendum Process

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began collecting signatures yesterday in support of a national referendum on presidential term limits. It will hand the list over to the National Assembly next Thursday, according to Venezuelanalysis, when lawmakers are scheduled to begin debating the measure. The AP does not mention the PSUV, wrongly attributing the signature collection campaign to President Chavez himself. It notes that Chavez expressed in a speech that allowing him to run for election again is “a guarantee of peace.”

Sources report that Manuel Rosales, the former Zulia governor and new mayor of Maracaibo who lost to Chavez in the last presidential race, was charged with illicit enrichment by prosecutors yesterday. The AP, Reuters, and the AFP quote liberally from statements made by Rosales at a press conference after his indictment for corruption, for which he could face three to ten years in jail. Rosales called it “a terrorist trial,” and joked about being accused of assassinating JFK.

An op-ed in the Guardian by former AP Venezuela correspondent Bart Jones suggests that President Chavez “is sure to give more ammunition to his critics” during his bid for reelection. He also says, though, that unlike other politicians in Venezuela including opposition members involved in the 2002 coup, “Chávez has generally remained within the bounds of democracy.”

On the economy, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuela’s 2009 budget has been approved by the National Assembly. Spending is up by 22 percent, despite decreased oil revenues. The Herald deems the budget “optimistic.” However, finance experts in Venezuela have pointed out the country’s foreign currency reserves are high, and that by boosting official spending and reducing discretionary spending, the budget shows increased transparency.

Venezuela is upping its natural gas production with the help of foreign partners, according to Bloomberg. Firms with a minority stake in the first two natural gas plants include Chevron, Mitsubishi, Energia Argentina, and Galp of Portugal. Finally, in oil news, Reuters reports that 19 companies are bidding for contracts in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt projects.

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September 30, 2008

Venezuela Pursues New Energy Avenues, Ecuador Renews Democracy

Spain’s foreign minister said Monday that he supports Venezuela’s decision to pursue nuclear energy as long as “it meets all the safeguards and protections” established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and it is not for “military purposes,” according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. President Chavez has affirmed that the nuclear power would indeed be for peaceful purposes only. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Costa Rica is promoting a nuclear test-ban treaty for Latin American countries that would ensure peaceful conduct, a treaty Venezuela already ratified in 2002.

More news comes today on Venezuela’s deal with Portugal to purchase 1 million kid-friendly laptops for use in schools across the country (at right, President Chavez and Portugal’s Socrates check out a model). The BBC reports: “The deal to buy the machines is the largest yet for laptops created for school children.”

After voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum last Sunday, sources allege that President Correa is “tightening his grip” on the economy with new laws that give the state a broader role in setting monetary and oil policy. Reuters reports that opposition groups say Correa has “too much authority.” For most, though, the vote was seen as a democratic renewal that demonstrated the strong legitimacy of the government. Such legitimacy has been a long time coming; Correa is set to be the first leader in over a decade to serve a full term in office. The Christian Science Monitor says Correa is “not a lackey” of Venezuela’s Chavez, when in fact, neither are any of the other the popularly elected leftist Latin American presidents.

The recent expulsion of US Ambassadors from Bolivia and Venezuela are the subject of a Bay State Banner article which points out that “Chávez has consistently alleged that U.S. officials have been involved in efforts to destabilize the Venezuelan government.”

September 29, 2008

Venezuela Has Good Credit, Donates Laptops to Schools

President Chavez was in Portugal last Saturday, where he and Prime Minister Socrates signed deals worth $3 billion on technology, housing, and other issues. The AP reports that Venezuela purchased 1 million low-cost laptops from Portugal for use in schools.

In Russia last Friday, Chavez signed deals to create an oil and gas consortium and purchase $1 billion worth of military equipment. Sources do not report that Venezuela’s military purchases in Russia are partly the consequence of an embargo imposed by the US in 2006. Reuters reports that Russia and Venezuela may also work together on nuclear energy, according to Chavez, “for peaceful purposes, for medical purposes, for purposes of electricity generation.” Sources, however, emphasize the strategic dimensions of this issue, claiming that the move is “anti-US.” Venezuela, though, maintains stable trade relations with North America, and President Chavez has said he looks forward to improved diplomatic relations with a new US administration.

On the economy, Reuters reports that Standard & Poor’s gave Venezuela a good credit rating. According to Reuters, Venezuela has “robust external and fiscal balance sheets, which continue to improve as a result of high and increasing oil revenues.” Meanwhile, IPS reports on the expanding role of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, in the region.

Finally, voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum yesterday (seen at right), bolstering the mandate of President Correa. The AFP reports that exit polls showed 65-70 percent approval of the new charter. The Washington Post reports that Correa said, “Today Ecuador has decided on a new nation. The old structures are defeated… This confirms the citizens’ revolution.”

September 22, 2008

Venezuela Deepens Foreign Relations As McCain Attacks

“Gratuitous attacks” is how President Chavez described a new ad campaign by Republican hopefuls McCain-Palin that features the Venezuelan leader, the AP reports. “I don’t respond to candidates,” Chavez said. He has not commented on the US elections except to say that he hopes for better relations with a new administration. Also according to the AP, the Venezuela Information Office in Washington stated that the ad is an “attempt at fear-mongering” and that the words and image of Chavez “were taken out of context and used as a baseless attack.” The Boston Globe prints a transcript of the ad. Also in US-Venezuela relations, the AP reports that President Chavez said over the weekend that Venezuela is moving away from the use of the US dollar for its foreign currency reserves, and now has less than one percent of its $39.2 billion in US banks.

Last week, two Human Rights Watch staff were expelled from Venezuela after that group released a harshly critical report on the Chavez administration. A pre-Chavez law forbids foreigners from attacking Venezuela’s democratic institutions. The Foreign Ministry explained that the country “will not tolerate any meddling or interference in its internal affairs.” The Financial Times reports that Human Rights Watch reacted by claiming that Venezuela is seeing a “descent into intolerance.” Meanwhile, the Venezuela Information Office called the view put forth by the organization “incomplete and biased.”

In regional news, President Chavez is visiting Cuba today before moving on to tour China, Russia, Portugal and France. AFP reports that he said the week-long trip is “of great strategic interest” to Venezuela. New trade deals in oil and other areas are expected to be signed in China. Venezuela’s joint military exercises with Russia are in the news today. Reuters reports that a spokesman for the Russian navy said that the maneuvers are “aimed at training rescue drills and operations against sea terrorists.” The New York Times says that this is a strategic effort by Russia to boost its Latin American ties, but Russian reps say that the idea is not new, and will not affect any other country.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports on the continuing trial against Venezuelan businessmen accused by prosecutors of acting as unregistered foreign agents. Several experts indicate that the charges are politically motivated. “There is something bigger going on here. I have no doubt this is coming from the U.S. government”, said Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue.

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