VIO News Blog

May 1, 2009

Chavez Reaffirms Neutrality Regarding Colombia’s Internal Conflict

Following the killing of 8 soldiers near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, President Chavez declared that his government would not allow FARC rebel forces to use Venezuelan territory to mount assaults inside the neighboring country.  Chavez also reaffirmed his country’s traditional policy of neutrality regarding Colombia’s internal conflict and stated that Venezuela would “not permit any type of armed incursion… wherever it comes from.”  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro earlier announced that his government would collaborate with Colombia on efforts to capture the FARC guerrilla members responsible for the killing of the 8 soldiers.

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told foreign service officers today that she did not consider that it was in the US’s interest to attempt to isolate countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, as the Bush Administration had done.  “The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs,” said Clinton. “It didn’t work.”  The Secretary of State explained that the failed policy had allowed Iran, Russia and China to make “disturbing” political and economic gains in the region over the last few years.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal repeats the worn out claim that the Venezuelan government promotes anti-Semitism, despite the fact that President Chavez and other officials have strongly condemned all forms of anti-Jewish behavior and have engaged with Venezuelan Jewish community groups in a manner that has drawn praise from international organizations like the Jewish Latin American Congress.  Rather than consulting representatives of Venezuela’s established Jewish organizations like the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, the author of the piece refers to the extreme views of Pynchas Brenner, a notorious radical opponent of the Chavez government, and US rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.  The piece also re-hashes the discredited claim that President Chavez made anti-Semitic statements in December 2004, despite the fact that Venezuela’s Jewish community representatives argued against the claim.

Finally, US Republicans have produced a new video featuring the recent handshake between Presidents Obama and Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The video, that has been broadcast via the internet, suggests that Obama’s decision to have courteous exchanges with Chavez and other leaders deemed to be unfriendly to US interests, has weakened the country’s national security.

April 20, 2009

Respect and Better Relations between Venezuela and the US

On Friday and Saturday, President Chavez and President Obama exchanged warm handshakes and chatted several times during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Chavez gave Obama the book “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. On Sunday, President Obama described his several brief meetings with President Chavez over the weekend as good steps, the Washington Times reports.

President Chavez also announced, at the end of the summit on Saturday, that he will send a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. – Roy Chaderton, who is currently Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States. On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said that it would work towards sending an ambassador to Caracas, following a dialogue between President Chavez and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, AFP reports.

President Obama received sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for his amicable meeting with Chavez, Chicago Tribune reports. Obama dismissed such concerns, saying the 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want engagement. “The American people didn’t buy it,” Obama said, referring to the argument that U.S. engagement towards foreign leaders could be perceived as “weakness.” He added “there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it, because it doesn’t make sense.”

Finally, on Sunday, President Chavez announced the creation of a new elite military unit, and the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles from Russia, AP reports. Chavez stated “We don’t want wars with anyone, but we’re obligated to equip ourselves and have a military that is increasingly dedicated to the country.”

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.

March 19, 2009

Venezuelan President to Visit Japan

Bloomberg reports that President Chavez will visit Japan in April, according to statements made by energy minister Rafael Ramirez who is currently visiting that nation.  Venezuela is set to sign an energy cooperation agreement with Japan today that may lead to an increase in loans to Venezuela by Japanese financial institutions, according to Reuters.  The South American nation also recently announced that it will invest more than $6 billion in oil projects with Russia.  In other energy news, President Chavez said that his government is open to El Salvador’s participation in Petro-Caribe, an energy initiative that removes middlemen and provides petroleum and other resources at market prices through beneficial financing terms.

Bloomberg reports on Venezuela’s recent moves to nationalize certain companies and claims that the government has an inadequate amount of cash to do so. While it is true that the oil market has affected Venezuela, the country maintains record levels of foreign currency reserves and has not, to date, defaulted on payment to national or foreign companies.

Venezuela beat the US 10-6 in a World Baseball Classic match yesterday in Miami.  Both teams will be competing in this weekend’s semifinals.  Meanwhile, NPR reports that the well-known Venezuelan baseball player Magglio Ordonez has been booed during his games with the Detroit Tigers for having supported President Chavez publicly. Of the mostly upper-class Venezuelan fans who partake in this behavior, Ordonez says “I have nothing against [the fans],”but, “I don’t think they’re well-informed.”

The Washington Times reports on remarks made by President Obama’s special advisor to the Summit of the Americas, Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow.  “He is going to Trinidad with the intention of treating all the presidents there with the respect that they merit as elected heads of state… And it is my hope that all the other presidents there will treat each other with that same kind of respect and use the kind of language one would expect in polite company.” With no factual basis for the suggestion, the Times goes on to opine that Davidow was probably referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Finally, an article in Washington Jewish Week contrasts the views of various American Jews regarding an alleged “climate of fear and intimidation” affecting Venezuela’s Jewish community.  While a Washington-based rabbi compares the situation to that which existed in Nazi Germany, a representative of the American Jewish Congress states that she is “guardedly encouraged” by actions taken by the Venezuelan government.  Largely absent from this article is the point of view of representatives of the Venezuelan Jewish community, with only a brief quote from a Venezuelan Jew in the second to last paragraph.  No mention is made of the fact that President Chavez and other high level officials have consistently condemned all forms of anti-Semitism.

It is also worth noting that the accusations of anti-Semitism that have been directed against President Chavez and his government have appeared, for the most part, in the press releases and articles of organizations and media outlets based outside of Venezuela.  These accusations often refer to President Chavez’ strong condemnation of Israel’s military actions in Gaza without taking into account accompanying statements making clear that the Venezuelan government unequivocally rejects anti-Semitic behavior and actions.  The accusations also focus on an incident earlier this year in which a Caracas synagogue was broken into and vandalized.  Often unreported is the fact that a police investigation revealed that the primary motivation for the break-in was theft.

March 18, 2009

Venezuela Prepares for Summit of the Americas

President Chavez said yesterday that he is preparing a strong diplomatic agenda for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which he believes will be “very interesting,” according to the AP. The Venezuelan leader suggested metaphorically that he is “getting our artillery ready,” and “we’ll see what the pitcher throws.” The Venezuelan leader — like many others in the region, including Brazil’s president — will advocate ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which he called “an aggression against all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A Miami Herald article argues that recent moves to federalize control of transportation hubs in Venezuela is an attempt to “siphon” power from regional opposition leaders. The measure was approved by elected lawmakers in Venezuela’s National Assembly, many of whom pointed out that federal management of highways, airports, and seaports would boost national security and anti-drug efforts. Key transportation hubs such as seaports are under federal jurisdiction in many other nations including Canada.

In economic news, Venezuela and China have begun construction on a joint refinery in China. The AP reports that Venezuela expects to boost oil exports to  China to reach 1 million barrels a day in the coming years. Also, Venezuela and Russia have formed a joint oil company with an initial investment of $6 billion to explore and develop Venezuela’s Junin 6 oil field.

Finally, CNN reports that several Cuban experts deemed ‘creative,’ and ‘speculative’ a recent, bizarre report by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s ex-foreign minister linking Cuban President Raul Castro’s recent decision to oust two top Cuban officials for their plotting against the president – with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Even Mr. Castaneda admitted that he had no evidence, and that he was merely speculating.

March 16, 2009

Venezuela to Manage National Transportation Hubs

President Hugo Chavez dispatched the Navy to Venezuela’s seaports yesterday, after elected lawmakers in the National Assembly voted to bring the country’s transportation hubs under federal management. The AP reports that President Chavez said the move is aimed at improving Venezuela’s national security, including counter-narcotics efforts.

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that President Chavez offered an island off the coast of Venezuela for use as a temporary base for Russia’s strategic bombers. Yesterday, though, Chavez made clear that there would be no foreign bases on Venezuelan soil, but that he had told Russian President Medvedev that his country’s strategic aviation was welcome to “make a stop in Venezuela.” While much media attention has surrounded Russia’s improved ties with Venezuela, its diplomacy with other nations including regional heavyweight Brazil have been downplayed.

A commentary in the Guardian suggests that, for Chavez, “it was easy to score points, both at home and abroad, by bashing President Bush,” but that this tactic has proved difficult with President Obama, who is popular in Latin America. However, President Chavez does not seek an antagonistic relationship with Washington. In fact, he has frequently said that he welcomes talks with the Obama administration, and believes bilateral ties could improve. Any recent criticisms directed at Washington have consistently been about U.S. foreign policy.

In a Newsweek article by Jorge Castaneda, the author makes the absurd speculation that Cuban President Raul Castro’s decision to remove two senior Cuban politicians from office was due to their plotting to overthrow him, and that such a move was supported by President Chavez of Venezuela. No supporting evidence is provided.

Also in regional news, Mauricio Funes, the moderate leftist and FMLN candidate in El Salvador’s presidential race, won the election with 51.3% of the vote. The victory breaks a 20-year grip on power by the country’s right-wing Arena party, whose founder was associated with some of the most repressive elements in the country’s U.S.-backed civil war. Funes, whose FMLN party has been in the political arena since a 1992 peace agreement, pledged to work toward Central American integration as well as strengthen ties with the U.S.

January 28, 2009

Venezuelan FM: Relationship with the Middle East is Transparent

Venezuela has a “transparent relationship” with the Middle East, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said yesterday. The AFP reports that he explained: “We have no official relations with (Hamas and Hezbollah) and if we did we would say so. …Our government totally and absolutely guarantees religious equality and nondiscrimination on religious issues.” The comments were a response to allegations in an Israeli newspaper the same day Israel expelled Venezuelan diplomats.

Maduro also said yesterday that Venezuela respects President Obama’s plan for energy independence, but that “at the same time we have been asking them to respect Venezuelan and Latin American decisions concerning the path we have taken.” According to the Financial Times, Obama plans to cut U.S. oil use by 4m barrels a day within 10 years. U.S. oil consumption has grown over the decade to reach 20.7 million barrels per day, an amount greater that of than any other nation.

The AP and Reuters report on comments by Venezuela’s foreign minister with headlines declaring that Venezuela-U.S. relations will remain on hold under Obama. The actual statements suggest a far more measured position, though; Maduro said that Venezuela will seek to restore diplomatic ties with the U.S. “in the best and most correct manner,” and that this “will probably take some time.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (seen at right) accused Iran of “subversive activity” in Latin America yesterday at a senate hearing in Washington. He claimed Iranians are opening “a lot of offices” in “a number of places.” Venezuela was mentioned as the site of a visit by the Russian navy on its tour of the region last year. Gates joked that the Russians would have had more fun had they visited Miami.

An ALBA summit will be held in Venezuela next week, according to CNN. Set to attend are the leaders of Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia, as well as representatives from Ecuador and other observer nations. They will discuss common initiatives, including a shared currency. CNN mentions the upcoming referendum in Venezuela on term limits, claiming Venezuelans rejected similar legislation last year. However, that referendum concerned 69 proposals including communal property rights, recognition for Afro-Venezuelans, ending foreign funding for political campaigns, and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

USA Today provides a very misleading account of the issue of term limits in Venezuela and other Latin American nations. It wrongly classifies democratic leaders in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as a new class of “strongmen.” The leaders are described as authoritarian despite the fact that they are “generally civilians instead of soldiers, and they take office via elections instead of coups… [and] are staying in office because they are so popular.” Bolivia is singled out for its new constitution, approved in a national referendum last Sunday. The charter  recognizes the rights of Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians and guarantees healthcare, education, water, and a safe environment to all citizens.

January 22, 2009

Venezuelan Students March on Caracas in Support of Chavez

Pro-Chavez students marched in Caracas yesterday, turning out by the hundreds (see image at right). Reports by Bloomberg and the AP focus mainly on the anti-government protests occurring in previous days. Bloomberg reports that President Chavez ordered authorities to “dissolve any disturbance,” while the AP makes the more accurate statement that the Venezuelan leader said security forces should dissolve crowds “if they turn violent.”

Government officials have publicly condemned the acts of violence and vandalism occurring at protests this week and last week. Higher Education Minister Luis Acuna said: “We can’t use the amendment to block streets. This amendment doesn’t need Molotov cocktails. What the amendment needs is a pluralist debate.”

An alarmist Washington Post op-ed today claims that the governments of Venezuela and Russia are authoritarian and eschew human rights. In Venezuela, things could not be more the opposite. Elections are free and fair, and their results do not always favor the Chavez government. Crime is indeed high and has persisted in part because Venezuela is not ruled by an “iron fist” as the op-ed claims. Where past leaders cracked down and killed civilians, Chavez has opted for slower reforms with citizen involvement. Demonstrations are not repressed; protesters have often been allowed to bring their demands before the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. They also get an enormous amount of attention in the media and abroad. Indeed, the Post op-ed is based on a visit to the U.S. Congress by opposition students. Meanwhile, many elected officials in the Venezuelan government are denied U.S. visas, as Time reported yesterday.

Another perspective is offered in an interview with political scientist Daniel Hellinger published by the Venezuela Information Office. Of the upcoming national referendum on term limits for public officials, he says: “I believe the president will win the referendum to make possible indefinite re-election. I anticipate that this will bring a predictable wave of condemnation from the media in the United States. But if the expressed will of the Venezuelan people is to allow re-election, we need to respect their decision. ”

In other news, the AP reports that Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said he hopes Obama rectifies his recent assertion that Venezuela is “a destructive force in the region.” Maduro said: “President Chavez has won 12 of the 14 elections in the past 10 years. He is the legitimate president and his leadership has gone beyond the region and helped create solidarity among the peoples of the world.”

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.

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.

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