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 30, 2009

Venezuelan President Travels to Asia

Today President Chavez set off on an official trip that will take him to Qatar, Iran and Japan, the AP reports. In Qatar, Chavez will attend a summit of Arab and South American Countries. In Iran, he will inaugurate a joint development bank between that country and Venezuela. He will then visit Japan to approve a bilateral energy pact, which will give Venezuela access to Japanese technology for its oil industry.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials froze a Bank of America account which had been used to carry out numerous transactions on Venezuela’s black market currency market.  The owner of the Miami-based company that controls the account,  Rama Vyasulu, has been arrested for allegedly laundering $900,000 in drug profits.

An article in the Economist print edition, “Hard landing” argues that spending cuts announced by President Chavez will have a bigger impact than the government is publicly admitting. The Economist states that according to  Finance Ministry’s figures, there was only $6 billion left in the National Development Fund (FONDEM) at the end of December, instead of the $57 billion publicly stated by Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez.  The article does not appear to take into account the vast quantity of foreign reserves that remain in the hands of the Central Bank and the Venezuelan government.

An AP article argues that the slump in oil prices has recently caused Venezuela to begin seeking foreign investment for its oil industry. However, Venezuela has shown openness to oil partnerships with multinational and state oil companies so long as they respect Venezuela’s sovereignty and majority stake. Venezuela began soliciting bids for oil exploration and production in the Orinoco oil belt in the Summer of 2008, when oil prices hit record highs.

Finally, an op-ed in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel argues that Milwaukee’s sister city agreement with Carora, Venezuela serves as a propaganda tool for Chavez.  A Heritage Foundation expert is quoted criticizing the plan for Carora to establish a Casa del ALBA in Wisconsin’s largest city.  The truth is, the “expert” says, Casas del ALBA are “centers of pro-Chavez indoctrination.”

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.

February 12, 2009

Chavez Supporters Encourage Voter Turnout in Referendum

Encouraging voter turnout is the top focus of campaigning among Chavez supporters, according the BBC today. One volunteers said: “Many claim victory too early and don’t actually go out to vote. …Our job is to mobilise people and show them the importance of this referendum for our revolution.” While pro-Chavez campaigners go door-to-door, the BBC reports that the “no” campaign has relied on TV commercials on private channels, emails, text messages, and distributing pamphlets in the street.

President Chavez spoke of an attempted coup yesterday, but stressed that “The country must remain calm. It has a government that is alert and a good guardian and capable of stopping this outrage.” Bloomberg reports that Chavez said some soldiers were arrested and weapons seized.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal report on municipal politics in Caracas. Both report on claims made by the city’s municipal mayor, Antonio Ledezma, whom the Journal points out is “a member of the [pre-Chavez] political elite” and had the same job 17 years ago, back when mayors were presidential appointees. Ledezma accuses the Chavez government of funding citizen groups to intimidate the opposition, a position he used to justify firing several thousand city workers others say were legitimate.

A number of false claims about the Chavez government have been made in the lead-up to the national referendum on Sunday, the worst perhaps being allegations of anti-Semitism that were spread again today by the Washington Post. An editorial wrongly states that the Chavez government has found a “new enemy” in the country’s Jewish community, when in fact concrete steps have been taken to clarify and improve relations with Jews. The Post conveniently forgets that Chavez recently signed a declaration against anti-Semitism and twice arranged meetings with Jewish leaders. Not long ago, he said the country’s Jewish community “is a big part of the Venezuelan family.”

Also ahead of Sunday’s referendum, USA Today offers a laundry list of problems in Venezuela, trumping up fears of an economic crisis that certainly is not unique to that country. Meanwhile, a Washington Times opinion piece weighs in with characteristic inaccuracy, claiming that Venezuela will become a dictatorship if the majority of voters approve the amendment to allow holders of public office to run for reelection more than once. It also claims fraud will occur, though all electoral observers agree that it never has under Chavez. Regular free and fair elections will continue to occur regardless of the referendum result.

December 11, 2008

Venezuela to Harness the Power of Wind

Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, is beginning to invest in renewable energy. A deal was signed yesterday with the Spanish company Gamesa for the purchase of 76 wind turbines that will be Venezuela’s first experience with using wind power. Reuters reports that the turbines cost $150 million and will generate 100 megawatts from a site located in the state of Falcon.

There are about 30,000 Cuban health workers participating in the “Barrio Adentro” social mission that provides free treatments to the poor in Venezuela, according to the country’s Health Minister Jesus Mantilla. AFP reports that Mantilla said Barrio Adentro has 6,571 clinics throughout Venezuela. Cuba provides doctors in exchange for Venezuelan goods such as discounted oil.

Sources report that Cuban President Raul Castro will make his first overseas trip on Saturday to visit President Chavez in Caracas. According to the AP, Castro’s trip was planned to coincide with an ALBA summit that has now been postponed.

The Christian Science Monitor asks whether any action will come of Ingrid Betancourt’s recent tour of countries including Venezuela to drum up support for further efforts to free hostages held by the FARC. The Chavez government is not, as the Monitor suggests, “ideologically akin” to the FARC. The Venezuelan government is a democratic one that does not adhere to the Marxism of the FARC, nor does it endorse armed political struggles. Chavez said as much earlier this year when he declared: “the guerrilla war is history.”

In cultural news today, the AFP reports that the three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone is making a film he says is “about President Chavez and the South American revolution.” According to AFP, “Stone has already with met with Chavez, who is reviled by the outgoing Bush administration.” Finally, see a review of a Venezuelan music ensemble in the San Francisco Chronicle and a review of a South Florida Venezuelan restaurant in the Miami Herald.

December 3, 2008

Manuel Rosales Summoned by Venezuelan Attorney General

Manuel Rosales, the opposition candidate who lost to Hugo Chavez in the last presidential elections, has been called to a hearing by Venezuela’s Attorney General. According to the AP and Bloomberg, prosecutors will determine next Thursday whether to file criminal charges against him for the misuse of public funds.

An electoral official in Venezuela has said that a referendum to amend the constitution and end presidential term limits could occur in February, according to the AP. Voters can bring about a referendum through petitioning, as they did in 2004, but fifteen percent (about 2.5 million) will need to sign on. Reuters reports that President Chavez also mentioned the end of February as a possible referendum date. The Electoral Council has 30 days to hold a vote once a petition is complete. The Miami Herald insists that the initiative is a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life” — an inaccurate statement given that the Venezuelan leader would simply be allowed to compete in future democratic elections, giving voters more candidates from which to choose. The Herald also puts inflation rates in Venezuela at 35 percent, which is about 5 percentage points too high, according to estimates published this month in the Caracas newspaper El Universal.

The BBC reports that Venezuela’s opposition is determined to block a referendum on presidential term limits. They say the initiative was rejected by voters a year ago, when a set of 69 constitutional reforms did not pass. According to a Dow Jones article which quotes only opposition sources, the referendum is being pushed through quickly ahead of an impending economic crash. Many experts, though, do not share Dow Jones’s picture of a “bleak economic outlook” for 2009; Venezuela’s economy has been deemed robust and able to survive lowered oil prices by analysts from CEPR and IDEAGlobal.

In other economic news, the Financial Times reports that private companies including banks have thrived under the administration of President Chavez, giving rise to new business elites. It profiles Wilmer Ruperti, who broke the PDVSA oil sabotage in 2002 and has become one of the so-called “Boligarchs.” The subtext here is that corruption permeates the Chavez administration — a claim also made in the Miami Herald and Christian Science Monitor today. According to one expert, oil booms have always produced new elites, and this “is history repeating itself.”

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor reports on crime in Venezuela and citizen concerns about security despite the fact that “extreme poverty and unemployment have been halved since Chávez took office.” It deems Caracas the “murder capital” of South America, but does not mention that murder rates in Venezuela overall are lower than those in neighboring Colombia and in El Salvador. The president, meanwhile, has not been “punished at the ballot box” for high crime rates because many understand the problem as an inherited one.

CORRECTION: yesterday’s roundup incorrectly stated that Reuters and Time Magazine articles portrayed President Chavez’s call for new legislation ending presidential term limits as “autocratic.” The word autocratic ought not to have had quotation marks around it, for it was not taken verbatim from either article.

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.

September 24, 2008

Venezuelan Local Election Campaigns Begin as Latin American Leaders Discuss Global Economy

Campaigning for local elections began yesterday in Venezuela. According to the AP, the mayoral and gubernatorial races will be “a key test” for the political party of President Chavez (the PSUV) and for opposition groups. A war of words has already begun, with opposition leaders claiming that it is unfair for the government to have “exclusive use” of state television, even though most private networks are staunchly anti-Chavez. Meanwhile, the Caracas mayoral candidate Jorge Rodriguez appealed to the opposition to “Leave behind the violent behavior.” Voting will take place on November 23rd.

In China yesterday, President Chavez promised to raise Venezuelan exports to the fast-growing country to 1 million barrels a day by 2012, according to the AP. Reuters reports that a preexisting joint development fund between China and Venezuela will be doubled to reach $12 billion, and that the countries will create two joint oil refineries. Forbes claims that these economic ties are spurred by Venezuela’s supposed desire to “cozy up to left-leaning rivals of the United States,” though the US certainly does more trade each year with China than Venezuela does.

The trial of Venezuelan businessmen accused by the US government as acting as unregistered foreign agents continues in Florida. The BBC and AP report that one of the accused men, who have plead guilty, now says that the funds in question totaled $4.2 million. US prosecutors refuse to see the trial as a politically motivated move by the US against Venezuela, though experts point out that the circumstances are suspect and that no similar trial would likely be brought against any other country in the region.

At the UN Summit in New York, Latin American leaders from many countries decried government bailouts in the US and expressed fears about the volatile “casino” economy of the northern nation, according to the Miami Herald. “We must not allow the burden of boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all… The economy is too serious an undertaking to be left in the hands of speculators. Ethics must also apply to the economy,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva. Meanwhile, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina lamented the fact that “In South America, they told us that the market would solve everything.”

September 16, 2008

South American Leaders Support Bolivia’s Democracy

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:41 am
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At a meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Chile yesterday, South American leaders met and unanimously backed Bolivia’s President Morales in his rejection of violent secessionist groups and call for respect for constitutional order. AFP reports that their statement expressed “full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a big majority.” AP reports that Chile’s President Bachelet (pictured at right) praised the role of the regional group in responding quickly to crises and producing accords. Bolivia’s Morales was inspired by the show of solidarity and called it “the first time in history that we South Americans are deciding to solve the problems of South America.”

A Washington Post editorial claims that President Morales is dividing Bolivia, when in fact the leader has consistently advocated national unity and has never used force against separatist factions. He also extended an olive branch opposition groups last week, holding talks to cool tensions, but those same leaders failed to attend yesterday’s UNASUR meeting in Chile. Morales, who has a strong mandate and won 67% of the popular vote in a recent referendum, is not “forcing through” a constitutional proposal, but instead plans a national vote in which citizens can accept or reject the new charter. In the Guardian, a letter to the editor signed by British Members of Parliament urge respect for Bolivia’s democracy and constitutional government.

In other regional news, on the anniversary of Central America’s independence from Spanish rule, Honduran President Zelaya on Monday decried poverty and advocated the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as the “true independence” of Honduras. According to the AP, he also defended his decision to withhold accreditation of the new US ambassador, an act of solidarity with Bolivia.

Finally, President Chavez plans to visit China later this month to discuss trade and cooperation in other areas including sports. The AP reports that China currently imports only 4% of its oil from Venezuela. Reuters reports that a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said, “Chinese and Venezuelan cooperation in this sphere will not affect Venezuela’s oil supplies to other countries.”

August 5, 2008

South America Plans Increased Cooperation

The Washington Post and Associated Press report on Citgo’s newest endeavor at corporate responsibility – this time in the form of a $1.5 million donation to a Maryland-based advocacy organization dedicated to aiding low-income and immigrant workers – in the Washington DC metro area.  Citgo’s donation will help the non-profit replicate the successful model of cooperatives that has flourished in Venezuela in recent years. According to CASA de Maryland, comprehensive educational, vocational training, and economic development programs will be created through the grant and will serve about 5,000 low-income participants. 

A group of 26 new laws passed on the last day of the Enabling Law by President Chavez are highlighted by the Associated Press today.  While critics say this is a way to implement measures included in a Consitutional Reform package that failed last year, the laws are actually different and include the Law for the Promotion and Development of the Popular Economy, the Integral Agricultural Health Law, the National Railway System Law, and a law to create a Venezuelan Agricultural Bank.   

A meeting between the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela was held last night in Buenos Aires to discuss future cooperation and joint projects.  Plans to build a gas pipeling across South America were raised as well as the idea to create joint state energy companies and a regional air and train network to aid efficient food distribution.  In related news, President Chavez announced that the Bank of Venezuela will replicate the model of Brazil’s federal bank, Caixa Econômica Federal, the largest public bank in Latin America. The Bank will also expand and offer services to all of Venezuela’s municipalities.  The three presidents are scheduled to meet again on September 6. Following the meeting, President Chavez and President Fernandez will be in route today to Bolivia where they will meet with President Morales and discuss energy issues, according to Argentina’s presidential palace.

Finally, US Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated recently that he would work to end US energy dependence on the Middle East and Venezuela.

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