VIO News Blog

May 5, 2009

Venezuelan Authorities Turn Guerrillas over to Colombia

The Spanish news agency EFE reports that 5 ELN guerrilla members were turned over to Colombian authorities yesterday by the Venezuelan Immigration service.  Once in Colombia, the guerrillas, that included three men and two women, were promptly arrested and charged with rebellion and other crimes. According to the Colombian intelligence agency DAS one of the arrested guerrillas is the military and finance chief of the ELN’s northern front.

The Washington Post has published an article entitled “Human Rights Activists Troubled by Administration’s Approach” in which most of the “activists” cited are former government officials. Obama’s courteous engagement of President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas is criticized by a former official named Lorne W. Craner who says “you can’t just offer hope to Castro, Chavez and Mubarak. You have to offer hope to others.”  According to the Post, Craner was assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights under George W. Bush.

Finally, Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government has asked local producers to sell twice as much gold to the Central Bank so that Venezuela can increase its metal reserves and decrease its dependence on US dollars. According to the new rules set by the Venezuelan Finance Ministry, 60 percent of locally produced gold must be offered to the Central Bank before other sellers. Financial analyst Philip Gotthelf suggested that these meausres might be the “first step in a regional trend” to bolster gold reserves in anticipation of a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar.

April 30, 2009

New Venezuelan Central Bank Head Appointed

Dow Jones reported yesterday that Venezuela’s National Assembly approved President Chavez’s decision to nominate Nelson Merentes to head the country’s Central Bank.  Merentes, who was Finance Minister from 2004 to 2007, was in charge of the purchasing and selling of structured notes made up of sovereign debt from other Latin American countries who sought to end their dependence on the International Monetary Fund.  The presidency of the Central Bank has been vacant since the death of its last president in December of last year.

The Washington Post has published yet another editorial encouraging the Obama Administration to adopt a harder line towards Venezuela.  According to the Post, the judicial measures taken against several government opponents facing corruption charges are evidence of a “a major new campaign against what remains of Venezuela’s democracy”.  Not mentioned in the heavily biased editorial is the fact that pro-government figures, like ex Mayor of Caracas Juan Barreto, are also being prosecuted for crimes involving corruption.

Political comment pieces in the Washington Times and the Kansas City Star include short references to President Obama’s friendly handshake with President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The Washington Times refers derisively to the “cerebral president’s” courteous attitude towards “America-hater Hugo Chavez”, despite the fact that the Venezuelan president has often stated that, while he had serious differences with the Bush Administration, he has wished to maintain the best possible relations with the people of the United States.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times has reported that a Florida pharmacy confirmed that a medication given to 21 prized polo horses from Caracas that died at the US Open polo tournament had been incorrectly prepared.   Franck’s Pharmacy of Ocala, Florida announced that “the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect.”

April 28, 2009

Empire Still Kicking, Venezuela Still Kicking Back

The AFP reports that on Friday President Chavez said that while he and President Obama exchanged warm greetings during the Summit of the Americas, the US empire is still “alive and kicking.”

Labor leaders from Delaware left on Sunday as a delegation traveling to Venezuela to participate in meetings and dialogue with the Venezuelan government, businesses, and labor leaders, Delaware Online reports. Delaware was one of at least seven states in which discounted heating oil for those in need was delivered by the Venezuela-owned company CITGO.

On Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki visited Venezuela and announced that his country would open a diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Malki and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Monday were set to sign a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority, AFP reports.

On Sunday, President Rafael Correa was easily re-elected, winning with 52% of the vote, and a 24% point lead against his closest rival. A Reuters article stated that this was “another victory” for the a new generation of left-leaning Latin American leaders like President Chavez who have challenged Washington’s agenda in the region.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Washington Times argues that President Obama lowered his and America’s moral standing by shaking President Chavez’s hand during the Summit of the Americas. The piece makes several baseless allegations, including the claim that the Venezuelan government supports the FARC guerilla army in Colombia.

April 22, 2009

Sometimes a Handshake is Just a Handshake

More articles are circulating regarding the several brief meetings between Presidents Chavez and Obama this past weekend. Reuters reports that President Obama received a sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for these meetings. Obama dismissed their concerns by mentioning that 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.” The two countries have already begun talks on reinstating ambassadors.

The BBC reports that Venezuelan opposition leader and Mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales failed to appear in court on the first day of his trial on alleged illicit enrichment. Reuters reports that Manuel Rosales believes the trial is politically motivated and that he escaped from hiding and is now in Peru where he will seek political asylum.

A Boston Herald editorial asserts that the Summit of the Americas has “turned into a thug-fest, a showcase for the hemisphere’s bullies to express their contempt for their big, bad neighbor to the north.” The author of the piece fails to take into account the fact that these ‘thugs’ are actually democratically elected leaders of their respective countries, or that the hemisphere’s leaders interactions with Obama were cordial, if not friendly.

Finally, a letter to the editor in the Washington Times, argues that President Obama was correct in reaching out to President Chavez, adding that “It would ill serve our president and our people if Mr. Obama were to enter the world stage with preordained hatred and contempt for the leaders of nations with which we have been at odds in the past.”

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 17, 2009

Chavez Holds Out for Equality in the Americas

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that while no bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Chavez is scheduled during the Summit of the Americas, if Chavez were to approach the US President, it is likely he would agree to talk, CNN reports.

On Thursday, President Chavez said that Venezuela will vote against the Summit of the Americas declaration, arguing that it treats Latin America as subservient to the interests of the United States, AP reports. According to the Miami Herald, Chavez said of the declaration, that it was “as if time had not passed.”

At a meeting in Venezuela, of ALBA-member nations, President Chavez announced the creation of a new regional currency ‘Sucre,’ which he expects will enter into effect in 2010 as an electronic currency to facilitate trade between the member countries. The new regional currency will provide an alternative to the U.S. dollar frequently used for trade throughout the hemisphere. Chavez added that he hoped other nations in South and Central America would later also participate in using the currency.

An editorial in the Dallas News argues that President Obama should ignore Chavez and try to divide the alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, by opening up trade and travel to the island nation.

Finally, in regional news, Bolivian police in Santa Cruz said they foiled a plot to assassinate President Morales, and while attempting to arrest the suspects, a 30-minute gunbattle ensued, ending in the deaths of three suspects and the arrest of two others.

April 15, 2009

Venezuela and Colombia make Bilateral Agreements

President Chavez yesterday called for Colombia’s FARC rebels to lay down their arms for four months as a way to revive peace talks with the Colombian government. The AP asserts that the remarks are a toughening of Chavez’s stance against the FARC, just a few days before the Summit of the Americas meeting at which both President Chavez and U.S. President Obama will be present. However, President Chavez’s remarks are not new developments – he has repeatedly called for the FARC to lay down their arms and enter into dialogue with the Colombian government.

Chavez also met with President Uribe of Colombia yesterday in Caracas. The two leaders signed various agreements aimed at boosting bilateral trade, energy supplies, and credit, Dow Jones reports.

On Tuesday, President Chavez appointed Jacqueline Farias as administrator of Caracas. The new post will serve as a direct link between the federal government and the city’s opposition-aligned mayor. The AP reports that Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma accuses the government of trying to subordinate his authority, however pro-Chavez lawmaker Jose Albornoz denied that the new law is politically motivated and stated that it will help improve basic services in the city, like trash collection.

In regional news, Bolivian President Evo Morales ended his five-day hunger strike yesterday, as Bolivian lawmakers finally passed a law allowing the president to run for re-election in December. In January, Bolivians approved a new constitution which requires fresh presidential elections.

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 2, 2009

Venezuela has taken Unprecedented Steps to Boost Agricultural Productivity

On Thursday, the representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Venezuela, Francisco Arias Milla, said that “there is a group of countries, including Venezuela, that is better prepared to confront this crisis and whatever other crisis that may come,” adding that “this is due to the institutionalization of food security in the region.” The Chavez government has taken unprecedented steps to boost agricultural productivity in Venezuela, resulting in the country’s corn production increasing by 205%, rice by 94%, sugar by 13%, and milk by 11% over the last decade, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.

President Chavez on Saturday rejected a U.S. State Department report that alleges that drug trafficking is soaring in Venezuela, the AP reports. The report, which covers global anti-drug efforts in 2008, was prepared during the final months of the Bush presidency, but was approved and presented by the Clinton State Department. “Is there really a new government in the United States, or is Bush still in charge?” Chavez told supporters in a poor Caracas neighborhood. Although not reflected in the State Department report, Venezuela’s anti-drug efforts have been widely documented. Venezuela is now the country with the fourth largest seizures of cocaine in the world, and in 2008, Venezuelan authorities destroyed over 220 illicit landing strips used by suspected drug runners.

The AFP reports that President Chavez stated he will be attending the April 17-19th Summit of the Americas to “defend the integration of the Caribbean and Latin America and demand that the empire Obama leads lift its blockade of Cuba, abide by UN resolutions and condemns Israel.” Chavez said he was unconcerned with whether he would meet Obama there or not.

Bloomberg reports that on Saturday, President Chavez ordered troops to occupy some rice processing facilities in the country due to their failure to market rice at the regulated price set by the government. The seizure of Arroz Primor rice mill, owned by Empresas Polar SA, will last three months according to El Nacional. Chavez said that rice processors have been buying crops from local farmers but have refused to sell white rice at the controlled price. Instead, they have added colors and artificial flavors to evade these controls. “They’ve refused 100 times to process the typical rice that Venezuelans eat,” Chavez said yesterday during his “Alo Presidente” program on state television. “I’m tired of it and if they don’t take me seriously I’ll expropriate the plants and turn them into social property from private property.”  Chavez also announced that if the companies processing rice followed through with their threat to paralyze production, they could end up facing nationalization.

An article in the Miami Herald, argues that Venezuela faces many problems which are only growing. The article discusses the current financial crisis and the impact of continued low oil prices on government expenditures and debt payments. While Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez has acknowledged the difficult economic outlook, it should be noted that Venezuela has over $70 billion in reserves which can help buffer the economy in the event of a protracted global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal argues that the collapse of a Venezuelan bank owned by R. Allen Stanford is causing concern that the economy could be threatened if other banks in the country also experience massive capital flight. However, there is no evidence that the failure of Stanford’s bank (that represents only a small proportion of total deposits in Venezuela) has generated uncertainty in the Venezuelan banking system as a whole, and the speculation is largely based on rumors. The Venezuelan government has guaranteed the deposits of Stanford Bank and says it will sell the bank.

Finally, on Friday, President Chavez said Venezuela should bring to justice those responsible in the brutal repression of the Caracazo riots that took place in major urban centers throughout the country 20 years ago. Chavez blamed the government in power at the time and said Venezuela “should make greater efforts to search for justice.” It is believed that anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people were killed in the riots. “I’m asking them to review the whole thing.” President Chavez also urged the U.S. to extradite former president Carlos Andres Perez in order for him to be brought to justice for his role in the repression.

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