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 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 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.

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 3, 2009

Chavez Calls for Elimination of International Monetary Fund

Late Thursday, President Chavez criticized the G-20’s approach to dealing with the global financial meltdown, stating that “it’s impossible that capitalism can regulate the monster that is the world financial system.” He called for the elimination of the International Monetary Fund and attacked the US and Britain for having promoted the financial model that led to the crisis.

Venezuelan authorities arrested Raul Baduel, a former Venezuelan defense minister on corruption charges, Reuters reports. Baduel has said that he is being persecuted politically, as he was once a close ally of Chavez and then became a vocal opponent in 2007. Prosecutors have accused Baduel of illicit enrichment, stating that during his time as minister $14.4 million went missing from the budget of the Armed Forces.

Iran and Venezuela agreed on Thursday to further strengthen ties, according to AFP. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that “a ten-year plan for the two countries’ ties as well as a plan to combat the global crisis will be drawn up” during President Chavez’s visit. The launch of a joint Iranian-Venezuelan development fund is scheduled to take place today.

A Dow Jones article asserts that a dip in Venezuela’s dollar reserves from $29.7 billion in February to $28.6 billion in March, represents a “weaker protection as it faces financial pressures triggered by the collapse in the price of oil” It should be noted that, aside from its significant Central Bank reserves, Venezuela still has billions of dollars of reserves in separate state funds which it can draw from if the price of oil remains low.

Finally, during a trip to China and Japan this week, Chavez said he will seek investment agreements to finance oil projects, Bloomberg reports.

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 27, 2009

Vandals Apprehended in Caracas

For the third year in a row, many rural Alaskans will receive free heating fuel from Citgo, Venezuela’s state owned oil company, AP reports. The effort is part of a nation-wide subsidized heating oil program run by Citgo that benefits thousands of low income communities across the United States.

Venezuelan prosecutors have filed charges against 11 individuals apprehended in the break-in and vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue in January, according to AP. Venezuelan authorities have said that the intruders may have vandalized the synagogue premises in order to turn attention away from the motive of theft.

In a Washington Post op-ed by Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center, the authors draw comparisons between Chavez and Hitler and assert that the Venezuelan government has carried out anti-semitic acts. It should be noted that, in 2004, the Wiesenthal Center directed similar accusations of anti-Semitism at Chavez, drawing a sharp rebuke from Venezuela’s main Jewish organization which stated that it rejected the accusations and lamented not having been consulted beforehand by the Center.

Earlier in the week, in an op-ed distributed by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Angelo Rivero-Santos, the charge d’affaires of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, responded to allegations of anti-Semitism directed at the government of Venezuela.  Rivero- Santos states that “Venezuela’s Jewish community is an integral and essential part of our country’s singularly diverse society.” Given President Chavez’s efforts to fight racism and discrimination,  accusations of anti-Semitism have been “especially painful for the government of Venezuela.”

In economic news, Reuters reports that trade in Venezuela’s parallel market for exchanging Bolivars for dollars has been largely paralyzed due to the freezing of a key account by US government authorities.  The authorities did not comment on the reason behind their decision.

The Venezuelan government will create several state owned companies to replace oil service contractors, the Miami Herald reports. President Chavez said that the new companies will carry out oil services such as the maintenance and operation of oil wells – not private contractors.

Finally, an article by Oxford Analytica asserts that the recent budget cuts and economic measures taken by the Venezuelan government are primarily symbolic and won’t reverse the current economic trend in Venezuela. The article states that more changes should be expected by the government. However, the Chavez administration has ruled out currency devaluation or a hike in domestic gas prices. In addition, with $20 billion being invested in non-oil sector industries, and over $70 billion in reserves, the government has a significant cushion to deal with the economic situation.

March 25, 2009

Venezuelan City has new Sister in Wisconsin

Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and Edgar Carracaso, mayor of Carora, signed a sister city agreement on Tuesday. It marks the first such agreement between a Venezuelan and a U.S. city in the past 10 years. Mayor Carrasco stated that “Our governments may have differences, but that doesn’t offset our countries’ abilities to know each other.” Carrasco added that Carora will be developing the Casa El Alba to promote cultural and economic ties between the two cities and offer US visitors information about the city of Carora and Venezuela.

Venezuela’s biggest mosque, located in downtown Caracas, was robbed and ransacked according to the Associated Press. No suspects have yet been identified. An administrator said it was the second time the mosque had been broken into since September of last year.  In February of this year, an important Caracas synagogue was also broken into and vandalized.  Though various news outlets presented the incident as an “anti-Semitic” attack, a police investigation indicated that the primary motive was theft.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has decided to move the corruption trial of Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales from the state of Zulia to Caracas, as judges in Rosales’s home state were allegedly caught meeting with the opposition mayor. Four judges in Zulia have also been suspended from their duties by the Supreme Court for participating in the alleged meeting. Rosales asserted that the decision was made by the Chavez government in order to find an “obedient judge.” Zulia lawmaker Calixto Ortega, however, stated that at least one of the four sanctioned judges was in a position to exercise direct influence on the Rosales case.

In economic news, the AP reports that progress is being made in establishing the Bank of the South, a regional financial institution designed to provide an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, both of which have strong ties to the US Treasury Department. The Bank of the South is expected to launch its operations in May with $10 billion in initial capital. Its members are currently Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Finally, McClatchy reports that CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall has claimed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system is not secure and was tampered with by President Chavez during a 2004 referendum on his presidency. Without providing any evidence to back his assertions, Stigall stated that “it was my understanding that” the computer program used for the audit of the voting machines “was provided by Chavez.” Stigall’s claims, made before a hearing in Orlando, Florida, run contrary to the assessment made by independent electoral monitoring missions from the Carter Center and the OAS, that concluded that the 2004 elections had been fair and transparent.

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.

March 17, 2009

Venezuela has the World’s Second Biggest Oil Reserves

Venezuela has the world’s second-biggest oil reserves, Bloomberg reports today. Its proven reserves increased by 14% last year to reach 172.3 billion, passing Iran and putting the country closer to the current leader, Saudi Arabia. More reserves are yet to be certified by independent analysts.

The AP reports that opposition state governors in Venezuela yesterday challenged the decision of President Chavez to bring the maintenance of highways, airports, and seaports under federal management, asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not it is constitutional. Meanwhile, a group of 13 elected lawmakers in the National Assembly issued a statement defending the move as a bid to ensure the efficient use of public services. They asserted that the opposition arguments were designed to “confuse the public.”

Sentencing occurred yesterday in the trial of Franklin Duran, who was given four years in jail and a $175,000 fine. Prosecutors argued that he attempted to help Venezuela cover up the “suitcase scandal,” in which cash was allegedly sent to Argentina. According to the AP, U.S. District Judge Lenard said yesterday that Duran “did not commit espionage against the U.S. or threaten its national interests,” but that “The respect of the sovereignty of the United States is paramount.” The Miami Herald reports: “Federal prosecutor Tom Mulvihill recommended more than 13 years, saying Duran might not have been a “spy” for the Chávez government but that he did ”harm” the United States.” Many commentators agree that the case was heavily politicized.

The Inter American Press Association, a Miami-based group of newspaper editors and owners, said at the close of a meeting in Paraguay on Monday that press freedom is deteriorating in the Americas. It also accused President Chavez of “humiliating the press,” and claimed his “incendiary rhetoric” is being adopted by several other leaders throughout the region. Most of Venezuela’s media is private-owned and virulently anti-government, and criticizes the Chavez administration freely and openly. Meanwhile, IAPA “applauded a drop in violence against journalists in Colombia,” where it found that last year 29 death threats were reported and five journalists went into exile.

Venezuela’s baseball team beat Puerto Rico 2-0 in Miami yesterday to move on to the World Baseball Classic semi-finals. The AP reports that some Venezuelan fans cheered especially loud for Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers due to his public support for the constitutional amendment approved by Venezuelan voters in a referendum last month.

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