VIO News Blog

April 14, 2009

US Coast Guard Respects Venezuelan Sovereignty in Drug Bust

On Friday, President Chavez said he saw “good signals” from the U.S. after Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for terrorism in Venezuela and Cuba, was charged in a U.S. court for lying about his involvement in the 1997 bombing of a Havana hotel. Chavez was also encouraged by the U.S. Coast Guard’s cooperation in a large cocaine bust involving a Venezuelan boat off the coast of Brazil, AP reports. The Coast Guard first called Venezuelan authorities to seek permission before boarding the boat. “Now they’re going to turn over to us the boat, the drugs, the prisoners. Those are good signals because that didn’t used to happen,” Chavez said.

On Monday, in a speech marking the seven year anniversary of a failed coup, Chavez said “sanctions must be imposed” on television networks which backed the brief overthrow and staged a media blackout. The AP quoted Ana Cristina Nunez of Globovision, saying that “The president is totally criminalizing the free exercise of freedom of expression.” However, the right to freedom of speech remains strong in Venezuela, with the majority of the country’s media in private hands – most of which remain vocally opposed to the Chavez government.

The Venezuelan government plans to issue $15.8 billion in local bonds to offset the shortfall in oil revenue. An article by Dow Jones Newswire asserts that the country’s bankers will comply in purchasing the newly issued debt, despite the fact that the government “threatens them with nationalization.” However, the government has consistently stated it has no intention of nationalizing large swathes of the banking sector.

Finally, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra performed to a packed audience at Chicago’s Symphony Center on Friday, receiving much praise in a Chicago Tribune review.

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April 7, 2009

Venezuela Hails US Initiative to Free the World from Nuclear Weapons

On Tuesday, President Chavez praised President Obama’s initiative to see the future world free of nuclear weapons, adding that he was open to cooperation with the Obama administration, AP reports. Chavez added “in the framework of respect, anything is possible: closer ties, including a possible dialogue.”

While in Japan, Chavez signed an agreement with Japan that could bring over $33 billion of additional investment to Venezuela’s oil industry. On Tuesday, Venezuela and Japan created a $4 billion investment fund, that will be part of a larger agreement on investment.

Finally, a Reuters article on recent corruption charges against opposition leaders Manuel Rosales and Raul Baduel asserts that the charges are part of a recent crackdown on the opposition.  It should be noted that, in the case of Rosales, the courts have not yet decided on whether the charges have legal merit. Meanwhile, Raul Baduel was recently arrested after having failed seven times to appear in court after having been summoned to testify about the disappearance of over $14 million during his tenure as defense minister.

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 1, 2009

Venezuela in Qatar to Help Create a Multipolar World

On Tuesday a summit of South American and Arab governments took place in Doha, Qatar, in which leaders discussed ways in which to deepen economic and political ties between the two regions. President Chavez called on his colleagues to work together to help create a “multipolar world” and pressed for the creation of an oil-backed currency. AP and AFP report that heads of state agreed on the need to further expand technological exchanges and develop instruments of financial cooperation. According to AFP, trade between the regions has tripled since the first summit of this kind was held in Brasilia in 2005.

Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales, who has been accused of ‘illicit enrichment’ during his roles as governor of Zulia, is now in hiding somewhere in the city of Maracaibo, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Rosales stated that he would not “turn himself in without the possibility of a fair trial.” Though a prosecutor has called for Rosales to be detained, the courts have not issued a warrant for his arrest or determined whether he will need to go to trial.

In economic news, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s central bank cut interest rates on credit cards, savings accounts and short-term deposits in order to promote economic growth.

Finally in last night’s soccer match, Venezuela defeated Colombia 2-0, increasing the team’s chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

March 31, 2009

Chavez Meets with Arab Leaders in Qatar

At a summit of Arab and South American leaders in Qatar, President Chavez appealed to oil-producing states to support the creation of a petroleum-backed currency, AP reports. Chavez also supported the Arab League’s declaration Monday to reject the International Criminal Court charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Chavez noted the hypocrisy of the ICC, saying “Why don’t they order the capture of (former President George W.) Bush? Or the president of Israel?”

In an interview with the pan-Arab TV network Al-Jazeera, Chavez said there were no plans to restore relations with Israel, according to the AP. He added that he would only reconsider if Israel’s leaders cease being a “genocidal elite subordinated to the United States.”

Finally, Central American leaders met yesterday in Costa Rica with Vice President Joe Biden and urged Washington to slow deportations of Central Americans. According to the AP, Biden said there would be no immediate response but asked the group to be patient and assured them that the US would put together a policy with the region, not for the region.  El Salvador’s President-elect, Mauricio Funes, was present and told reporters that while his party has close ties with Chavez, “that does not mean my foreign policy will be subordinated to Chavez.”

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 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 24, 2009

Venezuelan Economy Adjusts to Oil Prices

After President Chavez on Saturday announced a series of economic measures to adjust for lowered oil prices, the Associated Press reports that on Monday several analysts warned that the steps would not be enough to tackle the more serious economic problems of inflation and slowed growth. Reuters quotes a Morgan Stanley analyst as saying that, after several years of record economic growth, Venezuela’s economy will likely contract by 4% this year.  However, with over $70 billion in foreign currency reserves, Venezuela is sticking to its plan to invest $20 billion in non-oil sector development projects this year.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s Bolivar strengthened on Monday in the parallel market after Chavez ruled out a currency devaluation.

The AFP reports that President Chavez denied rumors of a rift between Raul Castro and himself, and described such talk as “a little campaign.” The rumor of such a rift was promoted by former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, who later signaled that he has absolutely no evidence to back up his claim.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has proposed that the nation’s charter be re-drafted in order to adapt to the “substantial and significant changes” that have occurred since the adoption of the current constitution in 1982. Zelaya wants voters to decide by June 24th whether a constitutional assembly should be convoked. The move would follow in the footsteps of other countries in the region such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

In an op-ed distributed by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Angelo Rivero Santos, the charge d’affaires of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, responds to allegations of anti-Semitism directed at the government of Venezuela.   Rivero 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.”  But Rivero signals that these accusations have been made primarily by organizations based outside of Venezuela and that an organization representing Venezuelan Jews has rejected the claims and expressed disappointment at not having been consulted beforehand.

Finally in an interview by Fareed Zakaria, President Lula da Silva of Brazil was questioned about why his government does not speak out against how Hugo Chavez has “destroyed democracy in Venezuela.” Da Silva responded by stating that “…no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. He (Chavez) has been through five, six elections. I’ve only had two.”  There have in fact been fourteen national elections in Venezuela since Chavez first came to power in 1998, all of which have been characterized as free and fair by independent electoral monitoring groups.

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 10, 2009

Venezuela Refutes State Department Report on Drugs

The Washington Times reports on the last U.S. State Department drug report under the Bush administration, issued a couple of weeks ago, which leveled accusations against three key government officials in Venezuela. The men are Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, an aide to President Chavez, and high-level anti-drug officials Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva. Venezuelan officials have refuted this and other aspects of the report as politicized, and say its findings are false and contradict those of other studies. “The biggest support for narco-trafficking comes from the nation of the north,” Chavez said.

Coca-Cola will likely cooperate with a request by President Chavez to relocate a Caracas bottling plant and turn over the site to the impoverished local community, the AP reports. This is according to a statement released yesterday, which said Coca-Cola expects the government can “bring about proposals and alternatives that benefit everyone. The Financial Times reports that Chavez said Sunday that the land is needed for housing, but suggests that the leader is “targeting” Coke as part of an “assault” on the private sector. Despite what the Times states, “expropriations” are not the norm in Venezuela, where the government follows laws requiring compensate private owners for their assets.

In other economic news, Reuters reports that the Venezuelan government clarified plans to create a Venezuelan Aluminum Corp to unify the sector. That institution will coordinate policy among different aluminum producers, but will not merge them. Japan owns 20 percent of one of the country’s main aluminum plants, Venalum.

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