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 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.”

March 3, 2009

Venezuelan Government Steps up Rice Plant Inspections

Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government is stepping up inspections of privately-owned rice processing plants that are accused of failing to abide by price controls and not producing at full capacity. Reporting from the Arroz Mary processing plant, Business Week quotes army Colonel Carlos Osorio saying, “We aren’t expropriating” the plant or confiscating its rice, instead the government is ensuring that companies distribute the necessary amounts of rice.

The AP reports that PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, announced on Monday that it will begin to settle its outstanding debts with around 6,000 contractors and suppliers, after a “review and analysis of debt.” Rafael Ramirez, president of PDVSA, stated that due to the drop in oil prices, the company will be “reviewing five-year contracts because the prices [that PDVSA pays contractors] can’t remain the same and that should be understood.”

Finally, on Monday, Venezuelan authorities found the wreckage of a small plane in the Andes which had disappeared over the weekend. Unfortunately, none of the 7 passengers survived the accident.

January 13, 2009

Venezuela’s Political Reality Distorted Again Today

The Washington Times reports that Aruba is “worried” by a Venezuelan natural gas project located 14 miles off its shore. The article, written by a freelance Dutch journalist, is based on one comment by Dutch embassy staff and provides no insights from Venezuelan authorities.

In Foreign Policy Magazine, a Washington-based analyst says President Chavez will not win a referendum on ending term limits, but gives little accurate information about the proposed legislation. An amendment would not, as the piece states, end term limits “among other things.” A single question approved in rough draft form by the National Assembly yesterday simply asks voters if they agree with ending term limits for all public offices. Nor is the legislation a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life.” It would allow all elected officials the chance to compete in free and fair elections as many times as they wish. The referendum will likely occur on February 15th.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed presents an intensely distorted picture of Venezuela by arguing that it is not a democracy. It is unclear how the Journal determined that elections are not free and fair in Venezuela, when all international observers (the OAS, the Carter Center, the EU, NAACP, and others) have certified them as such. The Chavez government is not a “military government”; dismissals from the armed forces came in 2002 after some factions helped overthrow the democratic order, which would be standard procedure in any country. Meanwhile, civilians involved in the coup were pardoned by the president in January 2008. Children are not “indoctrinated” in public schools; a re-write of curricula along socialist lines was sidelined last year due to criticisms. Economic freedom is not “dead,” nor is a currency devaluation planned. Venezuela is rendered unrecognizable in the Journal’s opinion page.

A Washington Post op-ed from the National Endowment for Democracy similarly deems Venezuela “nondemocratic.” This is despite the fact of free and fair elections, the separation of powers, and abundant human rights guarantees under the constitution. The misperception is particularly sad because Venezuela is among the longest-running democracies in Latin America, and has seen an explosion of popular participation in politics under President Chavez. Polls like Latinobarometro show that Venezuelans are the most likely in the region to support democracy, and second most likely to express satisfaction with the actual functioning of the democratic process.

Finally, two more contrasting reports on the economy appear today. A McClatchy wire story says Latin America is better prepared to handle an economic crisis than it has been in the past. Meanwhile, a Miami Herald op-ed argues that the region cannot insulate itself and recommends more of the same capitalist policies that have helped cause repeated crashes.

December 9, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt Thanks Chavez for His Generosity and Love

“We owe the first step to President Chavez,” Ingrid Betancourt said yesterday, speaking about the release of hostages by Colombia’s FARC rebels. In a press conference that was not covered in much of the English-language media, she said she wanted to “thank [President Chavez] personally for his commitment, his generosity, his love, his care, and all that he invested in working to achieve our liberation.”

The AP reports that the former FARC captive met with President Chavez yesterday (see image at right) as the final stop on a tour of the region to thank leaders for their support and urge more action. Chavez’s humanitarian mediation in Colombia this year freed six people — including three U.S. citizens — before it was curtailed by Colombian leaders.

A Houston Chronicle report on the armed forces in Venezuela makes a number of tenuous assertions. It claims the country’s new Military Reserves and Territorial Guard are almost exclusively at the service of President Chavez, and are “designed to protect the Venezuelan leader from internal strife.” Meanwhile, it later points out that the forces answer to a national commander, not the President. The armed forces in Venezuela do not repress demonstrations, and are required under the constitution to uphold human rights. Chavez’s own opposition to the military repression he witnessed as a young serviceman during the 1989 “Caracazo” massacre helped to inspire his political project emphasizing humanism.

Finally, another ruling came in the case of Venezuelan men accused of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The AP reports that “Suitcasegate” continued yesterday with a 15-month jail sentence for the second man to be convicted by U.S. prosecutors. Many experts consider the trial a political move by the U.S. against the Venezuelan government, but this fact is often ignored by the media.

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