VIO News Blog

April 8, 2009

Venezuelan National Assembly Moves to Appoint Caracas Administrator

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s National Assembly approved a new law which creates a federally appointed administrator of Caracas that will serve as a direct link between the federal government and the city’s opposition-aligned mayor. The AP asserts that the new law weakens the authority of the Caracas mayoralty. Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma accused the government of trying to subordinate his authority, however pro-Chavez Jose Albornoz rejected the idea that the new law is politically motivated and stated that it will help improve basic services in the city, like trash collection.

Catholic leaders in Venezuela from the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference also accused Chavez of subordinating his regional opponents. Chavez told Venezuelan state television from China, that “This group of bishops is shameless,” and siding with “crooks,” AP reports. The Bishop’s Conference has often sided with the opposition in its differences with the Chavez government.

On Monday night, the widely acclaimed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, under the baton of the Venezuela star conductor Gustavo Dudamel performed to a sold out crowd at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC. The orchestra is part of Venezuela’s world-renowned ‘El Sistema’ music program which gives poor kids in Venezuela access to musical instruments and lessons.

Finally, AFP reports that Chavez is expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, Chavez said that during his meetings in Japan, he was able to obtain $33.5 billion of investments in Venezuelan oil and gas projects.

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March 13, 2009

Venezuelan Law Guarantees Essential Public Services

Another drug-related arrest was made in Venezuela yesterday, according to the AP. A U.S. man was detained in Monagas state for “cooperating in the crime of drug trafficking,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted yesterday to modify the Law on Decentralization to allow federal jurisdiction over the maintenance and management of the country’s airports and highways. The BBC reports that, in debates on the issue, one lawmaker said the measure would “guarantee essential public services.”

The Economist wrongly reports that a Cargill rice factory in Venezuela was “seized.” This has not occurred, despite the fact that President Chavez made the suggestion last week in a speech. The Law on Food Security stipulates that a certain proportion of agricultural goods in Venezuela must be subject to the price controls that rein in the cost of basic foodstuffs, and producers that do not follow the law have come under scrutiny. The Economist does not report that government officials have been in talks with Polar and other food distributors to ensure that they comply.

In international news, sources report that Brazilian President Lula da Silva will discuss Venezuela at a meeting with President Obama in Washington tomorrow. The AP reports that da Silva said “I’m going to ask that the U.S. take a different view of Latin America. We’re a democratic, peaceful continent, and the U.S. has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug trafficking or organized crime.” In addition to U.S.-Latin American relations, other top issues on the leaders’ agenda are biofuels, the global financial crisis.

Oil futures rose to $48 per barrel yesterday ahead of an OPEC meeting this weekend. Venezuela and China will build a joint refinery this year in Guangdong province that Bloomberg says will “reinforce their energy ties.”

Finally, Venezuela and Mexico signed a cooperation agreement on music education yesterday. Mexican students will visit Venezuelan Youth and Child Orchestras in the coming months. Mexico’s education minister said “the promotion of music in Mexico is part of a plan to improve education and culture as a way to prevent crimes.”

March 6, 2009

Lula and Obama likely to Discuss Chavez in March

The Associated Press reports that President Chavez has given Brazil’s President Da Silva permission to discuss Venezuela with President Obama when the two leaders meet March 14th in Washington. “We don’t need any intermediary to speak with any government on the planet, but since it’s Lula and in good faith, I told him yes, that I gave him the green light,” Chavez stated. President Chavez has repeated his willingness to meet with Barack Obama to discuss bilateral relations and issues affecting both countries, including the global recession.

A Time Magazine article discusses how Cuban-American politicians are trying to appeal to Venezuelans residing in South Florida, stating that a majority of Miami Cubans now oppose continuing the 47-year long trade embargo against Cuba. Time quotes Republican representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart in a speech to Venezuelans living in South Florida saying, “Venezuelans are under a lot of pressure from Chávez, who is acting more like a dictator every day.” However, domestic and international electoral observers have consistently declared Venezuela’s elections free and fair.

The AP reports that Venezuela has expropriated 3,700 acres of land from an Irish businessman that produced eucalyptus for cardboard manufacturing. President Chavez stated that according to Venezuelan law, the land should be used to grow food. The state will allow agricultural cooperatives to grow corn and beans on the land.

Finally, the Petare district of Caracas reports a 20% drop in murder rates compared to figures from February 2008, according to AFP.

February 5, 2009

Venezuelan Officials Hold Productive Dialogue with Jewish Community Leaders

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met with leaders of the Jewish community on Wednesday to discuss the attack against a Caracas synagogue that took place on the night of January 30th.  After this meeting, Abraham Levy, president of the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela, expressed satisfaction with the government’s response to the attack.  According to Bloomberg, Levy told reporters that the government’s condemnation of the incident “was very strong.”  Meanwhile, Maduro called on “those that profess their faith in this religion to turn a deaf ear to the campaign that’s trying to politically manipulate an act that we condemn.” AFP quotes Maduro adding “we’ll capture [the perpetrators of the attack] and we’ll punish them with the full weight of the law, whoever they are.”

President Chavez, who over the last few days has also repeatedly condemned the incident, stated on Wednesday that his government  “rejects any attack against any temple of the Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or any other faith.”

AFP reports on a Congressional hearing on US relations with Latin America that took place on Wednesday with a series of “experts”.  Despite the fact that President Chavez has repeatedly expressed his hope that his government’s relations with Washington will improve under the Obama Administration, polling expert Sergio Bendixen told Congressional members and staff that Venezuela and other left-wing Latin American governments “are not friends”  as they “have worked to diminish (US) power” in Latin America.

Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan labor union Fedepetrol announced that it took control of four oil rigs owned and operated by Helmerich & Payne Inc. A spokesman for the Tulsa-based company denied this and said that they were planning on moving the rigs out of the oil fields following a payment dispute with state oil company PDVSA. “Labor unions appear to be pleading for continuity of operations on all of the company’s rigs in Venezuela,” Helmerich said today in its statement. “The company will continue to work with PDVSA to resolve pending receivable collections and potentially resume operations under new contracts with rigs that are currently idle.”

Finally, the Associated Press reports that Venezuela’s annual inflation eased slightly in January to 30.7 percent. The article mentions that this inflation rate is the highest in Latin America but fails to note that Venezuela has also seen the strongest economic growth in the region over the past few years.

January 26, 2009

Chavez Congratulates Bolivia on Inclusive New Constitution

President Hugo Chavez congratulated Mr. Morales, stating that the constitutions’ approval strengthens Morales’ “effort to push forward a peaceful and democratic revolution.” Bolivians made history yesterday with the passage of a new constitution which defines Bolivia as a “United Social State of Plurinational Communitarian Law.” The constitution recognizes education, healthcare, and housing as basic human rights. It gives indigenous peoples rights to ancestral land, and all 36 indigenous languages are officially recognized. Afro-Bolivians now have legal recognition as an ethnic group, for the very first time. The AP reports that President Morales praised the passage of the new constitution as the end of the ‘colonial state.’
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavezand Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe
On Saturday, President Uribe of Colombia and President Chavez met in the port town of Cartagena, agreeing that each country will contribute $100 million to a joint fund which will help create small businesses and finance infrastructure projects along the two countries’ shared border. The leaders also discussed manufacturing of primary car components locally to reduce imports. Chavez said that the two countries should aim for $10 billion in bilateral trade by 2009 and 2010, up from $7.2 billion in 2008. Amidst consistent accusations by Colombian and US officials of Chavez’s support for the FARC, the AFP quotes President Chavez stating “”I repeat it again: if I were supporting any subversive, terrorist or violent movement in Colombia, I wouldn’t be here.”

Chavez wrote in his newspaper column that his and other nations will reach toward the U.S. “full of fraternity,” but that President Obama must avoid old antagonisms. The AP makes the erroneous inference that a line out of Obama’s inaugural address which reads “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent…the US will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” was intended for President Chavez. All international observers have confirmed that Venezuela’s elections are free and fair, and that Venezuela’s political opposition can freely dissent. Indeed, the political opposition enjoys widespread coverage in most of the privately owned media. Mr. Chavez wants to improve relations with the U.S., but noted that Washington ought to “open its fists” first.

The AP reported earlier today that a fire at an oil refinery in Western Venezuela injured seven people. Four firefighters and three refinery workers were injured. The incident did not affect oil production or exports.

January 12, 2009

Venezuela Sends Heating Oil to US, Medicine to Gaza

“No, it was never suspended,” President Chavez said Saturday in reference to Venezuela’s home heating oil assistance program in the U.S. through Citgo. The aid effort is in its fourth year, and has grown to reach about a quarter of a million poor families. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader finally weighed in to counter those who claimed the aid was being cut off, saying, “they built this analysis on a lie.”

Another issue in the media refuted by officials over the weekend was that of oil industry layoffs. The AP reports that anti-Chavez labor unionists had claimed that Venezuela’s PDVSA dismissed 4,000 contract workers due to output cuts, but on Friday, the company’s vice president dismissed the rumors. Also in economic news, the AP states that oil output cuts mandated by OPEC are contributing to slowed economic growth in Venezuela, but fails to mention that the longer term intent of those cuts is to adjust to lowered demand and move toward more stable prices. Venezuela’s gross domestic product grew by 8.4 percent in 2007 and 4.8 percent in 2008. Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez indicated last week that the government is developing new measures to address economic downturn, but will not devalue the currency or impose new taxes.

Venezuela is sending 12.5 metric tons of medicine to the Gaza strip via Egypt, according to the latest AP report. “It is the least we can do,” President Chavez said yesterday. The AP states that Chavez “has forged strong ties with numerous Arab nations,” forgetting that Venezuela’s ties with the Middle East go back at least to the 1960s when OPEC was formed.

Chavez spoke yesterday of suspicions that a U.S. Embassy official attended a meeting of opposition leaders in Puerto Rico, sources report. “If this is proven,” he said, the diplomat would be expelled. In his televised address, Chavez recalled the U.S. backing enjoyed by Venezuela’s last dictatorship, which ended in 1958, and the U.S. role in negotiating a subsequent failed power-sharing pact between two political parties.

Finally, in other international news, the Financial Times proclaims: “Washington’s clout in Latin America is waning.” This refers chiefly to the economy, and the rising importance of other nations such as China and Russia. The Times calls it a tough “battle for influence.” Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reports on Venezuela’s strengthened economic and military ties with China.

November 18, 2008

Venezuelans Satisfied with their Democracy

Venezuela will host a meeting for members of the regional cooperation agreements Petrocaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) next Wednesday, November 26th, according to El Universal. The session was announced as a counterpoint to the G-20 summit in Washington. President Morales of Bolivia said that the intention is “not to discuss the financial crisis, but how to enhance and complement our economies to serve our people.”

Immigrants in Venezuela, often hailing from neighboring Colombia, tend to support President Chavez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Miami Herald reports today. The social program called “Mission Identity” is helping extend the benefits of citizenship to this sector. Critics say that it is a bid to gain votes ahead of regional elections this Sunday, but Mission Identity was founded in October 2003. One expert explained: “This is an effort to integrate into society Colombians who have been here for decades, and long after they would have been required to be [naturalized] by law.” According to UN estimates, there are over 200,000 Colombian asylum seekers in Venezuela. Government programs also provide refugees with job training and low-interest loans to help stimulate economic development.

Approval ratings for President Chavez remain steady at over fifty percent, though the leader is described as “increasingly unpopular” in the U.S. media. A Washington Post editorial today makes this claim. The editorial advises President-elect Obama not to speak with Chavez, although Obama has said that he would indeed seek dialogue. It wrongly states that Chavez, who has several electoral victories under his belt and has boosted Venezuela’s ties to many nations in Latin America and the world, is “grabbing the coattails” of Obama in order to earn popularity. The Times also deems unconstitutional a law that prohibits individuals from running for public office while they face corruption investigations. This point is not addressed in the Venezuelan charter, but has been upheld by the country’s Judiciary and electoral authority.

A New York Times editorial today urges free trade with Colombia and asserts that President Chavez uses anti-U.S. rhetoric to “distract attention” from so-called “autocratic policies” at home. The claim that Chavez is “anti-U.S.” ignores his overtures to the American people and hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty assistance in the U.S. As the Post points out today, he congratulated Obama on his electoral win and said he anticipates better relations with the U.S. The Chavez administration has seen 11 electoral processes, certified as free and fair by all international observers. In a recent poll by Latinobarometro, Venezuelans expressed more satisfaction with democracy than citizens in any other country in the region besides Uruguay. Venezuelans were also by far the most likely to agree that voting is the best way to influence change.

Finally, an argument in favor of taking Venezuela seriously and improving relations appears in a George Mason University publication; it states that “U.S. officials should open their minds to a new relationship with Caracas.” Two other opinion pieces consider the effects of the financial crisis in Latin America. A Washington Post op-ed finds that the region is not well isolated from the crisis, while a ZNet op-ed views Latin America as less dependent on the U.S. and therefore less vulnerable to collapse.

November 17, 2008

After G-20, Venezuela Plans Summit of Smaller Nations

After the emergency G-20 Summit in Washington last weekend, President Chavez expressed doubt that poorer countries would benefit from solutions to the global economic crisis proposed by rich countries. Reuters reports that the Venezuelan leader announced plans to host a summit of small nations, saying “One small thing together with other small things creates big things.” According to the AP, the meeting would likely include member nations of Petrocaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas).

With one week left ahead of regional elections in Venezuela, a spate of articles predict difficulty for pro-Chavez candidates and highlights opposition accusations against the government. The AP reports on the gubernatorial race in which President Chavez’s brother, Adan Chavez, is running for the top seat in their home state. Reuters articles over the weekend highlighted the issues of crime and alleged government spying. Of the latter, opposition interviewees were dismissive, saying that they were “relaxed” and that Venezuela is “not a police state.”

A Washington Times op-ed about the upcoming elections is riddled with hate-filled language and errors that undermine its claim that Caracas and Venezuela are on an “unstoppable downward slide.” Venezuela is not, as it states, under “autocratic rule”; Sunday’s elections mark 11th time that Venezuelans have been to polls since President Chavez was first elected in 1998. The op-ed attempts to suggest that President Chavez will not accept the defeat of candidates that belong to his political party, the PSUV, however, no mention is made of the fact that he quickly and calmly conceded defeat after voters narrowly rejected a package of draft constitutional reforms last December.

Finally, the AP reports that Venezuela anticipates the visit of Russian President Medvedev next week. The countries will collaborate on nuclear energy that will help “fuel the health and electricity sectors” in Venezuela. A Los Angeles Times report on the upcoming visit points out that “a U.S. embargo on arms and technology sales to Chavez has led the Venezuelan leader to shop for Russian military hardware.”

November 7, 2008

Chavez Meets with Russian Officials to Discuss Bilateral Initiatives

President Chavez met with Russian officials on Thursday to discuss several bilateral initiatives on topics including nuclear energy, direct flights between the two countries, gas exploration in the Gulf of Venezuela, and gold mining in Southern Venezuela. The AP reports that Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said “We can say that our relations are taking on the characteristic of strategic partners.” Meanwhile, President Chavez noted the November 26th historic visit of President Medvedev, who will be the first Russian President to visit Venezuela.

The AP and Bloomberg report that a joint venture between Venezuela’s state energy company PDVSA and Russia’s Gazprom regarding a new gas production site in the Gulf of Venezuela, will be inaugurated today.

In a Reuters article discussing Bolivia’s plans to fund its own counter-narcotics operations after a rift with the DEA, President Chavez is referred to as “Washington’s leading regional foe.” Meanwhile, no mention is made of Venezuela’s repeated intent to seek better relations with a new US administration. AP notes that Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said “Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president is a historic moment for international relations.”

In an article in the Guardian, British scholar Richard Gott is cautiously optimistic about US-Latin America relations in the wake of the Obama victory. He suggests that the new administration should end the embargo against Cuba and reach out to new elected leaders in the Andes. Dialogue with Venezuela’s Chavez would be particularly productive, Gott predicts: “If a personal meeting can be engineered, these two improbable leaders, with many similarities in their outsider backgrounds, will get on famously.”

In economic news, the AP reports that annual inflation in Caracas reached 35.6 percent, partly due to soaring food prices. The article however fails to note that inflation is still significantly lower than rates seen in the 1990s and that current inflation is also largely a result of increased consumer demand due to government policies designed to reduce poverty and empower citizens.

September 22, 2008

Venezuela Deepens Foreign Relations As McCain Attacks

“Gratuitous attacks” is how President Chavez described a new ad campaign by Republican hopefuls McCain-Palin that features the Venezuelan leader, the AP reports. “I don’t respond to candidates,” Chavez said. He has not commented on the US elections except to say that he hopes for better relations with a new administration. Also according to the AP, the Venezuela Information Office in Washington stated that the ad is an “attempt at fear-mongering” and that the words and image of Chavez “were taken out of context and used as a baseless attack.” The Boston Globe prints a transcript of the ad. Also in US-Venezuela relations, the AP reports that President Chavez said over the weekend that Venezuela is moving away from the use of the US dollar for its foreign currency reserves, and now has less than one percent of its $39.2 billion in US banks.

Last week, two Human Rights Watch staff were expelled from Venezuela after that group released a harshly critical report on the Chavez administration. A pre-Chavez law forbids foreigners from attacking Venezuela’s democratic institutions. The Foreign Ministry explained that the country “will not tolerate any meddling or interference in its internal affairs.” The Financial Times reports that Human Rights Watch reacted by claiming that Venezuela is seeing a “descent into intolerance.” Meanwhile, the Venezuela Information Office called the view put forth by the organization “incomplete and biased.”

In regional news, President Chavez is visiting Cuba today before moving on to tour China, Russia, Portugal and France. AFP reports that he said the week-long trip is “of great strategic interest” to Venezuela. New trade deals in oil and other areas are expected to be signed in China. Venezuela’s joint military exercises with Russia are in the news today. Reuters reports that a spokesman for the Russian navy said that the maneuvers are “aimed at training rescue drills and operations against sea terrorists.” The New York Times says that this is a strategic effort by Russia to boost its Latin American ties, but Russian reps say that the idea is not new, and will not affect any other country.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports on the continuing trial against Venezuelan businessmen accused by prosecutors of acting as unregistered foreign agents. Several experts indicate that the charges are politically motivated. “There is something bigger going on here. I have no doubt this is coming from the U.S. government”, said Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue.

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