VIO News Blog

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.

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December 5, 2008

Mayor of Caracas Borough Sworn In

Continuing with coverage on the elections, the AP reports on the barrio of Petare, a traditionally pro-Chavez area which is part of a Caracas district that elected an opposition mayor in last month’s elections. The mayor, Carlos Ocariz, was sworn in yesterday. The article points to crime, trash collection, and public services as reasons why Petare went to the opposition. The AP downplays the fact that the largest, most populous district in Caracas, Libertador, was won by the pro-government PSUV candidate Jorge Rodriguez by over 100,000 votes.

Regarding the continuing slump in oil prices, Bloomberg reports that an analyst at the Eurasia group believes that Chavez may be trying to “rush through a vote” on term limits before the impact of low oil prices affects his popularity. This claim has been made in several other news stories recently. However, other analysts have said that Venezuela is well prepared to weather a world-wide economic crisis that has led to the lower price of oil. The country has over $40 billion in international reserves. The Chavez administration has repeatedly said that it will continue to fund the social missions that have helped millions of poor Venezuelans and contributed to a 35% drop in poverty.

Finally, Mexico’s Cemex is seeking arbitration through the World Bank after rejecting compensation proposed by the Venezuelan government for cement manufacturing assets nationalized earlier this year. The AP wrongly calls the nationalization process a “confiscation,” when in fact laws in Venezuela guarantee compensation to firms. President Chavez said last week that talks with Cemex are ongoing, at that the company can expect less than the value it initially demanded because its plants require investment to meet environmental standards.

December 1, 2008

Venezuela Hosts ALBA Summit for Latin American Regional Cooperation

President Chavez proposed a common currency for nations at last week’s summit of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). According to Bloomberg, he urged regional, cooperative solutions to financial troubles and less dependence on the IMF and World Bank. At the meeting were the leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, and Dominica (see image at right). Mainstream media coverage of the event was very limited.

Venezuela begins joint naval exercises with Russia today, the AP reports. Presidents Chavez and Medvedev signed several accords on oil and nuclear energy. A New York Times article suggests that such plans may go nowhere, contrary to evidence of greater cooperation. Reuters reports that the Venezuelan leader told his Russian counterpart, “Our mission is a mission of peace, you are leading us to the balanced multi-polar world.”

News comes today that President Chavez, whose approval ratings are at 55 percent by modest estimates, urged supporters to organize if they wish him to have a chance at reelection in 2012. The current constitution allows two term limits, but legislation has been proposed to allow presidents to run for office beyond that point. The media portrays this as a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life,” ignoring the fact that Venezuela would remain a democratic country guided by electoral competition. Reelection was one of 69 items included in a set of constitutional reforms that lost narrowly in a referendum last year. Chavez said that he would no longer put forth such legislation, but that voters have the right to bring about a new referendum on the issue if they gather signatures. Voters pushed a referendum on Chavez’s presidency in 2004, which he won with 59% support.

A New York Times editorial offers advice on Latin America for the Obama administration. Though the paper generally claims the U.S. has successfully “ignored” Venezuela, this time it recognizes — and laments — the Bush administration’s support for the failed coup against Chavez in 2002. The Times also insists that Venezuela’s Chavez is “corrupt and autocratic,” despite recent democratic elections deemed exemplary by the OAS, and predicts declining influence for Venezuela in the region, hinting that it will lose economic clout. Many credible experts, on the other hand, have said that Venezuela will remain a robust economy despite lowered oil prices.

Colombia recalled its consul in Venezuela’s second-largest city of Maracaibo on Sunday after he was chastised for making statements against the government. In comments aired on TV, the consul said the election of opposition governors in Zulia and Tachira was “very good news” and called one of the governors a “a very, very special friend,” according to Bloomberg.

Finally, Colombia’s Ingrid Betancourt is on tour to thank the Latin America leaders who helped her escape captivity from the FARC, including President Chavez. The Venezuelan leader negotiated the release of six hostages this year, and was a vocal advocate for Betancourt.

October 6, 2008

Venezuelans Offered Free Energy-Efficient Cars to Reduce Fuel Consumption

Venezuelans were asked to lower their consumption of gasoline last week by President Chavez, who told citizens that a new program will replace gas-guzzling cars with fuel efficient cars at no cost. The AP reports that the program will even provide those who opt for the switch-over with a year of free fuel. Venezuela is hoping to reduce pollution by making the switch to natural gas.

In economic news, Venezuelan officials said Sunday that national financial institutions will not be adversely affected by the US financial crisis. According to the AP, though, some local banks had done business with Lehman Brothers, Treasury President Cesar Giral (pictured at right) said: “We don’t have any damaging external relationships.” Meanwhile, though, some significant state budget cuts planned for 2009 are making news. Spending cuts will be imposed on state officials themselves, who are being warned that there will be “significant restrictions” on “certain types of vehicles, cellphones and parties.” President Chavez has criticized what he sees as over-spending by state bureaucrats and urged “zero waste” for government agencies.

The New York Times reports that some Latin American leaders are “bitter” over the US economic slide; Argentina’s President Fernandez said “We are witnessing the First World, which at one point had been painted as a mecca we should strive to reach, popping like a bubble.” Also, in regional news, Bolivian President Morales rejected a request from the US DEA to use that country’s airspace. AFP reports that Morales said, “Under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking, under the pretext of monitoring coca leaf crops they want to overfly, and we are going to make it clear that we monitor domestically.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports that pro-government peasants supportive of the elected government of President Morales detained 4 right-wing unionists in recent violent clashes, but does not mention that dozens of those peasants were massacred.

The AP and The New York Times report that former Venezuelan Defense Minister Rafael Baduel was briefly detained Friday on allegations of corruption. In question are $14.5 million in public funds. Baduel broke with the Chavez administration in recent years to become a prominent opposition spokesperson.

Finally, a new World Bank report called the “Human Opportunity Index” puts Venezuela among the top 6 most likely to escape poverty of 19 Latin American nations studied. According to The Financial Times, citizens in Venezuela — like Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, and Uruguay — “have the chance to break the cycle of poverty.”

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