VIO News Blog

April 28, 2009

Venezuela Evaluates Bilateral Relations with Peru

On Monday, Peru announced that it would grant Manuel Rosales, a leader of Venezuela’s political opposition, political asylum after he entered that country last week as a tourist. Venezuela in turn recalled its ambassador to Peru and announced, through its Foreign Ministry, that it would be “evaluating” bilateral relations with Lima. Rosales had been scheduled to face trial on charges of having engaged in illicit use of public funds during his term as governor of the State of Zulia. Rosales has denied the charges and accused state prosecutors of engaging in a “political lynching.” Last Friday, Interpol announced that it had sent out an international warrant for Rosales’ detention in response to a request from a Venezuelan court. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry called Peru’s decision to grant amnesty to Rosales a “mockery of international law.”

More opinion pieces have appeared in the press commenting on President Obama’s brief but friendly exchanges with President Chavez during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago from the 17th to the 19th of April. A Kansas City Star op-ed defends Obama’s decision to engage with the Venezuelan leader remarking that Chavez “has a movement of Venezuelans behind him; he has many powerful allies; and he has a lot of oil. We have to work with him.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Times published a piece describing the significance of Eduardo Galeano’s book “The Open Veins of Latin America” which the Venezuelan president gave to Obama on the last day of the Summit. William Hamilton, professor at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro – told the Times that Chavez’s gift to Obama was a sincere gesture rather than a publicity stunt. “Chavez as well as people everywhere are impressed with Obama.” By giving this “rite-of-passage” reading to the US Commander-in-Chief, argues Hamilton, Latin Americans are “giving us a chance to renew our deepest values and redeem our image as a nation.”

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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 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.

December 12, 2008

United Socialist Party of Venezuela Begins Presidential Referendum Process

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began collecting signatures yesterday in support of a national referendum on presidential term limits. It will hand the list over to the National Assembly next Thursday, according to Venezuelanalysis, when lawmakers are scheduled to begin debating the measure. The AP does not mention the PSUV, wrongly attributing the signature collection campaign to President Chavez himself. It notes that Chavez expressed in a speech that allowing him to run for election again is “a guarantee of peace.”

Sources report that Manuel Rosales, the former Zulia governor and new mayor of Maracaibo who lost to Chavez in the last presidential race, was charged with illicit enrichment by prosecutors yesterday. The AP, Reuters, and the AFP quote liberally from statements made by Rosales at a press conference after his indictment for corruption, for which he could face three to ten years in jail. Rosales called it “a terrorist trial,” and joked about being accused of assassinating JFK.

An op-ed in the Guardian by former AP Venezuela correspondent Bart Jones suggests that President Chavez “is sure to give more ammunition to his critics” during his bid for reelection. He also says, though, that unlike other politicians in Venezuela including opposition members involved in the 2002 coup, “Chávez has generally remained within the bounds of democracy.”

On the economy, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuela’s 2009 budget has been approved by the National Assembly. Spending is up by 22 percent, despite decreased oil revenues. The Herald deems the budget “optimistic.” However, finance experts in Venezuela have pointed out the country’s foreign currency reserves are high, and that by boosting official spending and reducing discretionary spending, the budget shows increased transparency.

Venezuela is upping its natural gas production with the help of foreign partners, according to Bloomberg. Firms with a minority stake in the first two natural gas plants include Chevron, Mitsubishi, Energia Argentina, and Galp of Portugal. Finally, in oil news, Reuters reports that 19 companies are bidding for contracts in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt projects.

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.

November 24, 2008

Venezuela Sets New Record for Voter Turnout

Venezuela set a new record for voter turnout in regional elections yesterday (65%), and the results show big wins by pro-government PSUV candidates. Lines were long and the polls stayed open late to accommodate voters. Governorships in 17 of 22 states already counted went to the PSUV, while opposition candidates prevailed in three states — Nueva Esparta, Zulia, and Miranda. In Caracas, the metropolitan mayorship went to the opposition’s Antonio Ledezma over former education minister Aristobulo Izturiz. The Los Angeles Times reports that President Chavez said during voting, “We are prepared to recognize any result” and “I learned to manage my defeats years ago.” According to the Washington Post, he reacted to the PSUV’s majority victory by saying: “Today, the people of Venezuela have spoken. Today’s victory is Venezuela’s. The democratic path has been ratified.”

Most of the news coverage portrays yesterday’s elections as an affirmation of continued support for the Chavez government in Venezuela, but with some signs that opposition may be gaining ground. It is not pointed out however that the last time the opposition participated fully in regional elections, back in 2000, they won 7 states, compared to 5 or 6 now.

This eleventh electoral test in a decade confirms the commitment of the country to democracy. While most sources recognize this fact, others like the Chicago Tribune and Washington Times persist in claiming that there has been fraud. The Tribune takes issue with disqualifications that barred candidates under investigation for corruption from running in elections. This law, though, was not the creation of the President or the CNE, but rather was passed by the National Assembly in 2001. The Supreme Court upheld the law in two separate tests, most recently this year.

A Washington Times column makes similar misstatements about the disqualifications, and also wrongly states that voting in Venezuela is open to manipulation. On the contrary, the electronic voting machines used there have been praised as among the most accurate and advanced in the world. International electoral missions have confirmed this fact repeatedly, and consistently deem voting processes free and fair. The Washington Times calls Venezuela a “police state,” when only one week ago, an opposition leader was quoted by Reuters as stating patently: “this is not a police state.”

Finally, in other news, AFP reports that Russian warships will arrive in Venezuela tomorrow for joint maneuvers. The exercises start December 1st, according to the AP. Sources suggest that new Venezuela-Russia ties are proof of a supposed “anti-U.S.” trend, and ignore the fact that Russia’s President met President Bush last week. They also fail to mention that Venezuela’s purchases of military equipment from Russia are the result of an embargo on sales by the U.S. The New York Times reports on a Brookings Institute paper regarding Latin America and President-elect Obama. It recommends lifting the blockade against Cuba and rethinking the unpopular war on drugs, and says relations with Venezuela could improve.

November 19, 2008

Venezuela and England Cooperate in “Connecting Classrooms” Program

A new program called “Connecting Classrooms” lets teachers in England learn from the successes of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” public education system, according to the BBC. One teacher calls the schools in poor areas “oases of calm and order where children are able to get that one life opportunity to get an education.” Another London-based teacher said: “Where [the Bolivarian schools] are very strong is in the area of values, in instilling in their pupils the belief that when they grow up they must be better citizens… and a better future will mean that the population in general is at less risk of crime and of criminality.”

An AP article today repeats unfounded claims by opposition politicians that they are being “intimidated” ahead of regional elections. Opposition Governor Manuel Rosales of Zulia state faces actual legal proceedings for the misuse of public funds, and has a hearing set for next week. The AP also cites data from the biased polling firm Datanalisis, whose director has publicly called for the assassination of the president. Meanwhile, statements by President Chavez are presented with insufficient context; national law prohibits the media from giving voting results too early, and Chavez once mentioned that he could perhaps use tanks to prevent another violent coup  — not simply if opposition candidates are elected on Sunday.

The President of Vietnam is currently visiting Venezuela on his way to the Asia-Pacific summit in Peru. According to the AFP, the Vietnamese leader will meet President Chavez tomorrow to discuss energy cooperation. Reuters reports that Cuban President Raul Castro may visit Venezuela in the next few days.

The Russia-Venezuela relationship is misrepresented in a Washington Times op-ed today that claims joint naval exercises between the countries are evidence that Russia is “prepared to intrude in the U.S. backyard.” Russian leaders emphasize that the exercises do not involve any third country. Venezuela, for its part, has not “sown instability” in the region, as the op-ed states. Instead, it has been at the forefront of cooperation initiatives such as UNASUR — the Union of South American Nations (wrongly identified in the op-ed as the “South American Cooperation Council”). The op-ed also conveniently avoids reference to the recent re-deployment of the 4th Fleet of the U.S. Navy in Latin America, which had been disbanded in 1950.

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the new Latinobarometro poll suggests more in the region are identifying as politically “moderate.” In Venezuela, rates of support for democracy are higher than in any other country except Uruguay. The Monitor links this to the defeat of constitutional reforms in a referendum last December, considered a “loss” for President Chavez. However, Venezuela has for years led the region in favoring democracy and had high rates of satisfaction with the state of democracy.

October 27, 2008

Venezuela Engaged in Anti-Drug Effort with Spain

Spain’s foreign minister announced new anti-drug cooperation with Venezuela over the weekend, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. The initiative, proposed by Venezuela, is aimed at increasing the ability to interdict drugs being trafficked to Europe. Venezuela has made significant progress on fighting drugs — despite US criticism — even after cooperation with the DEA ended. A letter in Sunday’s Boston Globe enumerates that progress. Anti-drug policing has been stepped up on the border with Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer. The BBC reports though that one Colombian drug kingpin allegedly “bases himself” over the border in rural Venezuela.

Bloomberg reports on the economy, and indicates that President Chavez’s approval rating remained at 58 percent last month according to one source. A Washington Post editorial Saturday delights in the possibility that the US financial crisis could hurt so-called “rogue states.” It suggests that President Chavez is “disturbed” by lower oil prices and mocks his appeal to US leaders to “sit down and talk and come to an agreement because we need each other.” On Sunday, a similar New York Times editorial makes the erroneous claim that Venezuela “is said to be desperate for prices to go back above $100.” Reuters reports that Chavez said he supports a price band for oil that would see OPEC setting the value crude as low as $70 per barrel. The Venezuelan leader also indicated recently that the country could remain solvent at $55 per barrel, citing foreign currency reserves of about $40 billion.

Reuters and the AP report on a comment by Chavez that he would like to see Mayor Manuel Rosales of Zulia state jailed for his alleged role in coup plots. “He cannot continue in office. … He is one of those who wants to see me dead,” Chavez said. Notably, though, members of Venezuela’s opposition have not been actively discriminated against and were pardoned early this year for their roles in the 2002 coup.

Finally, press attention continues to swirl around Venezuela’s ties with Russia. The US has just sanctioned Russia’s state arms trader. The Washington Post reports though that “in an unusual move, it granted the company a partial waiver to permit the sale of nearly two dozen Russian helicopters to Iraq.”

October 17, 2008

Chavez to US: We Need Dialogue, We Need Each Other

“The U.S. is a great country,” President Chavez said yesterday in a speech in which he emphasized the need for dialogue between nations. Dow Jones reports that Chavez dismissed the idea of U.S. energy independence as a myth and an impossibility. “They want to free themselves of what? What we need to do is talk, we need to reach agreements. We need each other,” Chavez said.

In related news, the AP reports that U.S. presidential hopefuls have vastly overestimated the amount of money the U.S. spends on foreign oil; just $246 billion in 2007, instead of the often cited figure of $700 billion. Meanwhile, Reuters refers to Venezuela’s Chavez as a “price hawk” in OPEC, when in fact he has consistently advocated for fair and stable prices. Chavez has at times deemed the price of oil too low, and at other times said that it has become exaggerated, particularly at the expense of poor nations and communities. Venezuela sends 300,000 barrels per day of subsidized oil to needy countries in the region through programs like Petrocaribe.

The government of Venezuela is negotiating the purchase of tanks from Russia. According to AFP, the equipment is intended “to replace aging ordnance and to improve the country’s security and defense capabilities.” Venezuela’s aging U.S.-made military goods have become difficult to maintain in the years since the U.S. imposed an arms embargo preventing further purchases.

Six suspects have been detained in the October 1st murder of a student in Venezuela’s Western state of Zulia. The investigation is pending and motives remain unknown, but the AP reports that those arrested include three army intelligence agents and a police officer. Zulia, which borders Colombia, is a notoriously violent part of Venezuela. Colombia’s paramilitary violence is the subject of two articles today; the AP and Washington Post report that Human Rights Watch research shows President Uribe has blocked investigations of ties between his government and paramilitary thugs.

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