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Venezuela News Summary #69

  • Length: 7:42 minutes (7.06 MB)
  • Format: MP3 Stereo 44kHz 128Kbps (CBR)
I. Brazil and Venezuela Strengthen Integration in 6th Bilateral Summit
Brazilian President Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva visited Venezuela on Friday, strengthening economic ties while signing 12 new agreements on agriculture, energy, industry, and food security. Under the new agreements, Venezuela will supply Brazil with monthly shipments of energy products, including 600,000 barrels of oil, airplane fuel, and liquefied natural gas. While in Venezuela, Lula also offered support for the upcoming referendum in which Venezuelans will vote on a constitutional change to end term limits. He said, quote, “The day the people decide not to vote for Chavez, they simply won’t vote for him.”
Lula asked why no one is mentioning Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s push for a third term, and pointed out the double-standard used against progressive leaders. The Brazilian President said he expected the Brazilian congress would finally approve Venezuela’s entry into the regional trade bloc Mercosur no later than March.

II. Chavez: “Obama Is Confusing Me with Bush”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country is open to unconditional talks with the new U.S. president, but rejected comments Barack Obama made in a recent television interview. Chavez read the comments from the president-elect, in which Obama repeated Bush administration claims that Venezuela had “exported terrorism” and interrupted progress in the region. Chavez asked, “How can you say that? Could it be he’s confusing me with Bush?” Last Thursday, John Caulfield, top U.S. embassy official in Caracas, met with Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro. In order to renew dialogue between the two nations, whose diplomatic relations have been at a low since the expulsion of each other’s ambassadors last September. Caulfield was recently accused of being involved in a clandestine meeting in Puerto Rico between Venezuelan opposition leaders and the oppositional private television station, Globovision. Chavez said last week that if Caulfield’s presence at the meeting was confirmed, he would be expelled. The embassy press spokeswoman said he was in Puerto Rico to attend a wedding.
Also on Thursday, the National Assembly’s Foreign Policy Commission received a delegation of labor and peace and justice activists from the United States.

III. Morocco Closes its Embassy in Venezuela
Last week, Morocco closed its embassy in Venezuela and moved it to the Dominican Republic in a dispute with the Venezuelan government over Moroccan control of Western Sahara. According to the Morrocan foreign minister, there was quote, "increasing hostility" from Venezuelan authorities against the "territorial integrity of the Moroccans." Spain withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, allowing Morocco to invade it. The Polisario Front proclaimed the territory's independence in 1976 and founded the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, but as a result of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the region and now live in Algeria. Apparently, the Venezuelan ambassador in Algeria, Hector Mujica, recently traveled to some Western Sahara refugee camps in southeast Algeria to introduce himself to the leader of Polisario who is also the president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. In the meeting Mujica reiterated Venezuela's support for the right to self-determination of the Western Sahari people and the establishment of an independent state. The Venezuelan charge-de-affairs in Morocco, Jose Clavijo, said his embassy was unaware of the embassy closure in Caracas and no one in the Moroccan government had been in contact with them.

IV. Venezuela and Bolivia Cut Diplomatic Ties with Israel
Venezuela and Bolivia both broke off diplomatic relations with Israel last week, citing its refusal to heed recent UN resolutions regarding its attacks on the Gaza strip, which have killed over a thousand Palestinians and injured nearly 5,000. The complete diplomatic rupture comes a week after Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador from the country in protest of the Israeli strikes. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have recently taken to the streets in cities nationwide, with marches to the Israeli and Egyptian embassies in Caracas. Bolivian President Evo Morales also said that his government would formally accuse Israel leaders for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Morales also called for the restructuring of the United Nations, blaming the “insecurity council” for its inability to bring an end to the attacks. Bolivia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Jorge Alvarado, later announced that Bolivia would work with Venezuela to send food aid to the embattled Palestinian territory. Venezuela’s first aid shipment, containing 12 and a half tons of medicine, arrived to Egypt last week.

V. Venezuela Takes Control Over Its New Satellite
A week and a half ago, the Venezuelan government took control over its own recently launched satellite. Venezuela commissioned the satellite from China in November 2005 and launched it last October. It announced plans to place over 16,000 satellite antennas throughout the country so that communities may take advantage of the satellite’s telecommunications capabilities. According to Nuris Orihuela, Minister of science and technology, another principal function of the satellite is to promote Latin American integration by allowing other countries to use the satellite too. During the inauguration ceremony, President Hugo Chávez said that Venezuela is constructing a second satellite, which will be ready for launch in 2013, but this time it will be built in Venezuela by Venezuelans, instead of in China.

VI. Venezuelan Legislature Votes to Hold Referendum on Term Limits
Venezuela’s National Assembly passed the resolution last week that will allow for a national referendum to proceed on whether or not to eliminate term limits for elected officials. The referendum will ask Venezuelans if they are in favor of amending five articles of Venezuela’s constitution, so that mayors, governors, state legislators, national legislators, and the president may be reelected more than one time. Currently all popularly elected offices have a limit of two terms. Last week’s vote passed 156-6, and five abstentions. While the official date of the referendum isn’t yet set, it is expected to take place on February 15. According to recent polls, more than half of the Venezuela population is in support of the elimination of term limits. However, Venezuela’s opposition charges that Chávez wants to become president for life. While the National Assembly debated the constitutional amendment, hundreds of opposition students took to the streets to protest violently against the amendment. Chavez said that incidents of violence and vandalism are part of a larger opposition destabilization plan, which may have come out of the opposition meeting in Puerto Rico.

VII. Chávez Outlines Venezuela’s Economic Past and Future
On January 13th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spent 7 hours giving his annual 2008 report to the National Assembly. Chavez said that in the last ten years, nearly 3 million Venezuelans have come out of poverty, and that extreme poverty has dropped by more than half. Chavez said that in 2008, over 60% of Venezuelan families bought at least something from the state-subsidized Food Market Network, Mercal. He said that in 2008 seven laws were passed to drive agricultural development, including the law of food sovereignty and the law of integral agricultural health. He said the percentage of large landowners over the last ten years has dropped by a third. Chavez said that in 2008, 55 billion barrels of crude oil were incorporated into certified Venezuelan reserves, and he predicted that within a few years Venezuela would be the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. Chavez said that Venezuela’s International economic reserves have quadrupled from 1998 and public debt has decreased by 70%. Venezuela’s per capita currency reserves are among the highest in the world, at $1700, which he compared to some other “developed countries” who have per capita reserves of $500. GDP growth for 2008 was 5% and community and social services grew by almost 10%.