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Audio: Weekly News Summary

Venezuela News Summary #72

  • Length: 8:41 minutes (7.95 MB)
  • Format: MP3 Stereo 44kHz 128Kbps (CBR)


I. 1,200 Election Observers Approved for February 15 Amendment Vote
1200 Venezuelan election observers, have been appointed to monitor the referendum vote. The observers are organized under four organizations; University Students for Equality, Active Voters, Electoral Eye, and the Education Assembly. The figure was announced by National Electoral Council official Vincente Diaz. He said there will also be an estimated 65,000 voting witnesses representing both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ blocks. Diaz also explained that while it is estimated that voters will only need an average of 30 seconds to vote, the electronic voting machines will give voters 3 minutes to cast their ballot, as was the case in last November's regional elections. Last Thursday, the National Assembly approved an additional amount of $ 180 million for the electoral council to carry out the elections. Nearly 17 million Venezuelans are registered to vote, at over 11,000 voting centers across the country.

II. Venezuelans Demonstrate Peacefully Both For and Against Referendum
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans peacefully took to the streets this week, to show their support or opposition to this Sunday's referendum for the removal of the two-term limit on elected offices. Last Saturday, over a hundred thousand marched in Caracas at the end of campaign rally promoted by the opposition and private television stations. The Director of the private Globovision news station, Alberto Federico Ravell said, quote, “This is the first time I’ll tell you to stop watching Globovision and come to the march.” At the end of the march, student opposition leaders took the stage. The march was peaceful, but recent demonstrations of opposition students had been accused of promoting violence. One such protest resulted in a forest fire in the Waraira Repano National Park on the Northern Caracas border. Meanwhile, in support of the constitutional amendment, President Hugo Chavez and thousands of supporters marched through the streets of the Western Caracas barrio of Petare. The next day, Chavez was back on the campaign trail, this time in the opposition-governed state of Zulia. Another quote, “red tide” of thousands of supporters greeted him, where he gave an uncharacteristically brief speech.

III. Venezuelan Opposition Leaders Testify at Attorney General’s Office
Last week, it's director, Alberto Federico Ravell, was questioned by the Venezuelan Attorney General’s office, following accusations that a January trip to Puerto Rico by opposition leaders was part of a conspiracy with U.S. officials against the Chávez government. A pro-government NGO recently filed charges against Ravell, Julio Borges of the Primero Justicia party, Omar Barboza of the Christian Democratic party Copei, and Luis Ignacio Planas of Un Nuevo Tiempo. The group accused the opposition leaders of treason for having met with U.S. government officials in order to plan the campaign against the February 15 vote to amend the constitution. The main piece of evidence was an email supposedly from Ravell to opposition leaders, outlining the agenda for the meeting in Puerto Rico. Upon their return, a reporter from the pro-government, Avila TV surprised Ravell, Borges, and Barboza at the airport. Following his questioning at the Attorney General’s office, Ravell told reporters last Wednesday that he travelled to Puerto Rico to meet with Chileans about the campaign strategy they used to vote the Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, out of power in a plebiscite in 1988. According to Ravell, the Chilean strategists quote, “did not want to come to Venezuela because they were afraid of the insecurity in this country.” Ávila TV interviewed Julio Borges last week after Borges testified about his participation in the Puerto Rico meetings. Borges denied that there are any plans to destabilize the country in the run-up to the referendum and stated, quote, “We have one sole motive, that is to get people to vote against the amendment.” The NGO that filed the charges against the opposition leaders is schedule to testify shortly.

IV. Venezuela’s Chávez Denounces Violence By Militant Government Supporters
During a television broadcast last Saturday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez strongly denounced the violent actions of radical groups who identify themselves as supporters of his Bolivarian Revolution. Chávez called on Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz and state security forces to investigate and arrest those who are responsible for the violence. He said, quote, “I cannot conceive that there are small groups out there that claim to be revolutionaries but take actions that are really against the revolution... The Venezuelan people want peace.” Chávez called for the arrest of Valentín Santana, the leader of the Caracas-based group La Piedrita. In a recent interview with the opposition newspaper Quinto Día, Santana said La Piedrita was responsible for a series of recent tear gas attacks against the facilities of political parties, news media, the Catholic Church, and other groups affiliated with the anti-Chávez opposition. Santana also threatened to kill Marcel Granier, president of the RCTV news station, which supported the 2002 coup against Chávez. Chavez said, quote, "That person should be detained,” State security forces had previously attempted to detain Santana, but La Piedrita confronted the forces with arms, impeding the arrest. Chávez also questioned whether La Piedrita’s actions are really meant to defend his government, as the group claims. He said, quote, “I have a firm suspicion that they are counter-revolutionary agents.” In a communiqué Sunday, La Piedrita rejected Chávez’s statements. On Monday, Chávez compared Santana’s death threats with those made by prominent opposition talk show host Rafael Poleo against Chávez last year. He said quote, “The extreme Left and the extreme Right are connected,” and said that both Santana and Poleo should be in jail. The president of the Interior Policy Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Tulio Jiménez, announced Monday that they will be investigating the crimes in which La Piedrita and other militant groups are implicated. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV has also endorsed Chavez's statements. Chávez also criticized Lina Ron, the leader of another militant pro-Chavez group which has participated in attacks on the opposition. Finally, the president gave orders to the armed forces not to tolerate the presence of guerrilla groups such as the Bolivarian Liberation Forces, which identifies as pro-Chávez and operates near the border of Colombia. He said, quote, “Whether they’re guerrillas, pro-guerrillas, anti-guerrillas, paramilitaries, or drug traffickers, they cannot be tolerated!”

V. Venezuela Announces Public Investment Plan
Earlier this week, Haiman El Troudi, Venezuelan minister of planning and development announced a new economic plan to take place in the first quarter of the year, in which the Venezuelan government will spend two and a half billion dollars aimed at guaranteeing economic growth and social well being. The total plan is for 2009 through 2013. It is directed at avoiding the effects of the world financial crisis through hundreds of public investment projects, injecting resources into the current budget, and increasing financing through public banks. El Troudi said that of the more than 200 projects, 90 are petroleum-based. The others are focused on the construction of factories, highways and roads, irrigation systems, and food processing plants. El Troudi also stressed that the resources for the economic plan are “guaranteed", in Venezuelan state accounts, and don’t depend on the fluctuation of the price of oil.

VI. Robbery, Not Anti-Semitism, Motive for Attack on Venezuelan Synagogue
Following a weeklong investigation of the burglary and vandalizing of a prominent Caracas synagogue, Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami announced Monday that Venezuelan authorities have arrested eleven suspects, and that robbery and not anti-semitism was behind the crimes.The synagogue attack occurred in the early morning of January 31st. Burglars tampered with security cameras, stole property, defaced sacred items, and spray-painted the walls with anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli phrases. According to officers from Venezuela's criminal investigation's unit, a confession by security guard Víctor Escalona revealed that a personal struggle over money was the motive of the crime. Edgar Cordero, a Caracas police officer and bodyguard of Rabbi Isaac Cohen had been denied a loan by the rabbi. Cordero planned to rob money from the synagogue’s coffers, and approached Escalona for assistance. Justice Minister El Aissami said anti-Semitism was not the motive, but rather a tactic used quote, "to weaken the investigation, and direct the blame toward the national government.” El Aissami detailed other evidence gathered during the investigation that implicated security guard Escalona. According to El-Aissami, authorities have arrested a total of six metropolitan police officers, four civilians, and an investigator from Venezuela's homicide department. Arrest warrants have been issued for four others who are suspected of painting the anti-Semitic phrases on the walls of the synagogue. According to El Aissami, the results of the investigation so far negate recent accusations by government adversaries that the Chavez government inspired the attack. Government officials, including President Hugo Chávez, have repeatedly condemned the synagogue attack and met with leaders of the Venezuelan Jewish community to discuss how to improve relations. In an interview with the private television channel Venevisión on Monday, Chávez reiterated that the Chávez government is not anti-Semitic. The president also expressed his regret that corrupt Caracas police had been involved in the attack on the synagogue.