Venezuela’s Chávez Starts Four-Nation Tour, Wins Argentine Press Freedom Award

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday met with his Argentine counterpart, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as part of a four-nation Latin America tour intended to further consolidate regional integration efforts. While in Argentina, Chávez received the prestigious Rodolfo Walsh media advocacy award.

By Juan Reardon – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Argentine counterpart, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on 29 March 2011 (Correo del Orinoco).
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Argentine counterpart, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on 29 March 2011 (Correo del Orinoco).

Mérida, March 30th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday met with his Argentine counterpart, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as part of a four-nation Latin America tour intended to further consolidate regional integration efforts.

In addition to signing numerous bi-lateral agreements with Fernández, Chávez also received the prestigious Rodolfo Walsh media advocacy award for “his commitment to defending the liberty of the people, consolidating Latin American unity, and defending human rights, truth and democratic values".

Chávez is on a four-day, four-nation regional tour that includes Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Colombia, in that order.

First Stop: Argentina

Following-up on Monday’s Third Summit of the Argentina-Venezuela High Level Bi-National Commission (COBAN) held between members of both country’s foreign ministries, Chávez and Fernández signed a total of 12 co-operation agreements in the areas of food, agriculture, and transportation.

Though details are still unavailable, the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN) reports that the agreements signed focus on development in food and agriculture, energy, tourism, industry, health, commerce, and boating.

For example, Argentina is set to build a total of 18 cargo ships for Venezuela’s state-owned oil company (PDVSA) affiliate, FluviALBA. In an agreement costing Venezuela 84 million U.S. dollars, eight of the ships will have the capacity to transport some 7,500 cubic meters of cargo, while the remaining 10 will have a 2,500 cubic meter capacity.

Venezuela also plans to import 16,900 cars from Argentina by the end of 2011, along with some 609 tons of meat, dairy, cereal and other food products.

In exchange, Venezuela will continue exporting oil and its derivates to Argentina and continue purchasing Argentine sovereign bonds.  

After discussing bi-lateral trade efforts, the presidents prepared joint statements on the importance of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and criticized the role of certain countries in the current bombing of Libya.

“From Néstor to Cristina, the Argentine Government has played a key role in creating this important block in the region of South America,” said Chávez in reference to the UNASUR consolidation efforts by ex President Néstor Kirchner and the current Argentine head of state.

After serving as President of Argentina (25 May 2003 – 10 December 2007), Néstor Kirchner became the first Secretary General of UNASUR on May 4th, 2010. As UNASUR top representative for most of 2010, he is said to have played an important mediating role in calming tensions between Venezuela and Colombia. Kirchner died unexpectedly on 27 October 2010 after suffering from a heart attack.

“When you see presumably civilized peoples solve situations by bombing, I feel very proud of belonging to the countries of this region and its organizations”, said Fernández in reference to the ongoing U.S.-European bombings of Libya.

"In economic terms, we've been labeled underdeveloped, second-tier countries," she said. "But those of us from so-called uncivilized countries have succeeded to resolve our conflicts in a civilized way, through international law." 

President Chávez, who has strongly criticized the ongoing violation of Libya’s national sovereignty, insisted on UNASUR’s role in preventing similar interventions in Latin America.

“United we are unconquerable,” said Chávez. “We don’t want outside strange elements in the region that come to alter the peace we need.”

Chávez, the “Latin American President of Popular Communication”

While in Argentina, the Venezuelan president was awarded the prestigious Rodolfo Walsh Prize – awarded to him by the University of La Plata’s (UNLP) School of Journalism – for “his commitment to defending the liberty of the people, consolidating Latin American unity, and defending human rights, truth and democratic values".

While conservative elements within Argentine society, including owners of private media outlets, questioned the UNLP’s decision to title Chávez the “Latin American president of popular communication,” dean of UNLP’s School of Journalism Florencia Saintout ratified the decision.

“We, the people, are here to reinforce our commitment with a president [Chávez] that has called into question the very notion that ‘the word’ [news and analysis] can be owned by a small few,” affirmed Saintout in reference to private media ownership and concentration.

Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires and likely rival candidate in Argentine presidential elections schedule for October of this year, denounced the UNLP decision. Speaking on Wednesday morning on Argentina’s Radio 10, Macri called the decision a “frightening message.”

“Chávez doesn’t respect freedom of opinion, he’s authoritarian, but here we give him prizes,’ said Macri.

Chávez accepted the award “on behalf of the Venezuelan people, Simón Bolívar’s people” who he described as having struggled for years to secure, “a new dynamic in communication and media, in popular information free of the media dictatorship imposed by the bourgeoisie and imperialism.”

Since first taking office in 1999, Chávez has helped break media concentration in Venezuela and abroad by helping to establish the regional television network TeleSUR as well as by greatly expanding publicly-owned media’s reach, including numerous community-based radio and television networks.

Though critics accuse Chávez of media censorship – especially as it relates to the 2007 non-renewal of a broadcast license to Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) – the Chávez government insists that all media outlets sanctioned to date have been so as a result of their non-compliance with Venezuela’s media law and not because of their political perspectives. Globovision, for example, is an openly anti-Chávez television network that currently operates freely on Venezuelan airwaves.

Rodolfo Walsh (1927 – 1977), whom the media award is named after, is considered the founder of investigative journalism in Argentina. On 25 March 1977, one day after writing his Open Letter to the Military Junta denouncing the military government’s neoliberal economic polices, Walsh was gunned down and subsequently disappeared by members of the country’s Armed Forces. Walsh remains one of the 30,000 people disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship of 1976 – 1983. 

Four-Nation Tour

On Wednesday, Chávez began the second leg of his regional tour by meeting with Uruguayan President José Mujica. After his visit to Uruguay, he plans to visit Bolivia and Colombia in what some analysts see as the his response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s inaugural trip to the region made just 10 days ago.

Chávez, who visits his regional allies multiple times per year, made a similar sprint across the region in 2005 during a visit to South America by then U.S. President George W. Bush.

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