The latest news from Venezuela…
First off in news on the regional separtist movements,
Two weeks ago,
On the evening of the illegal vote for autonomy by Bolivia’s richest state, Santa Cruz,
Venezuela’s representative to the Organisation of American States, Jorge Valero, declared that Venezuela will not recognize the results of the autonomy referendum, which he said was marred by fraud, abstention, and violence. Valero said he was confident that the majority of Bolivians, rejected the autonomy statutes despite, quote, the media terrorism which aimed to persuade them of the suicidal policy of dividing their country. Autonomy has become a rallying cry for Bolivia’s European-descended economic elite, based in the resource-rich eastern lowlands. They oppose plans by Bolivia’s first indigenous President, Evo Morales, to redistribute land, and use the nation’s natural resources to benefit the indigenous poor majority. Three other Eastern Bolivian states– Beni, Pando, and natural gas-rich Tarija are also set to hold similar referenda in the coming month.
They’re not the only ones,
On Tuesday last week, state legislators from the opposition political party Un Nuevo Tiempo in the Venezuelan oil-rich state of Zulia, proposed a feasibility study for potential independence from the federal government, which they compared to the autonomy vote in Bolivia’s wealthiest province, Santa Cruz. Opposition state legislator, Ángel Monagas insisted that he and his colleagues “do not have any secessionist plans, but rather seek fiscal independence.” According to the pro-autonomy, Organization for Liberal Democracy in Venezuela, An autonomous Zulia would have “self-sufficiency and independence from the four central government powers,” and would privatize the means of production, end economic protectionism and trade barriers, lower taxes, and be free to participate in the international market. Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales, who lost to President Hugo Chávez in the December 2006 presidential election, announced his support for autonomy last week, on the grounds that he says the government intends to take power away from states and municipalities, and “centralize everything.” The proposal has met fierce opposition from state legislators in support of Chávez. According to representative, José Luis Acosta, Rosales has met with leaders of autonomy movements in Santa Cruz, and the Ecuadorian province of Guayas, where the elite opposition to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is concentrated and autonomy initiatives are also being planned. Acosta suggested that autonomy efforts in Zulia could be part of an international effort to divide and destabilize countries where socialist governments have been elected. President Chavez speculated on his weekly talk show, alo Presidente, that the Venezuelan secessionist movement may even stretch beyond Zulia, in to the other western border states of Mérida, Táchira, and Barinas. Chavez insisted that as a result, this November’s regional and local elections are quote, the most important in Venezuelan history.
In labor news:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed a collective contract with workers at the Sidor steel plant yesterday, formalizing an agreement reached between workers and the government last week. The agreement follows 16 months of contract disputes with the previous management, the Argentine controlled Ternium that had sparked repeated work stoppages and led Chavez to order the nationalization of the plant. In addition to the collective contract, Chavez also signed a law formalizing the nationalization of Sidor, and appointed Industry and Mining Minister Rodolfo Sanz, as the company’s president. Chavez announced that the workers themselves will elect the company’s vice president. Under the nationalization law, Ternium, which is still negotiating terms with the government, must completely hand over Sidor to Venezuela by the end of June. Chavez also announced the formation of a Transition Commission, headed by Labor Minister Roberto Hernández, which will oversee the full nationalization of the company. The new collective agreement, establishes an initial daily increase of more than $15 dollars a day, with two additional raises by 2009, equivalent to an 80% overall wage increase. The contract also grants workers a retroactive payment for outstanding benefits, overtime and sick leave that the company never paid.
In economic news:
Venezuelan Planning and Development Minister Haiman El Troudi announced last week that inflation closed at just under two percent for April, unchanged from the previous month. Combined inflation for the first four months of 2008 reached nearly nine percent. Spurred on by massive public spending programs, which saw 8 percent economic growth, in 2007, Venezuela closed last year with an inflation rate of 22 percent, the highest in Latin America. Minister El Troudi said last week that the government is promoting a policy of savings to reduce liquidity in the market. In late April, the Venezuelan government issued US$4 billion in bonds in an effort to soak up excess cash and counter inflation.
In energy news:
Venezuela’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, announced last week that the country’s proven oil reserves have been increased to 130 billion barrels, a 30% increase over previous official figures. According to Ramirez, with the most recent certification of crude oil reserves Venezuela is on track for its goal of certifying a total of 240 billion barrels in proven reserves in the Orinoco Oil Belt alone by the end of 2009. This is in addition to Venezuela’s 70 billion barrels of conventional crude. With the most recent addition of 30 billion barrels, Venezuela now has the fourth largest petroleum reserves in the world, following those of Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Iraq.
Still in energy news,
During the regional Food summit held in Nicaragua Last week,
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro proposed that Latin American countries create a food bank to counter food supply problems. Maduro explained that the Venezuelan government would commit itself to the creation the food bank by beginning with a contribution of seeds, fertilizers, and other agricultural inputs. Maduro also proposed that oil profits of the region go towards a new food fund. As part of this “special plan” under the regional Petrocaribe oil accords, a portion of the program’s oil profits would be redirected to fund agricultural investment. Currently, as part of the Petrocaribe agreement, Venezuela provides oil to almost all Caribbean nations with low-interest financing. Venezuela has already set aside $100 million for the food fund project, which would allow the purchasing of corn, beans, and rice. Venezuela plans to invite regional oil and gas producers, such as Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia, to a summit to discuss broadening this proposal for the entire region. Currently, as part of the Petrocaribe agreement,
In International news:
According to a document presented by former Venezuelan Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez last week, the so-called “final offensive” against Venezuela, is being planned presumably from Colombia. According to the document, entitled, “Shock and Awe Theory in Venezuela”, the goal of the offensive is to take President Chavez out of power, and will be executed by the Colombian army, according to agreements between Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and the former US ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield. Brownfield is now ambassador to Colombia, The document cites sources from the Colombian Security Administration Department, which recounts a recent private meeting between Ambassador Brownfield, President Uribe, and other high Colombia officials in which they spoke about plans to promote the “secession of the Venezuelan state of Zulia.” The source from within Colombia’s security department said the ambassador made reference to a previous conversation he had with the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who reportedly said quote, the structure will be set up in the oil state, with the collaboration of Governor Manuel Rosales.”
President Chavez responded to the information last weekend on his weekly talk show Aló Presidente, warning opposition leaders against any attempts to break away from Venezuela. In light of the recent proposal for autonomy in the oil-rich state of Zulia, President Chavez aired his show from the state capital, Maracaibo, and warned that any attempts at breaking away would be cause for war. He said, quote, Venezuela is one country, and it cannot be divided.” President Chavez referred to the autonomy movement in Zulia as an “imperial plan” designed and supported by the United States to take control of strategic areas of the country where the oil resources are located. The Venezuelan president has repeatedly voiced his opposition to any secessionist attempts in Venezuela, as well as in other countries, assuring that they are classic imperial strategies to “divide and conquer.” President Chavez also labeled the recent accusations of the Colombian government as a part of the US “imperial plan” to create a conflict between Colombia and Venezuela, and prevent the union of Latin American nations. Officials in Colombia and Washington have claimed that information found on a computer recovered from the Colombian FARC guerrillas proves that Venezuela and Ecuador have maintained links with the Colombian guerrillas. Last week, Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Dos Santos further claimed that a top FARC guerrilla leader is hiding in Venezuelan territory. The Venezuelan government has repeatedly denied that they have any ties to the Colombian guerrillas and has accused the Colombian government of falsifying the evidence. Venezuelan government officials speculate that Colombia might be trying to generate a conflict with Venezuela in order to take the focus off the ongoing “parapolitics” scandal inside Colombia. Since 2006, many top Colombian officials and close allies of President Uribe have been indicted for suspicions of colluding with armed paramilitary forces. More than thirty lawmakers, and most recently President Uribe’s cousin Mario Uribe Escobar, are currently in jail awaiting trial.
In more news on the United States in Latin America,
After nearly six decades, the US Navy will reactivate the Fourth Fleet, which will be in charge of patrolling Latin American waters. The fleet was deactivated following the end of the Second World War, but starting on July 1st, U.S. naval forces will have a high level command specifically dedicated to supervising its units in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the symbolic significance, US military spokespersons have noted that this does not necessarily imply an increase in U.S. military presence in the region. The Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs says it is more of a political decision rather than a military one. Some view it as a response to the regional Leftward shift, contrary to Washington’s policies. The fleet of just under a dozen active ships will be based in Mayport, Florida, and will be under the command of the Miami-based US Southern Command, which directs all US military forces in Latin America. In the coming months, the US navy is expected to take part in several regional humanitarian missions and military exercises. Among them, the Southern Command has organized a six-month operation called Partnership of the Americas, in which ships will participate in a series of Security Cooperation Missions in which they will circumnavigate South America.
And Last weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the Venezuelan social programs known as “missions”. Last weekend, Chavez called the 25 missions set up over the last five years, “a true blessing from heaven for the poor.” Since 1998, the Barrio Adentro Health Mission has nearly tripled the number of basic and advanced health clinics in the country. Meanwhile, President Chávez announced the expansion of the Madres del Barrio Mission, which will incorporate 30,000 new mothers in to this anti-poverty initiative, which provides low-income mothers with an initial monthly stipend equivalent to 80% of the minimum wage. This is followed by a grant to help the women start small businesses that exercise their skills and talents in their local community. 100,000 women are now beneficiaries of the program. Chávez also announced that the billion dollar subsidized food, Mercal Mission now sells nearly 5,000 metric tons of food per day and serves 11 million middle to lower class Venezuelans. Venezuelan Food Minister Félix Osorio assured Venezuelans last week that Mercal will continue to sell basic food items at less than half of the regulated price, even though food prices have been rising due to international food price inflation and increased domestic demand. Meanwhile, Chavez reported that the recently launched Dr. José Gregorio Hernández Mision, is a quarter of the way through it’s nation-wide census of disabled people, and has already interviewed more than 800,000 Venezuelans with disabilities.
In political news,
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, is set to make history by becoming the first political party in Venezuela to hold democratic internal elections. Throughout the month-long process, all members of the new party will be eligible to nominate and vote for candidates for the upcoming state and local elections. PSUV regional vice-president for Zulia and Falcón, Rodrigo Cabezas, emphasized that this the first time in Venezuelan history, that a political movement is carrying out internal democracy in line the constitution. According to article 67 of the 1999 Constitution, all Venezuelan political parties are constitutionally required to hold democratic internal elections for candidates and leadership. However, until now, no political party has met this requirement. All 6 million people who signed up to be members of the PSUV have been free to nominate candidates this week. Discussion is now being held within the PSUV national leadership to evaluate the nominations process. A candidate diffusion process will be carried out by the end of the month. Candidate elections will take place on June 1. It will be open to all PSUV members and will be monitored by the National Electoral Council.
A national poll conducted recently by the Venezuelan Data Analysis Institute reported that almost 70% of Venezuelans believe the presidency of Hugo Chávez has been good, while 30% consider it to have been bad. Half of respondents said their current opinion of the president is better than it was one year ago, and over half of the respondents said they viewed the general situation of the country as favorable.