Venezuela News Summary #57

Venezuela News Summary #57, June 10-20, 2008

I. Venezuela’s Electoral Council to Respect Disqualification of Candidates Accused of Corruption

National Electoral Council member Germán Yépez confirmed this week that the council will respect a ruling by the government’s top anti-corruption watch dog, to prohibit hundreds of people who are under investigation for corruption from running in this November’s regional elections. Opposition groups claim the ban amounts to political persecution and are challenging the ruling in the Supreme Court. Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian, denied that the sanctions are politically motivated, but rather aimed at quote, “putting and end to impunity.” Russian issued the ruling in March after a series of administrative investigations. He has since been subjected to personal attacks as a result. Leopoldo López, the opposition Mayor of Chacao, argued that the ban constituted a “political blockade.” Lopez has been prohibited from standing as a candidate for Mayor of the Capital District of Caracas, due to a series of presumed administrative irregularities during his term.

II. United Socialist Party of Venezuela to Negotiate Candidates with Patriotic Alliance

Meanwhile, Vice President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, Alberto Muller Rojas, announced the formation of a commission last weekend to resolve differences within the pro-Chavez Patriotic Alliance, and to negotiate candidates for this November’s upcoming state and local elections. The patriotic alliance is a coalition of various pro-Chavez parties, such as the PSUV, the PPT and the Venezuelan Communist Party. Tensions have surfaced in recent weeks as some of the smaller parties have complained that the PSUV is unwilling to negotiate candidates for the upcoming elections. On June 1 the PSUV held an unprecedented internal election process, in which some 2 and a half million members went to the polls to select party candidates. However a week later, Müller Rojas assured that the PSUV would be willing to negotiate the withdrawal of those candidates that did not obtain 50%, or at least 15% more votes than the next highest contender. This would mean that gubernatorial candidates for eight states, and more than 130 mayoral candidates could be up for negotiation. Venezuelan opposition parties are also aiming to run a united campaign in the regional elections and say they will reach agreement over candidates by the end of July. Meanwhile, according to the results of the latest opinion poll by the Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis released last week, more than 70% of Venezuelans consider the record of President Hugo Chavez as “good” while just over 20% say it is “bad”

III. New Venezuelan Finance Minister Promises No Financial Policy Shift

Venezuela’s new finance minister, Ali Rodríguez, promised to hold the course in financial policies as he took over his new post on Tuesday. Rodríguez is a former Secretary General of OPEC and has held numerous important posts in the Chavez government, such as Foreign Minister and PDVSA President. Rodríguez replaces Rafael Isea, who was nominated by the PSUV to run for governor of the central Venezuelan state of Aragua.

IV. Chavez Announces New Economic Initiatives for Venezuela

At an event in Caracas last week. President Hugo Chavez announced economic initiatives aimed at raising production in strategic sectors of the economy and encouraging private business owners to get involved in the economic development of the country. Chavez called on Venezuelan business leaders to make a quote, “strategic national productive alliance” with the government in order to raise national production and reduce inflation. As part of a series of economic changes in order to spur the industrialization of the country, Chavez announced plans to create a fund to invest in strategic sectors of the economy. The billion dollar fund will be fed by the Venezuelan development fund, FONDEN, and a joint investment fund set up between the governments of Venezuela and China. The strategic sectors highlighted for investment are: food production, agro-industry, manufacturing, petrochemicals, machinery, energy production, and public works for housing and urban development. Chavez called on the private sector to team up with the government and invest in joint projects with the state in these areas.

V. Venezuela Launches New Social Program for Poor Children

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the creation of a new social program which will provide treatment and rehabilitation to children in situations of drug and alcohol addiction, abandonment, exclusion, or vulnerability. The new “Children of the Neighborhood” mission will be created to focus especially on the children and orphans in such situations. Also, a new $5 million facility will be constructed for the “Negra Hipólita” mission, which has been working with adult homeless and at-risk populations for two years. The Minister of Participation and Social Protection, Érika Farías, who currently oversees the Negra Hipólita Mission, was put in charge of preparing the plans and legal framework for the new mission. Farías reported that approximately 700 children and adolescents who were living in the streets have been taken in and rehabilitated by the ministry’s programs so far.

VI. Chávez and Castro Discuss Food Crisis and Energy Strategy in Havana

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez met with former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana earlier this week. Chavez announced that they were reviewing their plans for energy exchanges and petro-chemical production, and that further bilateral initiatives are propoble. The two leaders also discussed the world food crisis, highlighting the need to boost food production in both Caribbean nations. Cuban President, Raul Castro was also present at Tuesday’s meetings.

VII. Venezuela’s PDVSA Projects Increased Oil Production

Luis Vierma, Vice President of Exploration and Production of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, announced that this year’s goal is to increase Venezuelan oil production by 15%, up to 3 and a half million barrels per day. $15 billion in investment is planned, a 50% jump over last year’s numbers. PDVSA plans to produce 4 million barrels per day 2010, and nearly 6 million by 2021.

VIII. Chavez Revokes Intelligence Law to Make Clear Path for New One

The controversial Venezuelan Law on the Intelligence and Counterintelligence System, was officially revoked on Wednesday. President Chavez promised that the National Assembly will revise the law and pass it at a later time, perhaps next year. Opposition and human rights groups had vehemently criticized the law because it required citizens to cooperate with intelligence agencies when they requested information. Chavez himself had admitted only a week after signing the new law that this particular article was indeed “indefensible” and would require re-writing.

IX. Steel Co. Contract Workers Incorporated, Company To Be a Socialist

Contract workers from Venezuela’s recently nationalized SIDOR steel plant were declared permanent workers and incorporated into the United Steel Industry Workers Union last week. The move was the latest result of the collective contract signed with the government in May, following 16 months of embattled negotiations with the previous private management. Last week Chávez called on the SIDOR workers to help make the plant function like a “socialist worker school” for the rest of Venezuela. Union leaders were adamant about the need to increase worker participation in the overall management of the plant during its “process of transition” in to a state company.

X. INTERPOL Clarifies it Never Determined Authenticity of Laptops that Implicate Venezuela

Interpol Representatives told top Ecuadorian officials last week that their investigation of the laptop computers which Colombia claims belonged to the FARC, “did not determine if the computers were found in the guerrilla camp, if they effectively belonged to Raúl Reyes, and even less so their contents.” Interpol representatives made the clarification to Ecuadorian Presidential Adviser Fernando Bustamante, when they met last week during a United Nations conference in New York. At the meeting, INTERPOL “confirmed that their forensic informational analysis does not imply the validity or the exactitude of the user files that [the computers] contain.” Based on these clarifications, last week the Ecuadorian government reiterated its “position of not granting any legal validity to the information found in the computers supposedly belonging to Raúl Reyes.” Colombia has consistently held that the computers proved links between the FARC guerillas and the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments, an assumption which has been consistently denounced by both countries, as well as countless international academics and analysts. Last week, Ecuador reiterated its concern over Colombia’s manipulation of the results of the INTERPOL report to make it look like it proved the accusations against Venezuela and Ecuador, a manipulation which has been perpetuated by the mainstream international media.

XI. Chavez Reiterates Call on Colombian Rebels to Release All Hostages

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called on the new leader of the Colombian FARC guerrillas, Alfonso Cano, to liberate all of the insurgent group’s hostages and move towards a peaceful end to the Colombian conflict. Chavez said, quote, “The hour has arrived for the FARC to liberate all of those they have in the mountain.” The Venezuelan president assured that “it would be a grand gesture, in exchange for nothing.” Consistent with his declarations over the past year, President Chávez reiterated that the hostage release “could be the first step” toward a peace process in Colombia, since the conditions for peace are ripe in Latin America. Chávez proposed that a broad coalition of countries work together with Colombia to guarantee that peace accords are carried out between the Colombian government and the guerrillas- two parties which have been at war for nearly half a century. Chavez said that subversive guerrila groups are “out of place” in the Latin America of today. The president asserted that peace in Colombia will take away the principal excuse for US intervention and the maintenance of US military bases in Latin America.