Venezuela News Summary #66

I. Venezuelan Government Invests $900 Million in Largest Steel Plant

Venezuela's Minister of Industries and Mines, Rodolfo Sanz, announced
last week that the Venezuelan government plans to invest $ 900 million
in the largest steel plant in Latin America. According to Sanz,
President Hugo Chavez authorized the investment in order to expand
production of the recently nationalized Sidor steel plant. Sanz said
the government aims to increase Sidor’s annual production from four
million tons of liquid steel to seven million over the next four years.
President Chavez announced the Sidor nationalization in May. The
Venezuelan government assumed control of the business a month later,
after the company refused to negotiate with workers over a new
collective contract. Sanz said that Venezuela's 14 billion tons of Iron
reserves is enough to last for 500 years.

II. Venezuela’s Unemployment Rate Drops to Lowest Level in a Decade
As a result of the economic crisis, unemployment in most countries is
on the rise, but not in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez announced that
Venezuela's unemployment rate dropped to just over 6 percent in
November. The half a point drop from the previous month, gives
Venezuela its lowest unemployment rate in over a decade. The government
aims to end the year with a jobless rating under six percent. Partially
responsible is high government spending on development projects and
investments in numerous economic sectors, which has led to robust
economic growth over the last five years.

III. Venezuela to Cut Oil Production by 189,000 Barrels
last week, Venezuela announced plans to cut its oil production by
nearly 200,000 barrels a day. The decision amounts to roughly 10
percent of the historicly-large OPEC cuts announced last week. This is
the second round of both Venezuelan and OPEC oil production cuts over
the last few months. With these latest reductions, Venezuelan
production will drop by 6 percent, to just over 3 million barrels of
oil per day. The Venezuelan government plans to restrict output of
foreign companies operating in the country, especially in projects that
process heavy-crude. Angel Rodriguez, president of the Permanent Energy
Commission of Venezuela's National Assembly, denied that the cuts will
cost Venezuela financially, and said that an uncontrollable drop in oil
prices would be the biggest threat to the nation.

IV. Venezuela’s Chávez Participates in Historic Regional “Mega Summit” in Brazil
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez participated in the two day "mega
summit" in Brazil this week. The summit included four meetings of
regional organizations with the goal of confronting the world financial
crisis with increased regional economic and political integration.
Leaders from more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean nations traveled
to Bahia for the events. They blamed the wealthy nations for causing
the world economic crisis and agreed to remain united in demanding a
new international financial structure that guarantees democracy and
transparency. In the summit's final declaration, they agreed to study
the creation of a regional currency, a proposal made by Chavez and
other member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas
trade bloc. The events included the first Latin American and Caribbean
Summit on Integration and Development, as well as meetings of Mercosur,
Unasur, and the Rio Group. Chavez highlighted the historic importance
of the gathering, which included Cuba's official entrance in the Rio
Grup. The full-33 member summit issued a special statement demanding
that the U.S. government end its half-a-century old economic blockade
against the island. The United States and Canada were notably not
invited to the summit. Chavez said this marks the beginning a new era,
free from US dominance in the region. Also absent were the presidents
of Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru, three of the region's top U.S.
allies. On the first day of the summit, the 12 Unasur members agreed to
create a joint defense council. The unexpectedly quick approval of the
defense council will help integrate defense ministers and armed forces
of the participating nations. The body also approved the creation of
the South American Health Council, which will unite ministers of the
area with the goal of creating regional health programs jointly
financed by the organization.

V. Venezuelan Opposition Launches Campaign against Constitutional Amendment
Last week, Venezuelan opposition leaders called for a networked
campaign against the proposed amendment to the constitution to
eliminate presidential term limits. Manuel Rosales, called on those who
don’t share the political project of the Chavez government, to
participate in the new campaign, “Angostura.” The Angostura campaign is
named after a speech given by Simon Bolivar in 1819, in which the
Venezuelan founding father rejected life-long rule by one person. In
the speech, Bolivar says that continued authority by one leader has
often led to the end of democratic governments. Rosales called for the
opposition campaign to begin in January, when he said the networks
should be installed across the country. Henry Ramos, general secretary
of the opposition political party, Accion Democratica, declared they
will go to every corner of the country to alert Venezuelans about “the
dangers” of having Chavez quote, “permanently in power.” Meanwhile, the
event, “Students say ‘no’" was held last week by undergrads at the
Andres Bello Catholic University, who rejected the proposal to end
Presidential term limits. University Counselor, David Smolansky, said
that although school vacation begins this week, students will remain
active, with activities throughout December. He said that they would
begin by handing out leaflets that explain why the population should be
opposed to the amendment.

VI. Amendment to Strike Two-Term Limit on Presidency Advances in Venezuelan Legislature
Meanwhile, last Thursday, after a lengthy first debate that lasted into
the night, Venezuela’s National Assembly approved the referendum on the
proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate Presidential term
limits. The discussion was the first of several expected to take place
in the legislative body. Assembly President Celia Flores declared that
the amendment is quote, “not an academic problem, nor a legal one, it’s
a political issue and the people of Venezuela will decide.” Earlier in
the day, the National Assembly received the signatures of over 4.5
million Venezuelans who are in support of the amendment. The signatures
were collected in the span of about a week by President Chavez’s United
Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV. According to the constitution, a
popular referendum can be called by the president, the National
Assembly, or by the citizens with the collection of signatures from
more than 15 percent of registered voters, or 2.5 million individuals.
In this case, the National Assembly is promoting the amendment, so the
signatures are actually not needed for it to move forward Nevertheless,
National Assembly representative, Darío Vivas said last week that the
massive signature collection demonstrates huge support for the proposal
throughout the country. Once fully approved by the National Assembly in
a second vote, expected for January, the amendment proposal will be
sent to the National Electoral Council to convoke a national popular