Venezuela News Summary #69

I. Brazil and Venezuela Strengthen Integration in 6th Bilateral Summit

Brazilian President Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva visited Venezuela on
Friday, strengthening economic ties while signing 12 new agreements on
agriculture, energy, industry, and food security. Under the new
agreements, Venezuela will supply Brazil with monthly shipments of
energy products, including 600,000 barrels of oil, airplane fuel, and
liquefied natural gas. While in Venezuela, Lula also offered support
for the upcoming referendum in which Venezuelans will vote on a
constitutional change to end term limits. He said, quote, “The day the
people decide not to vote for Chavez, they simply won’t vote for him.”
Lula asked why no one is mentioning Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s
push for a third term, and pointed out the double-standard used against
progressive leaders. The Brazilian President said he expected the
Brazilian congress would finally approve Venezuela’s entry into the
regional trade bloc Mercosur no later than March. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4120

II. Chavez: “Obama Is Confusing Me with Bush”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country is open to
unconditional talks with the new U.S. president, but rejected comments
Barack Obama made in a recent television interview. Chavez read the
comments from the president-elect, in which Obama repeated Bush
administration claims that Venezuela had “exported terrorism” and
interrupted progress in the region. Chavez asked, “How can you say
that? Could it be he’s confusing me with Bush?” Last Thursday, John
Caulfield, top U.S. embassy official in Caracas, met with Venezuelan
foreign minister Nicolas Maduro. In order to renew dialogue between the
two nations, whose diplomatic relations have been at a low since the
expulsion of each other’s ambassadors last September. Caulfield was
recently accused of being involved in a clandestine meeting in Puerto
Rico between Venezuelan opposition leaders and the oppositional private
television station, Globovision. Chavez said last week that if
Caulfield’s presence at the meeting was confirmed, he would be
expelled. The embassy press spokeswoman said he was in Puerto Rico to
attend a wedding.
Also on Thursday, the National Assembly’s
Foreign Policy Commission received a delegation of labor and peace and
justice activists from the United States. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4119

III. Morocco Closes its Embassy in Venezuela
Last week, Morocco closed its embassy in Venezuela and moved it to the
Dominican Republic in a dispute with the Venezuelan government over
Moroccan control of Western Sahara. According to the Morrocan foreign
minister, there was quote, "increasing hostility" from Venezuelan
authorities against the "territorial integrity of the Moroccans." Spain
withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, allowing Morocco to invade it.
The Polisario Front proclaimed the territory's independence in 1976 and
founded the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, but as a result of the
conflict, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the region and now
live in Algeria. Apparently, the Venezuelan ambassador in Algeria,
Hector Mujica, recently traveled to some Western Sahara refugee camps
in southeast Algeria to introduce himself to the leader of Polisario
who is also the president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. In
the meeting Mujica reiterated Venezuela's support for the right to
self-determination of the Western Sahari people and the establishment
of an independent state. The Venezuelan charge-de-affairs in Morocco,
Jose Clavijo, said his embassy was unaware of the embassy closure in
Caracas and no one in the Moroccan government had been in contact with
them. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4118

IV. Venezuela and Bolivia Cut Diplomatic Ties with Israel
Venezuela and Bolivia both broke off diplomatic relations with Israel
last week, citing its refusal to heed recent UN resolutions regarding
its attacks on the Gaza strip, which have killed over a thousand
Palestinians and injured nearly 5,000. The complete diplomatic rupture
comes a week after Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador from the
country in protest of the Israeli strikes. Tens of thousands of
Venezuelans have recently taken to the streets in cities nationwide,
with marches to the Israeli and Egyptian embassies in Caracas. Bolivian
President Evo Morales also said that his government would formally
accuse Israel leaders for war crimes in the International Criminal
Court. Morales also called for the restructuring of the United Nations,
blaming the “insecurity council” for its inability to bring an end to
the attacks. Bolivia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Jorge Alvarado, later
announced that Bolivia would work with Venezuela to send food aid to
the embattled Palestinian territory. Venezuela’s first aid shipment,
containing 12 and a half tons of medicine, arrived to Egypt last week. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4113

V. Venezuela Takes Control Over Its New Satellite
A week and a half ago, the Venezuelan government took control over its
own recently launched satellite. Venezuela commissioned the satellite
from China in November 2005 and launched it last October. It announced
plans to place over 16,000 satellite antennas throughout the country so
that communities may take advantage of the satellite’s
telecommunications capabilities. According to Nuris Orihuela, Minister
of science and technology, another principal function of the satellite
is to promote Latin American integration by allowing other countries to
use the satellite too. During the inauguration ceremony, President Hugo
Chávez said that Venezuela is constructing a second satellite, which
will be ready for launch in 2013, but this time it will be built in
Venezuela by Venezuelans, instead of in China. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4107

VI. Venezuelan Legislature Votes to Hold Referendum on Term Limits
Venezuela’s National Assembly passed the resolution last week that will
allow for a national referendum to proceed on whether or not to
eliminate term limits for elected officials. The referendum will ask
Venezuelans if they are in favor of amending five articles of
Venezuela’s constitution, so that mayors, governors, state legislators,
national legislators, and the president may be reelected more than one
time. Currently all popularly elected offices have a limit of two
terms. Last week’s vote passed 156-6, and five abstentions. While the
official date of the referendum isn’t yet set, it is expected to take
place on February 15. According to recent polls, more than half of the
Venezuela population is in support of the elimination of term limits.
However, Venezuela’s opposition charges that Chávez wants to become
president for life. While the National Assembly debated the
constitutional amendment, hundreds of opposition students took to the
streets to protest violently against the amendment. Chavez said that
incidents of violence and vandalism are part of a larger opposition
destabilization plan, which may have come out of the opposition meeting
in Puerto Rico. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4114

VII. Chávez Outlines Venezuela’s Economic Past and Future
On January 13th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spent 7 hours giving
his annual 2008 report to the National Assembly. Chavez said that in
the last ten years, nearly 3 million Venezuelans have come out of
poverty, and that extreme poverty has dropped by more than half. Chavez
said that in 2008, over 60% of Venezuelan families bought at least
something from the state-subsidized Food Market Network, Mercal. He
said that in 2008 seven laws were passed to drive agricultural
development, including the law of food sovereignty and the law of
integral agricultural health. He said the percentage of large
landowners over the last ten years has dropped by a third. Chavez said
that in 2008, 55 billion barrels of crude oil were incorporated into
certified Venezuelan reserves, and he predicted that within a few years
Venezuela would be the country with the largest oil reserves in the
world. Chavez said that Venezuela’s International economic reserves
have quadrupled from 1998 and public debt has decreased by 70%.
Venezuela’s per capita currency reserves are among the highest in the
world, at $1700, which he compared to some other “developed countries”
who have per capita reserves of $500. GDP growth for 2008 was 5% and
community and social services grew by almost 10%.