Venezuela News Summary #72

Venezuela News Summary #72 (Feb. 7- Feb. 12, 2009)

I. 1,200 Election Observers Approved for February 15 Amendment Vote
1200 Venezuelan election observers, have been appointed to monitor the
referendum vote. The observers are organized under four organizations;
University Students for Equality, Active Voters, Electoral Eye, and the
Education Assembly. The figure was announced by National Electoral
Council official Vincente Diaz. He said there will also be an estimated
65,000 voting witnesses representing both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ blocks.
Diaz also explained that while it is estimated that voters will only
need an average of 30 seconds to vote, the electronic voting machines
will give voters 3 minutes to cast their ballot, as was the case in
last November's regional elections. Last Thursday, the National
Assembly approved an additional amount of $ 180 million for the
electoral council to carry out the elections. Nearly 17 million
Venezuelans are registered to vote, at over 11,000 voting centers
across the country. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4178

II. Venezuelans Demonstrate Peacefully Both For and Against Referendum
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans peacefully took to the
streets this week, to show their support or opposition to this Sunday's
referendum for the removal of the two-term limit on elected offices.
Last Saturday, over a hundred thousand marched in Caracas at the end of
campaign rally promoted by the opposition and private television
stations. The Director of the private Globovision news station, Alberto
Federico Ravell said, quote, “This is the first time I’ll tell you to
stop watching Globovision and come to the march.” At the end of the
march, student opposition leaders took the stage. The march was
peaceful, but recent demonstrations of opposition students had been
accused of promoting violence. One such protest resulted in a forest
fire in the Waraira Repano National Park on the Northern Caracas
border. Meanwhile, in support of the constitutional amendment,
President Hugo Chavez and thousands of supporters marched through the
streets of the Western Caracas barrio of Petare. The next day, Chavez
was back on the campaign trail, this time in the opposition-governed
state of Zulia. Another quote, “red tide” of thousands of supporters
greeted him, where he gave an uncharacteristically brief speech. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4188

III. Venezuelan Opposition Leaders Testify at Attorney General’s Office
Last week, it's director, Alberto Federico Ravell, was questioned by
the Venezuelan Attorney General’s office, following accusations that a
January trip to Puerto Rico by opposition leaders was part of a
conspiracy with U.S. officials against the Chávez government. A
pro-government NGO recently filed charges against Ravell, Julio Borges
of the Primero Justicia party, Omar Barboza of the Christian Democratic
party Copei, and Luis Ignacio Planas of Un Nuevo Tiempo. The group
accused the opposition leaders of treason for having met with U.S.
government officials in order to plan the campaign against the February
15 vote to amend the constitution. The main piece of evidence was an
email supposedly from Ravell to opposition leaders, outlining the
agenda for the meeting in Puerto Rico. Upon their return, a reporter
from the pro-government, Avila TV surprised Ravell, Borges, and Barboza
at the airport. Following his questioning at the Attorney General’s
office, Ravell told reporters last Wednesday that he travelled to
Puerto Rico to meet with Chileans about the campaign strategy they used
to vote the Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, out of power in
a plebiscite in 1988. According to Ravell, the Chilean strategists
quote, “did not want to come to Venezuela because they were afraid of
the insecurity in this country.” Ávila TV interviewed Julio Borges last
week after Borges testified about his participation in the Puerto Rico
meetings. Borges denied that there are any plans to destabilize the
country in the run-up to the referendum and stated, quote, “We have one
sole motive, that is to get people to vote against the amendment.” The
NGO that filed the charges against the opposition leaders is schedule
to testify shortly. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4183

IV. Venezuela’s Chávez Denounces Violence By Militant Government Supporters
During a television broadcast last Saturday, Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez strongly denounced the violent actions of radical groups who
identify themselves as supporters of his Bolivarian Revolution. Chávez
called on Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz and state security forces
to investigate and arrest those who are responsible for the violence.
He said, quote, “I cannot conceive that there are small groups out
there that claim to be revolutionaries but take actions that are really
against the revolution… The Venezuelan people want peace.” Chávez
called for the arrest of Valentín Santana, the leader of the
Caracas-based group La Piedrita. In a recent interview with the
opposition newspaper Quinto Día, Santana said La Piedrita was
responsible for a series of recent tear gas attacks against the
facilities of political parties, news media, the Catholic Church, and
other groups affiliated with the anti-Chávez opposition. Santana also
threatened to kill Marcel Granier, president of the RCTV news station,
which supported the 2002 coup against Chávez. Chavez said, quote, "That
person should be detained,” State security forces had previously
attempted to detain Santana, but La Piedrita confronted the forces with
arms, impeding the arrest. Chávez also questioned whether La Piedrita’s
actions are really meant to defend his government, as the group claims.
He said, quote, “I have a firm suspicion that they are
counter-revolutionary agents.” In a communiqué Sunday, La Piedrita
rejected Chávez’s statements. On Monday, Chávez compared Santana’s
death threats with those made by prominent opposition talk show host
Rafael Poleo against Chávez last year. He said quote, “The extreme Left
and the extreme Right are connected,” and said that both Santana and
Poleo should be in jail. The president of the Interior Policy
Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Tulio Jiménez,
announced Monday that they will be investigating the crimes in which La
Piedrita and other militant groups are implicated. The United Socialist
Party of Venezuela, PSUV has also endorsed Chavez's statements. Chávez
also criticized Lina Ron, the leader of another militant pro-Chavez
group which has participated in attacks on the opposition. Finally, the
president gave orders to the armed forces not to tolerate the presence
of guerrilla groups such as the Bolivarian Liberation Forces, which
identifies as pro-Chávez and operates near the border of Colombia. He
said, quote, “Whether they’re guerrillas, pro-guerrillas,
anti-guerrillas, paramilitaries, or drug traffickers, they cannot be
tolerated!” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4187

V. Venezuela Announces Public Investment Plan
Earlier this week, Haiman El Troudi, Venezuelan minister of planning
and development announced a new economic plan to take place in the
first quarter of the year, in which the Venezuelan government will
spend two and a half billion dollars aimed at guaranteeing economic
growth and social well being. The total plan is for 2009 through 2013.
It is directed at avoiding the effects of the world financial crisis
through hundreds of public investment projects, injecting resources
into the current budget, and increasing financing through public banks.
El Troudi said that of the more than 200 projects, 90 are
petroleum-based. The others are focused on the construction of
factories, highways and roads, irrigation systems, and food processing
plants. El Troudi also stressed that the resources for the economic
plan are “guaranteed", in Venezuelan state accounts, and don’t depend
on the fluctuation of the price of oil. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4192

VI. Robbery, Not Anti-Semitism, Motive for Attack on Venezuelan Synagogue
Following a weeklong investigation of the burglary and vandalizing of a
prominent Caracas synagogue, Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister
Tarek El-Aissami announced Monday that Venezuelan authorities have
arrested eleven suspects, and that robbery and not anti-semitism was
behind the crimes.The synagogue attack occurred in the early morning of
January 31st. Burglars tampered with security cameras, stole property,
defaced sacred items, and spray-painted the walls with anti-Semitic and
anti-Israeli phrases. According to officers from Venezuela's criminal
investigation's unit, a confession by security guard Víctor Escalona
revealed that a personal struggle over money was the motive of the
crime. Edgar Cordero, a Caracas police officer and bodyguard of Rabbi
Isaac Cohen had been denied a loan by the rabbi. Cordero planned to rob
money from the synagogue’s coffers, and approached Escalona for
assistance. Justice Minister El Aissami said anti-Semitism was not the
motive, but rather a tactic used quote, "to weaken the investigation,
and direct the blame toward the national government.” El Aissami
detailed other evidence gathered during the investigation that
implicated security guard Escalona. According to El-Aissami,
authorities have arrested a total of six metropolitan police officers,
four civilians, and an investigator from Venezuela's homicide
department. Arrest warrants have been issued for four others who are
suspected of painting the anti-Semitic phrases on the walls of the
synagogue. According to El Aissami, the results of the investigation so
far negate recent accusations by government adversaries that the Chavez
government inspired the attack. Government officials, including
President Hugo Chávez, have repeatedly condemned the synagogue attack
and met with leaders of the Venezuelan Jewish community to discuss how
to improve relations. In an interview with the private television
channel Venevisión on Monday, Chávez reiterated that the Chávez
government is not anti-Semitic. The president also expressed his regret
that corrupt Caracas police had been involved in the attack on the
synagogue. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4193