Venezuela News Summary #80

Venezuela News Summary #80 (April 10- April 22nd, 2009)

I. Venezuela and ALBA Promote “New Climate” in Summit of the Americas
Venezuela and the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA, did not sign the final Summit of the Americas document on Sunday. They said it excluded Cuba and offered no viable solution to the current economic crisis. The twenty page, 100-point document generally supported the private sector, promoted the production of bio-fuels and the increasing of credit lines to businesses. Nevertheless, the dynamics of this year’s Summit in Trinidad and Tobago were quite different from past summits of the Americas, due to the greater united strength of the ALBA countries. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said that this year’s summit has opened the gates to a new era of relationships between all the countries of this continent. And that although the meeting hadn’t been perfect, cordiality had reigned and that “it finished with success and with a new climate.” The US economic blockade of Cuba was one of the most anticipated themes of last weekend’s summit of the Americas. 34 regional heads of state participated, with the notable exception of Cuba, whose president was not invited. As a result, Chávez proposed the next summit be held in Havana, Cuba.

II. Chavez-Obama Meeting at Summit Relaunches US-Venezuela Relations
U.S.-Venezuela relations took an unexpected favorable turn as the presidents of both countries met for the first time at the Summit. U.S. president Barack Obama and his Venezuelan colleague Hugo Chavez spoke twice, marking the first steps towards improved relations in the Obama presidency. Obama and Chavez met and shook hands for the first time before the first plenary on Friday, April 17. Obama later met with the presidents of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, during which Chavez gave him a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s ‘Open Veins of Latin America: which describes the continent’s legacy of colonialism and exploitation by Europe and US. During the final day of the Summit, Obama approached Chavez again and they spoke in private for several minutes. Obama joked with Chavez comparing him to US talk show star Oprah Winfrey, whose book club turns unknown books into best sellers. The book given to Obama by Chavez jumped to number two in Amazon.com’s best seller’s list, after ranking #55,000. Chavez told reporters that they both ratified their willingness to usher a new era in US-Venezuela relations. Chavez told Obama that Venezuela has decided to appoint a new ambassador to the United States. Obama promised not to interfere in the internal affairs of any country. Chavez also spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss a possible normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Last September, Chavez ordered the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela in solidarity with the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the U.S. ambassador in La Paz. The Bolivian decision came after the government of Evo Morales accused the U.S. representative of fomenting separatist movements in Bolivia. The Bush administration expelled Venezuela’s ambassador in response. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4376

III. ALBA Summit Ratifies Regional Currency, Prepares for Trinidad
Just one day before the Trinidad summit, Latin America’s most progressive governments met in Cumaná, Venezuela for the seventh summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA. In the major issue of the day, the Latin American leaders signed into effect a new South American currency, to be called the Sucre. The ALBA leaders say the Sucre is necessary to help defray the regional effects of the world economic crisis by substituting their trade in dollars with this new alternative currency. The ALBA countries and their allies plan to begin using the virtual Sucre by early next year, with future plans to convert it into a hard currency. The economic crisis, this weekend’s Summit of the Americas, and the role of the United States in Latin America, and the US embargo against Cuba were also discussed during the meeting. All in attendance supported Cuba’s stance. The ALBA heads of state traveled to the Trinidad Summit, but left behind government representatives in Cumaná to work on additional details. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4373

IV. Presidents of Venezuela and Colombia Pledge Peace and Economic Development
In a private meeting last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe signed accords for a bi-national investment fund and for joint exploitation of the Orinoco Oil Belt, and also promised to forge stronger, more peaceful relations. While over the last year, Uribe and Chávez have repeatedly clashed in rhetorical battles, In economics terms, they have consistently coincided and held more than a dozen formal meetings in half as many years. Last week, they moved a step closer to the creation of a $200 million bi-national development fund for transportation, energy, infrastructure, health care, and food. The Colombian and Venezuelan Energy Ministries affirmed their intent to jointly exploit the Orinoco Oil Belt, while Chávez described his vision for “a pipeline that would run 1500 kilometers from the Orinoco in to Colombia. Commerce between Colombia and Venezuela grew to over $7 billion in 2008. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4369

V. Venezuelan Rural Activists and National Land Institute Workers Arrested for Occupying Estate
Police in Venezuela’s Portuguesa state forcibly evicted more than sixty landless farmers and three National Land Institute workers, from a privately owned estate that the Land Institute, INTI, had marked for re-distribution. The eviction is emblematic of the clash between powerful landed elites and the Chavez government whose 2001 land reform law permits the state to purchase idle plots of large plantations for re-distribution. The eviction came just days after INTI officials announced they would gradually parcel out more than 2,000 acres of underused lands to a group of 90 landless families in Portuguesa state. According to alternative media reporters on the scene, While INTI personnel were assisting a group of sixty farmers to demarcate a section of the territory last Friday, state police staged an “ambush” and ordered the entire group to lie face down on the ground. The police briefly detained and then released the INTI workers and most of the farmers, but arrested and transferred Carlos Ortega and another half dozen campesino leaders to be tried for trespassing. On Saturday, a group of eighty Ortega supporters marched to the Portuguesa state police headquarters and demanded the release of the arrested organizers, who they alleged had been politically persecuted. The seven activists remain in police custody. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4381

VI. Venezuelan National Assembly Passes New Caracas Administration Law
Two weeks ago, the Venezuelan National Assembly passed the special Law of Administration of the Capital, which changes administrative responsibility and budgeting for a part of Caracas. The opposition have categorized the law as further centralization and requested a referendum around it. The law redefines what constitutes the Metropolitan District of Caracas, which previously included the Capital District- Libertador municipality, as well as four other municipalities. Now, Libertador will only be a District Capital and the Metropolitan District will consist of the other four municipalities, eliminating an administrative overlap. National Assembly legislators argue that the point of the law is to fill the vacuum left by the preceding National Assembly which did not create a special law for Caracas. Other legislators said the law guarantees better administration of the capital as well as the integrity of Miranda state. They also say the law provides for a fairer distribution of resources. According to the National Assembly report, a new level of administration will be created for the Capital District, which will involve the appointment of a head of government. Opposition mayor of the Metropolitan Caracas District, Antonio Ledezma, presented his critiques of the law in the National Assembly, and later told press the law represented a “final blow against decentralization.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4357

VII. Venezuelan President Designates New Caracas Head and Communications Minister
Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez named Jacqueline Faría head of the newly created Capital District. Faría is currently president of Movilnet, and is also vice president of the PSUV Western region. In the past, she served as environment minister and president of Hidrocapital, the state-owned Caracas water company. She is a hydraulic civil engineer by profession. In a short speech last week, Faría said her team would work with the mayor of Libertador to construct a “truly socialist” Caracas and argued that the Capital District law was an overdue necessity to allow resources to be allocated to that area specifically as the capital. Meanwhile, Blanca Eckhout is the new Communications Minister. Jesse Chacon, who was serving in that position, will now direct the Ministry for Science and Light Industries. Eckhout was one of the founders of the community TV station, Catia TVe. She has been president of Vive TV since January 2005, and a member of the PSUV publicity commission. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4371

VIII. Venezuela Transfers Some States’ Highways and Bridges to National Government
A week and a half ago, the Venezuelan National Assembly authorized the transfer to the Public Works Ministry, of authority over highways, bridges, and roads in the new capital district of Caracas, and the states of Delta Amacuro, Zulia, and Vargas. Last month, the National Assembly passed a reform of the Law on Decentralization, to allow the president to transfer the administration of strategic ports, airports, and roads from the states to the national government. The transportation infrastructure was originally decentralized two decades ago. The Chávez government alleges that this led to their irresponsible concession to private multinational corporations, and that in many cases drug trafficking and contraband mafias have overpowered the state administrations and taken control. The Ministry will now manage all public transportation infrastructure in the state of Zulia, since the national government took over all major ports and airports in Zulia last month following the law’s reform. The reform launched protests in Zulia against the transfer. Governor Pablo Pérez called for a “rebellion” and the opposition-controlled state legislature demanded that the National Electoral Council organize a consultative referendum on the reform of the Decentralization Law. Two weeks ago, the electoral council denied the referendum request because the Decentralization Law is a national issue. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4374

IX. Venezuela Implements Quota to Increase Production of Natural Gas Powered Cars
Beginning this month, 30% of the automobiles manufactured and sold in Venezuela must be equipped with dual natural gas and gasoline powered internal combustion engines. The Ministry of Energy announced the measure, which is the latest step in a national plan to promote liquid fuels on the domestic market, and to reduce pollution. The quota for natural gas powered vehicles is expected to increase to 50% in 2011. The state oil company PDVSA has confirmed that 150 gas stations across Venezuela are currently equipped to provide natural gas for the new engines. The company plans to construct 300 more stations to accommodate the half a million natural gas powered cars it hopes to have on the road by the end of this year. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4372

X. Venezuelans Celebrate 7th Anniversary of Coup Defeat
A week and a half ago, on April 13th, President Hugo Chavez addressed thousands of supporters who rallied at the presidential palace to celebrate the day on which Chavez was returned to power after being temporarily ousted by a coup d´etat seven years ago.
The festive crowd stretched for blocks along the sloping Urdaneta Avenue, the same street where, seven years ago, thousands of Venezuelans had congregated to demand that Chavez be returned to power. During his speech Chavez commented on the recent case of nearly a dozen Caracas Metropolitan police officers who were convicted of killing civilians during the coup d´etat at the Llaguno Bridge on April 11, 2002. In early April, the officers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 16 to 30 years. Chavez called the sentences “a light breeze of justice.” He requested an investigation of the mainstream private stations which participated in the coup, as well as the “intellectual authors” of the coup which still have not been brought to justice. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4367