Venezuela News Summary #84

Venezuela News Summary #84 (June 3 - June 16, 2009)

I. Venezuela Orders End to Coca-Cola Zero Production
One week ago, the Venezuelan Health Ministry ordered Coca-Cola to remove all Coca-Cola Zero from sale for containing the cancerous sodium cyclamate. The ingredient is not included in the US version of the drink. Sodium cyclamate has been prohibited in the United States since 1969. Venezuelan Health minister, Jesus Mantilla, announced that in large amounts, sodium cyclamate, can be harmful to health and declared that the Venezuelan product be recalled, destroyed, and not produced anymore. Coca-Cola responded in a press release, saying quote, “Coca-Cola Zero doesn’t contain any ingredient that could be harmful to the health.” However, Coca-Cola said that until the Venezuelan government concludes its administrative health proceedings it would suspend production in Venezuela and recall the drink. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4516

II. Venezuela Expands State-Owned Agricultural Production, Processing, and Distribution
A week and a half ago, during his weekly talk show, Aló Presidente, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez inaugurated the construction of a state-owned agricultural] complex that will integrate the production, processing, and distribution of basic foods, and avoid price speculation by intermediaries. The El Sombrero complex will first begin processing grains and soy milk, and then fruits, vegetables, dairy products and corn flour. The complex will also include a tractor assembly plant, which was made possible with the support of Argentine technology. Many of El Sombrero’s 130 workers have traveled to Argentina to be trained. With support from Chinese agronomists, Venezuela is also looking to increase corn production this year, by planting nearly a million hectares. Meanwhile, Venezuelan Energy Minister, Rafael Ramírez, also appeared on Chávez’s show to announce that the state oil company has risen in the ranks from eighth to fourth among the world’s largest oil companies since Chávez was elected ten years ago. According to Ramirez, PDVSA’s physical assets have risen from $50 billion to over $70 billion, as a result of investments in exploration and production, and the creation of multiple join ventures in the Orinoco Oil Belt. Chávez and Ramírez both said the financial report refutes claims by government adversaries that PDVSA has become financially weaker under the Chávez government. Meanwhile, the price of oil continues to rise. Last week, Venezuelan oil was valued at just over $60 per barrel. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4505

III. Chávez Hosts TV Series of Socialist Theory
Last Thursday evening Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez hosted the first of what will be a series of special episodes of his weekly presidential talk show, “Alo President.” In contrast to the discussions of current events and government projects on his usual Sunday afternoon broadcasts, these Thursday evening episodes will focus on the theory of socialist change. “There can be no revolution if there is no revolutionary theory,” said Chávez. The Venezuelan president said that communes should be the quote, “space in which we are going to give birth to socialism.” He said organized local communities must take the initiative to form these communes with the goal of placing “the ownership of the means of production in the hands of the commune.” Chavez created the Ministry of Communes earlier this year. With the Minister of Communes Erika Farías at his side, Chávez said that communes cannot exist in isolation, but must eventually be connected together in a national network. He also called on local communal councils to step up and take a more assertive role in shaping public policy, calling them the “nuclei” of the future communes. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4515

IV. Venezuelan Government Fines Opposition TV Globovision
Right wing TV station Globovision must pay over $3 million for using unauthorized microwave frequencies and for evading taxes on advertising. The rulings came two weeks ago from the political administrative arm of the Venezuelan Supreme Court and the Venezuelan tax agency, Seniat. Also, Venezuela’s public prosecutor charged Globovision president Guillermo Zuloaga with usury, for alleged illegal storage of 24 vehicles. The vehicles were discovered and confiscated in late May on Zuloaga’s property. Zuloaga has links with the Toyota dealerships Toyosan and Toyoclub. According to justice minister, Tarek El Aissami, Zuloaga was fraudulently selling the cars to himself or to the companies in order to falsely increase their final sale price. Zuloaga refuted that the case was about, quote “scaring or silencing Globovision, something that they are never going to achieve.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4500

V. Phone Conversation Reveals Opposition Desire to Destabilise Venezuela
Last week, the president of the National Assembly special commission on assassinations and coup attempts, Mario Isea, denounced an alleged opposition plan to destabilize the country and possibly overthrow President Hugo Chavez. Isea said sectors of the Venezuelan far right are calling on abandoning the “democratic” battle, to overthrow the government in July or August. Isea based his claims on a recording of a phone conversation between Admiral Rafael Clavier, president of the Institutional Military Front, and an unknown person referred to as Edgar. In the phone conversation, which runs five minutes and was aired on the state Venezuela TV, Clavier rings “Edgar” after a meeting he has just had with opposition members and vents his views about the state of the opposition, and what needs to be done. The two complain in the conversation that the opposition isn’t going anywhere. Clavier repeats numerous times the need for “another type of struggle.” He suggests July and August as the best time to generate instability in the country, and they discuss the idea of a Patriotic junta like the one that opposed the Venezuelan dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in the 1950s. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4513

VI. Separatist Opposition Uses Paramilitaries for Social Cleansing, Destabilization: Venezuelan Government
This week, Venezuelan Minister of Justice, Tarek El-Aissami, accused the governors of opposition-controlled states along the Colombian border of permitting bands of Colombian paramilitary troops to destabilize the region and carry out a wave of “social cleansing” murders in recent months. El-Aissami said the paramilitaries include members of state police forces and have contributed to a nearly 50% increase in Táchira’s crime rate. El-Aissami said that Governor Cesar Perez, his chief of staff, and the regional director of Perez’s political party COPEI, plan to use the paramilitaries to launch a violent separatist movement. In the past two months, pamphlets were distributed in dozens of communities across western Venezuela threatening to assassinate sex workers, transvestites, homeless people, drug consumers and traffickers, gang members and alleged thieves. Local newspapers in the states of Táchira, Mérida, and Zulia reprinted the pamphlets, which advised parents to keep their children in their homes after dark to avoid being killed during quote, “the hour of social cleansing.” Many of the pamphlets were signed by the paramilitary group known as the Black Eagles. The Black Eagles are presumed to be a splinter group of the now dissolved United Self-Defenses of Colombia, a conglomeration of paramilitary groups formed in the 1990s to fight Colombian guerrilla rebels on behalf of large estate owners, cattle ranchers, and right-wing politicians. In three municipalities in Zulia state, local residents attribute a dozen murders over the past two months to paramilitary groups. Venezuela’s Criminal Investigations Unit has opened investigations into the pamphlets and the murders. On Sunday President Hugo Chávez called on ordinary Venezuelans to employ quote, “popular intelligence” to assist in the fight against paramilitary infiltration. Chávez also threatened to bring Governor Perez to trial for treason, citing alleged intelligence documents that reveal a burgeoning “nest of paramilitaries” that plan to assassinate President Chavez and promote secession in the opposition-controlled border region. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4521

VII. Venezuelan Government Responds to Massacre of Indigenous Protestors in Peruvian Amazon
In response to the fatal clashes between indigenous protestors and the Peruvian government a week and a half ago, the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry has released a statement expressing its solidarity with both the security forces and the indigenous people killed. Venezuelan Indigenous Affairs Minister Nicia Maldonado called the Peruvian government’s violent repression quote “terrorism.” The statements were responding to events a week and a half ago, in which an estimated 40 indigenous activists were killed and 150 injured when Peruvian police launched an air and ground attack against a road blockade in the Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. The activists set up the blockade to protest a series of recently passed laws they say would take away their right to be consulted about potential oil, mining, and logging projects in their communities. More than twenty police died in the clashes. The Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry offered words of encouragement for a peaceful solution to the conflict. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4510

VIII. Presidents of Venezuela and African Union Discuss Upcoming Africa-South America Summit
The president of the African Union, Gabonese economist Jean Ping, met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Caracas last week to prepare for the upcoming Africa – South America Summit. The summit is scheduled to take place in Caracas in September. Ping invited President Chávez on a tour of African countries, including Ethiopia where the African Union headquarters are located. He also urged a prompt meeting between the African Union and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA. Ping and Chávez discussed the global financial crisis, commerce, education, health care, and the need to create a television channel based in the Global South, similar to the Caracas-based news station, Telesur. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4509

IX. Venezuela Helps Strengthen Regional Unity and Sovereignty at Petrocaribe Summit
At the 6th Petrocaribe summit last Friday the 18 member nations agreed to increase energy cooperation, seek alternative energy sources, and assist each other with food needs. The summit took place in Saint Kitts in the West Indies. Petrocaribe was founded in mid 2005, with the goal of achieving energy security in the Caribbean region, primarily by buying Venezuelan oil at preferential rates. At the summit, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez told press that Venezuela was in contact with Honduras and Nicaragua about the possibility of exploiting geothermal energy, and that there was potential for wind and solar energy in the Caribbean region. Chavez additionally proposed to the Petrocaribe council that they examine the creation of their own currency, a proposal he has pushed at several regional conferences over the last year. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4520

X. Venezuelan Socialist Party Gains One Million Members and Opposition Forms New Alliance
Last week, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, announced that the party grew by more than a million new members during May’s month-long registration drive. Aristóbulo Istúriz, PSUV vice president for the northeastern region, said the PSUV now has more than of 6 and a half million members. 40% of the new members are under the age of 26. The PSUV was formed in early 2007, when President Hugo Chávez called for all progressive parties to unite under one banner. Meanwhile, nearly a dozen opposition parties including Acción Democrática, COPEI, Alianza Bravo Pueblo, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Primero Justicia, PODEMOS, and others announced that they had agreed to “work in unity” against the government of President Hugo Chávez. They did not announce a specific united political platform, but called the new alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, or “Democratic Unity Roundtable.” COPEI President Luis Ignacio Planas, said the new front “is not an electoral alliance.” He extended an invitation to all NGOs, students, worker unions, and other civil society groups to join the united front. Planas said the new bloc will defend Venezuela’s constitution, but most of the parties in the new alliance are the same which formed an alliance called the Democratic Coordinator from 2002 to 2004. This group was notorious for having participated in a general strike, oil industry shut down, and U.S.-backed military coup d’etat with the stated intention of ousting President Chávez. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4506

XI. 82% of Venezuelans Use Public Health System
According to a study by the National Statistics Institute, more than 80% of Venezuelans are using the public health system. Of these 22 million people, three quarters said they were satisfied with the service. Elias Eljuri, president of the statistics institute said that more than 90% of Venezuelans use the Barrio Adentro system, and 70% use the public hospitals. Barrio Adentro is a system of free community based health clinics made possible by an agreement between Venezuela and Cuba, and which involves a large number of Cuban doctors. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4504

XII. Venezuelan Government Forms Multi-Institutional Council Against Crime
The Minister for Justice, Tarek El Aissami, established a new National Council of Prevention and Citizen Security. The aim of the council is to create national public policy for citizen security. El Aissami defined the council as quote, “an inter-institutional space, plural, technical and participatory… with an integral approach to the phenomenon of violence.” Many of the country’s ministers are participating in the council together with private and public institutions, the Supreme Court, the National Assembly, the Attorney General, and University Professors specializing in areas related to crime. El Aissami called on communal councils to carry out “participatory diagnostics” around the issue of security. The council will compile the information from the communal councils and in July will start an inquiry into victimization and perception of citizen security. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4494