Venezuela News Summary #86

Venezuela News Summary #86 (July 4th- July 11th, 2009)

I. Venezuelan President: Today’s Events in Honduras a “Moral Victory”

On Sunday, June 28th a military coup d’etat kidnapped Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and forced him out of the country. Zelaya’s government was shut down, and Roberto Micheletti swore himself in as de facto president the same day. Protests in response have been brutally repressed. The United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, or ALBA, all unanimously condemned the coup, and called for Zelaya’s reinstatement as president of the Central American country. A week after his kidnapping, on Sunday, July 5th, President Zelaya boarded a flight and tried to return to Honduras. However military vehicles blocked the runway and he was told that the plane would be “intercepted” if it tried to land. The pilot was forced to turn back and land in Nicaragua. There had been a large march and protests outside the airport in support of Zelaya for most of the day, in which Telesur reported at least two people killed by the military and many injured. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spoke with Telesur the same day and said that the attempt to land was still a “moral victory.” He promised that Venezuela would continue supporting Honduras until democracy is restored. Chavez had been attending the celebration of Venezuela’s Independence Day in Bolivar city. Chavez noted that the plane transporting Zelaya was Venezuelan and a product of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, or ALBA. The Venezuelan President called the Honduran military “cowards” for repressing the peaceful march, and stressed the broad international support for Zelaya. Venezuela confirmed last week that it would stop sending petroleum to Honduras. The Central American country was unanimously suspended from the Organization of American States after it failed to comply with the OAS ultimatum to restore Zelaya to the presidency by July 3rd.http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4593 

II. Venezuelan Solidarity Convoy Bound for Honduras Detained in Colombia 
The following day, the Venezuelan state television station, VTV, reported that a Venezuelan solidarity convoy of sixty people bound for Honduras was detained by the Colombian military in Maicao, Colombia. The convoy was initiated by Venezuelan grassroots organizations, and included twenty Honduran doctors in a show of solidarity with the Honduran people. Convoy participant, Miguel Mora, a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, denounced via telephone, that immediately after Colombian customs had allowed the convoy to cross the border, they were detained by the Colombian Security Office who alleged they had committed crimes, such as carrying political material. The convoy, which departed from Caracas on Saturday, July 4th, had planned to pass through Colombia, Panamá, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and arrive a few days later in Honduras via land. Mora said the forty Venezuelans, twenty Honduran doctors and one Cuban participating in the convoy remained detained and their passports had been taken from them. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4596 

III. Venezuela: US Must Clarify its Position on Honduras 
Speaking on behalf of the PSUV, former Venezuelan interior minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín called on US president Barack Obama to clarify his government’s position on the coup d’etat in Honduras, in which democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya was ousted on June 28. Rodríguez Chacín demanded a, quote, “categorical pronouncement and concrete actions by Obama in rejection of this coup d’etat, because it is clear this coup is being supported by the military establishment of the United States.” Rodríguez Chacín argued that the coup must be understood in the context of increasing global political confrontation and an attempt to destroy the progressive advances in Latin America, highlighted by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, or ALBA. The nine country ALBA bloc aims to promote an alternative regional development model to the neoliberal model imposed by the US. While condemnation of the Honduran coup has been near universal, the response from the United States government has been slow. Although US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have made statements condemning the ousting of Zelaya and calling for his return, the US State Department is yet to legally define it as a “coup,” which under U.S. law, would prohibit aid to the coup government. Under international pressure, the United States did “pause” economic aid “directly aiding the Honduran government”, but there is another $180 million which has yet to be suspended. In contrary to most Latin American and European governments, the US also continues to maintain diplomatic ties with the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Florens remains in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, in an official capacity. Venezuelan political analyst and former vice-president José Vicente Rangel argued that the contradictory US response reflected two political lines in Honduras – a public one coming from Obama and the White House and the other from the quote,” political machinery that remains in tact from the Bush administration.” The later, he said, is being applied through US military personal and advisors based in Honduras.http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4598 

IV. Chavez: U.S. and Venezuelan Right Wing Support Coup in Honduras, a Challenge to Obama 
Meanwhile last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez accused the “extreme right wing” of the United States and Venezuela of being involved in the June 28th military coup in Honduras, perhaps behind the back of U.S. President Barack Obama. Chavez said, quote, “the horrendous military, industrial, financial, terrorist, and drug trafficking complex is supporting the coup leaders and challenging Obama.” Chavez said the Obama administration has so far been “soft-hearted” in response to the coup, because it has not yet called for the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4586 

V. Venezuela Says Clinton’s Remarks Reflect “Profound Lack of Knowledge of Our Reality” 
US-Venezuelan relations have also be strained over the last week, in an official statement last Wednesday, the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry said that recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton constituted a throwback to past U.S. policy and put into question the sincerity of the Obama administration as the two countries renew their shaky diplomatic relations. The Ministry’s statement said quote: “The insinuations of the Secretary of State reflect a profound lack of knowledge of our reality.” Clinton’s remarks on Venezuelan democracy came this week during an interview with the opposition Venezuelan television station Globovision. On Tuesday, in Washington, Clinton met with two prominent Venezuelan opposition leaders, Alberto Ravell, the owner of Globovision, and Leopoldo Castillo, the host of the Globovision talk show, Hello Citizen, and former Venezuelan ambassador to El Salvador. Castillo has been accused of assisting U.S.-backed death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s. In the Clinton interview that was later broadcast on national television in Venezuela, Castillo asked Clinton what the official U.S. position would be “if the Venezuelan government permanently shut down an independent media.” Clinton responded, quote, “Part of what we hope to see over the next months in Venezuela is a recognition that you can be a very strong leader and have very strong opinions without trying to take on too much power and trying to silence all your critics.” In recent years, the Chavez government has sanctioned several private media outlets for breaking laws on social responsibility in the media. In 2007, the Venezuelan government did not renew the expired broadcasting license of RCTV, a prominent opposition channel, which participated in the 2002 coup d’etat against President Chavez. Globovision and the U.S. government also backed the coup and immediately recognized the coup government. In the interview, Clinton also expressed “concerns” over “the legal order for doing business in Venezuela” and called Chavez’ economic policies “anti-democratic”. She also criticized the recent lifting of term limits on elected offices in Venezuela. The U.S. and Venezuela restored their respective ambassadors two weeks ago after a 9-month hiatus. Both Chavez and U.S. President Barack Obama have pledged to promote diplomatic relations between the two countries. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4609 

VI. Venezuelan National Assembly Discusses Limits to Concentration of Media Ownership 

This Thursday, before the National Assembly, Venezuelan Public Works Minister, Diosdado Cabello proposed reforms to the Telecommunications law that would limit the concentration of private radio and television ownership and bring more cable providers under the jurisdiction of the National Telecommunications Commission, CONATEL, and the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. According to Cabello, nearly 30 families control more than 30% of the radio and television waves, with as many as 50 stations grouped under a single owner. More than 60% of television broadcasting concessions are in private hands. Cabello proposed a limit of three stations for any private owner, and a limit of a half hour per day of uniform broadcasting on those three stations. The Minister said that such a rule would favor Venezuela’s small-scale independent producers. He also specified that broadcasting concessions are not inheritable property, so concession holders should not be allowed to pass on their broadcasting rights to family or colleagues in the event of their death. With regard to cable television, Cabello proposed an administrative provision that would define any company whose programming is 70% produced in Venezuela as Venezuelan. This would require the company to register with CONATEL and abide by the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. According to Cabello, many cable stations have registered as international companies to avoid Venezuelan government regulation. The reform proposals will be open for public discussion for a month before the National Assembly proceeds to a vote.http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4613 

VII. Venezuela Fines Largest Food Producer for Illegal Beer Distribution 
In joint operations a week and a half ago, the Venezuelan National Guard and the Caracas police seized over 30 beer delivery trucks bearing the logo of Venezuela’s largest food and beverage producer, Polar. The trucks were seized for allegedly selling beer and liquor illegally in the sprawling low-income barrios of the Venezuelan capital. According to Renny Villaverde of Caracas’ Autonomous Institute for Citizen Security, the illegal transactions have been taking place between four and eight am, and in violation of alcohol sales laws. According to Villaverde, Polar will be fined, and the seized beer will be confiscated by the municipal tax and customs service. Government officials have repeatedly criticized beer and liquor distributors for selling their products illegally in poor neighborhoods. Officials say the activity has contributed to crime, delinquency, and violence against women. Earlier this year, the Chavez government stepped up its efforts to enforce the laws regulating food producers. In March, government officials took over administration of a Polar rice processing plant after discovering the plant to be operating at half its capacity and adding artificial flavoring to 90% of its rice in order to evade government price controls. Polar was subject to more than seventy inspections in early 2008, when food shortages hit Venezuela in the midst of the world food crisis. The government accused the company of hoarding food to drive up prices, create social unrest, and incite anti-government sentiment.http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4587 

VIII. Venezuelan Inflation Continues to Drop While Unemployment Remains Steady 
According to Venezuela’s National Statistics Institute and the Central Bank of Venezuela, Venezuela’s accumulated inflation during the first six months of this year was just over 10%, marking a thirty percent drop from the rate at this time last year. Accumulated inflation in food prices was less than 5% during the first half of the year; marking a 70% drop in food price inflation over the last year. However health care and transportation costs have inflated slightly more in the first half of this year than they did in the first half of 2008. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s unemployment rate remained constant at just under 8% in April and May of this year, representing nearly a million unemployed Venezuelans. Venezuela’s unemployment rate has been nearly cut in half since President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999. In May ’99, the unemployment rate in Venezuela was just under 15%. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4605