Venezuela News Summary #88

I. Venezuelan National Assembly Discusses Combating Media Terrorism

I. Venezuelan National Assembly Discusses Combating Media Terrorism
The head of Venezuela’s telecommunications agency, CONATEL, and infrastructure minister, Diosdado Cabello, announced last weekend the immediate closure of 32 privately owned Venezuelan radio stations and 2 regional television stations. According to Cabello, their broadcast licenses had expired or they had violated regulations. The minister said many of the stations were operating illegally and had failed to register or pay fees to CONATEL. He added that their recuperated licenses would be handed over to community media. Nelson Belfort is the president of the Chamber of Radio Broadcasters and the Caracas-based Circuito Nacional Belfort, which owns five of the closed radio stations. He said he would appeal the decision, and he described the move as a government “attack” that aims to limit freedom of expression. Minister Cabello denied this, and said that those affected can continue transmitting their programs through the Internet as the measure only applies to the use of the state-owned airwaves. Cabello said that powerful families in Venezuela, had acquired many of the radio stations illegally and constituted media conglomerations whereby nearly 30 families controlled a third of the television and radio waves. According to the minister, many of those affected own ten to twenty stations. Cabello explained that new reforms to the Telecommunications Law aim to break up the conglomerations by limiting ownership of radio or television stations to three per private owner. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4694

II. Venezuelan Government Arrests Suspect in Attack on Globovision Television Station
Meanwhile this week, National Assembly representatives responded to claims by the private international and national media that Venezuela is discussing a media law, which denies freedom of expression and punishes journalists. Representatives said that no such law proposal exists, only a discussion around how to combat the “media dictatorship” and “media terrorism.” National Assembly Legislator Rosario Pacheco said that so far the draft of the law considers media crime the publication of false, manipulative or distorted information that causes “harm to the interests of the state” or that threatens “public morale or mental health.” The assembly has discussed a maximum penalty of four years prison. Journalist Asalia Venegis told Venezuelan Television that the law project incorporates everything that is expressed in the Law of Journalist Practice and the Code of Ethics. Nevertheless, opposition and international media have suggested that the Venezuelan government supports jail for media crimes and is trying to “regulate” or “limit” free speech. Which National Assembly representatives quickly deny. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4687

III. Venezuela to Transfer Private Media Concessions to Community Media
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Tuesday that suspect Lina Ron had been arrested for her presumed participation in a tear gas attack on the private television channel Globovision, in Caracas this week. On Monday morning, a small group of people identified with Lina Ron’s pro-Chavez United for Venezuela Party were filmed firing tear gas into the Globovision offices and clashing with police before making their getaway on motorcycles. The attack occurred the day after the announcement of the closure of the private stations. While the Venezuelan state has been clear that it is willing to revoke Globovision’s broadcasting license due to its continuous violation of Venezuelan law, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he will not tolerate these types of violent actions by anyone. It is believed that the attack may have been a revenge attack for an act of vandalism by opposition supporters against a community radio station in the municipality of Santiago Mariño in the early hours of Monday morning. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4683

IV. Venezuela Passes New Electoral Law
The new Electoral Law was approved by the National Assembly late last week. Among its more than 200 articles, the law recognizes both list-based and single candidate voting, makes every voter eligible for staffing voting booths, details fines for a range of electoral crimes, and creates new electoral districts. The law also goes into minute detail about nomination requirements, the voting process, election of indigenous representatives, electoral propaganda and media coverage of elections and election results. Basically, under the new law, individual positions such as president or governor will be elected based on overall majority. However positions to legislative councils and municipal councils will be based on a “parallel system” with the ability to vote for both lists of positions grouped politically or according to organization, which would then be elected proportionally. The new Law of Electoral Processes replaces the previous electoral laws. It applies to all electoral events in the country, including referendums, legislative elections, citizen assemblies, and elections of public positions. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4681

V. Venezuela Increases Funding of Communal Councils and Communes
two weeks ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that $40 million US dollars will be added to the budget of the youth organization Francisco de Miranda Front to help organize the communal councils into communes over the second half of this year. The Miranda Front, which recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of its founding, will be expected to promote the formation of communes, which are formed by joining roughly ten communal councils. It will also be expected to carry out diagnoses of community needs and contribute to the 13th of April Social Mission, which was set up to fight poverty. Chavez said the commune should be the territorial base that gives life to socialism. According to the government’s Foundation for the Development and Promotion of Communal Power, over 30,000 communal councils have been formed in Venezuela since 2006. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4650

VI. Venezuela Takes Over Coffee Manufacturers Suspected of Hoarding and Speculation
This week, the Venezuelan government temporarily occupied the processing plants of two of the largest coffee producers in Venezuela, Fama de America and Café Madrid. The companies are suspected of hoarding, speculation and smuggling contraband coffee into neighboring Colombia in order to avoid Venezuelan government price controls. The plants process 350,000 quintals of coffee per year, roughly 70% of Venezuela’s total coffee production. The plants will be occupied for a period of three months. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4688

VII. Venezuela Issues First Ecological Cell Phone
Last week, Movilnet, the cell phone division of Venezuela’s national telecommunications company, CANTV, released the country’s first cell phone made from recycled plastic bottles and equipped with a solar energy charger. Movilnet President Jacqueline Faria said last week that the new phone helps reduce energy consumption and prevents environmental damage caused by discarded phones. Faria said the new phone was manufactured with 20% less energy than any other and is part of Movilnet’s “Cellular Conscience” campaign. Venezuela has a population of 27 million people and a number of roughly just over one active cell phone per person. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4679

VIII. Venezuela to Provide Children with 50,000 Mini Laptops
Last week the Venezuelan Education Ministry began its Project Canaima program, to provide primary schools with mini laptops, and incorporate this technology into the education system. When the school semester begins in September, the ministry anticipates providing 50,000 laptop computers to over 1100 schools nationally. The batch is the first in a total of 350,000 computers that Portugal has agreed to send to Venezuela as part of an oil trading agreement between the two countries. Venezuela hopes to set up its own assembly plant for the mini laptops as part of a technology transfer agreement. The computers will run on the Linux free software operating system. The Education Ministry together with the National Centre for Information Technology are working to design education programs for the computers. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4672

IX. Venezuela Denies Extradition of Basque Nationalist to Spain
This Tuesday evening Venezuela’s Supreme Court denied Spain’s request for the extradition of a presumed former member of the Basque independence organization ETA, Iñaki Etxeberria. Spain charged Etxeberria with attempted homicide during a 1993 incident in the European country. On Tuesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled the extradition impermissible because according to Venezuelan law, the necessary period in which to try Etxeberria for the crime had expired. Etxeberria is a legal permanent resident of Venezuela who has lived in the country for over a dozen years, and fled what he and his supporters say was political persecution of Basque leaders by the Spanish government. He currently works in a steel factory in Cojedes state. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4692

X. Venezuela and Spain Strengthen “Energy Alliance”
The announcement comes just days after government officials and business executives from Venezuela and Spain met in Caracas last week to sign agreements for joint oil, gas, and thermoelectricity production. They also discussed indemnity payments for the Bank of Venezuela, which Venezuela nationalized last year. The Venezuelan government also condemned the recent car bomb attack on the Spanish Civil Guard barracks. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the meetings “refreshing.” Spanish Foreign Relations Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said the meetings were “extremely fruitful” and would “strengthen our bilateral relations even further.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4676

XI. Venezuelan Ambassador and Staff Withdrawn from Colombia
Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the withdrawal of the Venezuelan ambassador and diplomatic staff from Colombia, following US military build up in the neighboring country and Colombia’s accusations that Venezuela had supplied the Colombian FARC guerrillas with weapons. Chavez also said the government would examine Venezuela’s economic relations with Colombia and the possibility of substituting imports from their neighbor with those from other countries. He warned that if Colombia continued verbally attacking Venezuela, they would “end our relations, in every respect.” In response to Chavez’s pronouncements, Jose Insulza, general secretary of the Organization of America States called on the two countries not to retaliate economically, and offered the services of the organization to facilitate dialogue. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4675

XII. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister: Colombia’s FARC Weapons Claim a “Dirty Campaign”
The breakdown of relations came on the heels of insinuations by Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos that Venezuela is providing weapons to Colombian guerillas. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro quickly denounced the statements as a “dirty campaign” to justify the presence of US military bases in the neighboring country. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4670

XIII. Venezuela Prepares Defense against Potential U.S. Aggression from Colombia
Two weeks ago, Colombia confirmed that it had authorized the U.S. to install several military bases in Colombian territory. In response, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela will strengthen its fleet of armored vehicles and increase its military presence along its border with Colombia. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said his government does not plan to attack Venezuela, only Colombian guerrilla rebels. Nonetheless, Chavez warned a group of Venezuelan military officers during a ceremony at Fort Tiuna in Caracas that the U.S. military buildup in Colombia would likely bring more “mercenaries, spy planes, the CIA, and paramilitaries” to South America. The president also asked about why Venezuelan opposition leaders, including the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas and the governors of two states on the border with Colombia, had met with White House officials in Washington D.C. earlier in the week, shortly after the Honduran elite had carried out a military coup and the U.S. was increasing its military presence in Colombia. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4657

XIV. U.S.: Honduras Coup a “Lesson” for Zelaya Not to Follow Venezuela’s Path
Just under two weeks ago, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said in a press conference that the military coup that ousted Zelaya should serve as a “lesson” for the Honduran President to steer clear of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution and President Hugo Chavez. Crowley also accused Venezuela of intervening on Honduran affairs. Venezuela demands the unconditional restoration of Zelaya to power, and has called on the U.S. to take a firm stance in support of this. The United States has cut off $18 million in economic aid to Honduras, but refuses to define the coup as a “coup d’etat,” which would mandate the U.S. to cut off the rest of its aid to the country, totaling $180 million. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4652