Venezuela News Summary #91

Venezuela Announces Special Measures to Boost Electricity Production - Chavez Comments Spark Discontent Among Venezuelan Electrical Workers - Venezuela Launches Military Operations on Border to Fight Drug Trafficking and Protect Coltan Reserve - Venezuela Says Israeli Criticisms of Relationship with Iran Lack Moral Authority - Colombia “Hands Over Its Sovereignty” to U.S. with Military Accord, Says Chavez - Venezuela-Colombia Dispute Reaches WTO, Border Closed After 2 Venezuelan Troops Shot Dead - Venezuela: Colombians Massacred Near Border Were Paramilitaries - Venezuela Captures Two Colombian Intelligence Agents Accused of Spying - Presidents of Brazil and Venezuela Review Bilateral Accords for Soy, Industry, and MERCOSUR - Suspects Arrested in Murder of Venezuelan Indigenous, but Chief’s Detention Fuels Conflict - Chavez Orders Transfer of $32 Million to Venezuela’s People’s Bank - Venezuela: Disputes in Process of Delegate Nominations to PSUV Congress

I. Venezuela Announces Special Measures to Boost Electricity Production
Electricity has been a contentious issue lately in Venezuela. In October, after a growing energy crisis, President Hugo Chavez intervened in the sector and announced the creation of a new Ministry of Electricity. Meanwhile, across much of the Venezuela, electricity has been rationed over the past two months through daily rolling power outages. Last Wednesday, the Venezuelan government announced a series of new measures to reduce the consumption and increase the production of electricity. To reduce consumption, the state electricity corporation, CORPOELEC, will charge higher rates to consumers who exceed a certain level of kilowatt hours. The government will also revamp its two year-old “Energy Revolution” light bulb exchange program by replacing nearly 75 million incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent, energy-saving bulbs. The government announced plans to restrict the importation of appliances that do not meet certain energy efficiency requirements. To increase the supply of electricity, the government will invest nearly $200 million US dollars to accelerate construction that is underway on new thermoelectric and hydroelectric infrastructure nation-wide. Venezuela has a goal of expanding the public sector electricity generating capacity by nearly 1500 megawatts by the end of this year. The government will also provide financial incentives for private businesses to provide for all or part of their own energy needs, and contribute any excess energy they produce back to the public electricity grid. According to Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s private business sector, industry and public institutions account for approximately 60% of national electricity consumption. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4919

II. Chavez Comments Spark Discontent Among Venezuelan Electrical Workers
The moves come on the heels of comments made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez two weeks ago that implied that Venezuela’s Federation of Electrical Sector Workers (FETRAELEC) was acting to sabotage the electricity sector by “threatening a conflict.” The comments sparked indignation among electrical workers, who have been in negotiations for a single industry-wide collective contract with the management of the state-owned electricity company CORPOELEC for over a year. CORPOELEC was formed in 2007 after the sector was nationalized and fourteen regional electricity companies, were merged into a single entity. However, workers say that the management of the regional companies have opposed the nationalization process, and are acting to impede a single collective contract. Union president, Angel Navas, responded to Chavez’s comments explaining that they are not threatening a strike as the opposition media has reported. The workers are demanding participation in the management of the company, a hefty wage increase and compensation for the 14 months since their last collective contract expired. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4901

III. Venezuela Says Israeli Criticisms of Its Relationship with Iran Lack Moral
Last week, the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry expressed its “repudiation” of remarks made by Israeli Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Dani Ayalon, who said Venezuela had become “base for the Iranian advance on the American continent.” The Ministry’s statement said the Israeli official’s comment constituted “a new aggression against the Venezuelan people.” Earlier this year, Venezuela and Iran formed a binational bank and laid the groundwork for binational mining companies. Iran also invested in Venezuela’s agricultural sector and offered to help Venezuela develop nuclear energy for civilian use. Israeli Vice Minister Ayalon called Iran’s involvement in Africa and Latin America an “infiltration” and warned of its, “implications and danger for world peace and security.” The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry called the Israeli position hypocritical, pointing out that Israel provides significant military support to Colombia, with whom Venezuela shares a border and has a tense relationship. Authority http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4918

IV. Venezuela Launches Military Operations on Border to Fight Drug Trafficking and Protect Coltan Reserve
Last Thursday, Venezuela announced the expansion of military operations along its Eastern border in order to fight drug trafficking and protect a recently discovered reserve of coltan from illegal mining. Under Operation Blue Gold, 15,000 Air Force, Army, and Navy personnel will protect the coltan reserve, which straddles the states of Bolivar and Amazonas. The government announced the discovery of the Coltan reserve last month. It coincided with the announcement of a public investment plan for the coming year aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing. On Thursday, Vice President and Defense Minister Ramon Carrizalez visited the reserve site in the El Paloma indigenous community, and said the troops would help combat drug trafficking and illegal armed groups in the region, in addition to protecting the reserve. Carrizalez also displayed a sample of coltan in its unprocessed form, and explained that it is a highly coveted mineral because of its usefulness in satellites, missiles, computers, cellular phones, and other electronic devices. The same day, Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami announced that 3,000 troops would be deployed to the opposite end of the country. They will be sent to the Sierra de Perijá in the states of Tachira and Zulia in order to impede the passage of drug traffickers and eradicate the illicit cultivation of crops that are processed into illegal drugs. The sparsely populated and forested Sierra de Perijá is one of the most conflict-ridden regions of Venezuela. In addition to drug traffickers, it is suspected that illegal armed groups from Colombia travel in the region. Local indigenous peoples have protested coal mining and violent persecution by large estate owners, and accused the government of not granting them the land titles due to them by law. Last year, El-Aissami announced that the government plans to build five military bases in the Sierra de Perijá to fight drug trafficking and impede overflow fighting from the Colombian civil war. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4920

V. Colombia “Hands Over Its Sovereignty” to U.S. with Military Accord, Says Chavez
Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Colombia became a “colony” of the United States when it granted the U.S. permission to expand its military presence in Colombian territory in an accord signed on October 30th. The ten-year agreement grants the U.S. access, use, and free access to seven military bases in Colombia. According to the deal, U.S. personnel and vehicles working under the agreement are exempt from customs duties, tariffs, rent, taxes, and most cargo inspections. In addition, the accord grants diplomatic immunity to U.S. personnel. The Venezuelan government argues that granting of immunity to U.S. officials will facilitate human rights abuses and that the U.S. plans to infiltrate Venezuela and fabricate evidence that links Venezuela to drug trafficking and Colombian guerrilla insurgents in order to justify a military intervention. Earlier this year, Chavez said the U.S. would use the agreement to “dominate all of South America.” However, U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly denied such allegations and asserted that the agreement pertains strictly to the United States and Colombia. Nevertheless, the 2010 Pentagon budget states that the Department of Defense seeks an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, in Central/South America and cites a $46 million investment in the “development” of Colombia’s Palanquero air base as a key component of this. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4914

VI. Venezuela-Colombia Dispute Reaches WTO, Border Closed After 2 Venezuelan
This latest situation comes after months of stifled trade relations between the two countries. In protest over the proposed US-Colombian agreement, last August, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on his ministers to reduce bi-national trade with Colombia to zero. Those words have now begun to bite. According to a report by Colombia’s National Department of Statistics, exports to Venezuela fell by half in September. Trade between the two countries is expected to decline even further, after Venezuela imposed a blockade on Colombian agricultural products. In response, last week Colombia filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary Measures. No formal decision has been made. Troops Shot Dead http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4912

VII. Venezuela: Colombians Massacred Near Border Were Paramilitaries
Tensions between the two countries flared further two weeks ago after the bodies of nine Colombians were found in the Venezuelan border state of Tachira. The bodies are believed to have been executed by an illegal armed paramilitary group. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4909

VIII. Venezuela Captures Two Colombian Intelligence Agents Accused of Spying
Venezuela also announced the capture of two Colombians and a Venezuelan accused of spying for Colombia’s Administrative Security Department (DAS). Venezuelan Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami presented documents allegedly originating from DAS, which showed that Colombia had sent spies to Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba as part of a CIA operation. Colombia denied the accusations of spying. However, a DAS statement said that “It is a serious and troubling fact that the Ministry of Interior of Venezuela has in its possession DAS intelligence documents.” Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government temporarily ordered the closure of the border between Tachira state and Colombia after two members of the Venezuelan National Guard were shot dead while on routine checkpoint duty. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4902

IX. Presidents of Brazil and Venezuela Review Bilateral Accords for Soy, Industry, and MERCOSUR
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva met in Venezuela with President Hugo Chavez a week and a half ago to evaluate the progress of bilateral development projects. They focused particularly on agreements related to soy production and industry integration along the “Puerto Ordaz – Manaos Productive Axis,” which will integrate the infrastructure and industries of Venezuela’s natural resource-rich, southeastern Guyana region with Brazil’s northern Amazonian region. The two presidents also celebrated the fact that the Foreign Relations Committee of the Brazilian Senate approved Venezuela’s entrance into the regional Mercosur trade block. Venezuela still needs the approval of the Brazilian and Paraguayan parliaments in order to become a member. The next bilateral meeting between Lula and Chavez is scheduled to take place in the Roraima border region in March 2010. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4907

X. Suspects Arrested in Murder of Venezuelan Indigenous, but Chief’s Detention Fuels Conflict
Last week, Venezuelan officials arrested seven suspects in the deadly October 13th attack on an indigenous Yukpa community. However, the investigation was tainted with the arbitrary detention of one of the victims, Yukpa Chief Sabino Romero. The move has prompting indigenous rights activists to accuse the government of not fulfilling indigenous rights laws. The October attack left two dead and four injured and took place in the Sierra de Perijá region on the border with Colombia. The suspects are Yukpa men who were named in testimonies by the victims and witnesses.
In a press conference, Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami said the attack was an internal conflict among the Yukpa over stolen cattle. He denied it was related to the controversy over the granting of land titles to the Yukpa, which culminated on October 12th when the government granted more than 40,000 hectares of land to several Yukpa communities. However, according to the testimony of Chief Romero, who was hospitalized with three bullet wounds, the attack was a direct result of ongoing divisions among the Yukpa over whether to accept the government’s land offer. According to Romero, instead of granting a united block of ancestral lands as the Yukpa originally proposed, the government reduced the land grant by more than two-thirds and parceled the land in scattered areas interspersed with large cattle ranchers and concessions to multi-national coal mining companies. Romero denied the accusation that he had stolen cattle and thus provoked the attack on his community. He said that the real motive was to retaliate against him for his opposition to the government’s plan. While Romero and three other injured Yukpa were in the public hospital, National Guard troops arbitrarily transferred them to a military hospital against their will. There, a state court brought charges against Romero for robbery and homicide, and the national investigative police isolated and interrogated him about the events surrounding the attack on his community. The state also brought charges of drug trafficking against one of the principle leaders of the national solidarity movement with the Yukpa, Lusbi Portillo. Portillo is a professor of anthropology in Maracaibo who has worked for a quarter of a century to defend the Sierra de Perijá region from coal mining and to help the indigenous communities recuperate their ancestral lands. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4904

XI. Chavez Orders Transfer of $32 Million to Venezuela’s People’s Bank
In late October, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the transfer of $32 million US dollars to the Sovereign People’s Bank. The money came from the dividends obtained by the recently-nationalized Bank of Venezuela during the first half of this year. Chavez made the announcement at a special ceremony in the Teresa Careño Theatre in Caracas, celebrating ten years since the creation of the people’s bank. The Sovereign Peoples Bank was one of the first financial institutions created by the Chavez government aimed at reducing poverty and boosting the economy through granting funds to small community and cooperative businesses. Throughout its ten years of existence the People’s Bank has delivered more than 46,000 loans totaling nearly $160 million dollars to organized communities, cooperatives, family businesses, and other grassroots organizations. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4900

XII. Venezuela: Disputes in Process of Delegate Nominations to PSUV Congress
In October, a total of 70,000 “patrols” of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) or local PSUV committees, participated in the process for nominating candidates for delegate elections to the First Extraordinary PSUV Congress. According to Chavez, the patrols nominated more than 8,000 candidates. On November 15, the candidates will compete in elections on a municipal basis for the 700 delegate places in the congress. The National Electoral Commission will organize the elections, which will be open to all of the PSUV’s almost 7 million registered members. The congress itself will be held over three weekends in Caracas beginning on November 21. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4898