Venezuela News Summary #93

Venezuela Celebrates 11 Years of “Bolivarian Revolution” | Further Cabinet Changes | New Federal Council | PSUV to hold Elections For National Assembly Candidates | More than 100,000 March in Support of Chavez in Venezuela | Nearly 200 Communes Currently in Formation in Venezuela | Venezuela Sells Products at Fair Prices through Nationalized Hypermarket Chain | Differences within Venezuelan Opposition Television Channel Force Resignation of Director-General | Mitsubishi and Chevron Win Bid to Develop Venezuela’s Oil Belt | Venezuelan Government Closes Illegal Gold Trading and Money Laundering Racket | South American Nations Approve Multilateral Reconstruction Fund for Haiti | Electricity Emergency Declared in Venezuela, Special Measures Taken

I. Venezuela Celebrates 11 Years of “Bolivarian Revolution” & Further Cabinet Changes
On February 2nd, Venezuela celebrated eleven years since President Hugo Chavez was first inaugurated into power, marking the beginning of what is referred to as the “Bolivarian Revolution.” In a nationally televised speech, Chavez outlined the achievements of his eleven years of government, arguing that the Bolivarian revolution is “here to stay.” “The Venezuelan people are destined to write history,” he said. Since coming to power with the solid backing of Venezuela’s poor majority, the Chavez government has utilized revenues from the country’s vast oil resources to promote policies of social inclusion, resulting in significant improvements in healthcare, education, employment and poverty reduction. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5119

II. More than 100,000 March in Support of Chavez in Venezuela
Two days later, more than 100,000 supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez marched in Caracas, in defense of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ and to celebrate 18 years since Chavez led a failed civilian-military uprising against the corrupt government of former president Carlos Andrés Pérez. As part of the Day of National Dignity celebrations, Chavez’s supporters marched across the capital to the Fuerte Tuina military base, where Chavez addressed the crowd and the Bolivarian Armed Forces. Celebrations also occurred in other parts of the country including a march of several thousand Chavez supporters in Ejido, Mérida state. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5120

III. Tens of Thousands of Students Rally in Support of Chavez in Venezuela
A week and a half later, tens of thousands of students rallied in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas in support of President Hugo Chavez, and to celebrate the “Day of Youth”. The demonstration occurred just weeks after violent protests by hundreds of right-wing opposition students in support of private television channel RCTV made international headlines. Robert Serra an activist from the youth wing of Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela said the youth rally was “a clear demonstration of where the majority of the youth and student sectors of the country stand.” Students danced and marched along the 10 km route arriving at 5 in the afternoon to the Miraflores Presidential Palace, where Chavez addressed the crowd. The president called on the youth to assume a leading role, saying that the future of the revolution and the country depended on them. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5138

IV. Venezuela’s Chavez Appoints New Health, Banking Ministers
Chavez announced changes to his cabinet this month, including the appointment of architect Francisco “Farruco” Sesto Novás as Minister of Culture and Alexander Fleming as Minister of Tourism. He also announced the appointment of Richard Canan as the new minister of commerce and Luís Reyes Reyes as new health minister. Reyes Reyes replaces Carlos Rotondaro, who will now head up the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security. Reyes Reyes said that as health minister he aims to carry out a revamp of “70% of the hospital infrastructure throughout the country.” He also said the health ministry will continue working to strengthen the Mission Barrio Adentro free health care program. The Barrio Adentro mission is staffed primarily by Cuban doctors, but increasingly Venezuelan doctors are being trained to take over their positions. According to Reyes Reyes, this year nearly 9,000 Venezuelan community medicine students will begin work in the country’s hospitals as interns and assistants, as part of their training. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5133

V. New Council to Incorporate Venezuelan Governors, Mayors, and Communal Council Representatives
Following the passage of the new Law of the Federal Government Council a week and a half ago, pro-government governors around the country expressed their support of the formation of a Federal Government Council, which will consist of governors, mayors, members of the executive, and spokespeople elected in popular elections. In effect, the new Federal Government Council means more people will be involved in the evaluation and approval of financial resources. Although initially the minister for communes will select the communal council representatives to be on the board, later such representatives will be chosen by the people. An Interterritorial Compensation Fund will allow for direct financing of the communal councils, will provide further resources to governors and mayors, and for productive projects with the participation of the communal councils and relevant elected officials. The fund will replace the old Intergovernmental Fund for Decentralization, Fides. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5142

VI. United Socialist Party of Venezuela to hold Elections For National Assembly Candidates
Meanwhile, President Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV, has opted to hold democratic internal elections for its candidates in the upcoming National Assembly elections to be held in late September. All seven million registered PSUV members will be eligible to nominate and vote in the internal elections. Nominations will be open over three days in early March, followed by a three-week campaigning period in late April and early May. The elections will take place on May 16th and will be monitored by the National Electoral Council. In those regions where none of the candidates manage to achieve more than 50% of the votes, the candidate will be selected out of the top three pre-candidates, by the national leadership of the PSUV. The PSUV made the decision last week as part of its four-month-long extraordinary congress, which is in session every weekend until April. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5145

VII. 184 Communes Currently in Formation in Venezuela
In early February, President Hugo Chavez emphasized the need for “production independent of the capitalist market” in the country’s communes. Chavez also highlighted the importance of the communal councils, which are neighborhood-based organizations of up to 400 families, which aim to solve local problems and develop local projects. He said that they are the nucleus of the current “process of change” in the country and are where “socialism will be constructed”. Communes are made up of several communal councils. The minister for communes, Erika Farias, the country’s nearly 200 communes have so far carried out more than 700 projects, with an investment of more than $ 20 million US dollars. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5123

VIII. Venezuela Sells Products at Fair Prices through Nationalized Hypermarket Chain
One week ago, Venezuelan President Chavez inaugurated some of the new government run supermarkets that are taking the place of the recently nationalized Exito hypermarket chain. Last month the government expropriated the chain for selling of out of date goods, speculating and price gauging. The government then incorporated the stores into the Corporation of Socialist Markets, COMERSO, a publicly owned network of subsidized supermarkets and food stores. At the inauguration of one of six new hypermarkets, Chavez said that products could now be sold for up to five times less than before and that discounts will average 40% below market price. Chavez additionally announced the possibility of buying 80% of the Venezuelan Supermarket Chain, Cativen and the Venezuelan president ordered the Venezuelan food company Polar to move its storage buildings out of Caracas. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5140

IX. Differences within Venezuelan Opposition Television Channel Force Resignation of Director-General
Internal differences within Venezuela’s opposition aligned television channel Globovision forced the resignation of its general director, Alberto Federico Ravell a week and a half ago. Ravell said his involuntary departure was due to “differences” with other shareholders over proposed changes to the rightwing current affairs program “Hello Citizen.” “I didn’t quit, they asked me to resign,” Ravell posted on Twitter. A day after Ravell’s exit, a Venezuelan judge lifted a travel ban on Globovision’s majority shareholder Guillermo Zuloaga, who owns 70 percent of the channel and is under investigation for usury. The move prompted media rumors that Zuloaga had made a deal with the government, agreeing to change the political line of its programming. Zuloaga denied that the issues were related, saying that the charges against him have not been dropped. Ravell also denied that his dismissal was due to government pressure. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5137

X. Mitsubishi and Chevron Win Bid to Develop Venezuela’s Oil Belt
In the largest oil investment decision since Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez came to office, the Venezuelan government announced a week and a half ago that private companies from Japan, India, Malaysia, Spain, the United States, and Venezuela, won the bid to explore and exploit the Carabobo block of Venezuela’s Orinoco oil belt. During the announcement, Chavez reminded listeners that before his government, the petroleum industry had been in private hands without benefiting his people. Chavez said, “We’ve formed joint ventures as the law demands, and [the state owned oil company] PDVSA has majority stocks and control of at least 60% in all these companies…” The bidding process began on October 30th last year. PDVSA president Rafael Ramirez said that nearly two-dozen international companies had participated and offered various amounts for the three blocks of the Carabobo section. The Orinoco oil belt is located in the Venezuela states of Guarico, Anzoategui and Monagas and holds the largest reserve of liquid hydrocarbons in the world, totaling more than 55,000 km2. It is divided into four areas, and partitioned into 30 blocks of roughly 500km2 each. A consortium consisting of Chevron, Mitsubishi, the Japanese Impex and the Venezuelan Suelopetrol won the rights to exploit Carabobo block 3. The section will have the capacity to produce nearly 500,000 barrels daily. The Spanish Repsol, Malaysian Petronas and three Indian companies won the right to exploit Carabobo 1, also with an estimated productive capacity of nearly 500,000 barrels a day. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5134

XI. Venezuelan Government Closes Illegal Gold Trading and Money Laundering Racket
In Caracas, on Sunday February 7th, the Venezuelan government took steps to expropriate the historic La Francia building, alleged to be a centre for illegal gold and money trading, near the Plaza Bolivar in downtown Caracas. In addition to La Francia, Chavez also ordered the expropriation of five other commercial buildings, as part of a plan to recover the historic centre of the city. 90 jewellery stores operated out of La Francia, which was notorious for its scores of unauthorized agents trawling the surrounding streets offering to buy and sell dollars, Euros, gold and illegally mined gemstones. Tourists frequently report being robbed or swindled by the money traders. Milena Bravo, rector of the University of the Oriente, which has owned La Francia since 1969 protested that the government measure was illegal. But Venezuelan law allows for expropriations with compensation in the interests of “public utility.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5129

XII. South American Nations Approve Multilateral Reconstruction Fund for Haiti
In international news, from the summit of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, in Ecuador, two weeks ago, South American nations agreed to contribute to a $100 million reconstruction fund for earthquake ravaged Haiti. Contributions to the fund will depend on the GDP of each member country. The twelve member nations will also ask for a $200 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank on behalf of Haiti, but paid for by UNASUR. The reconstruction fund will be under the direct control of the Haitian government and will prioritize transportation, including the construction of roads, infrastructure projects and agricultural production. The agreement seeks to enhance measures already implemented by the South American Health Council, such as sending doctors and specialists to treat the sick and wounded, and implement epidemic prevention measures. The resolution also called for the lifting of trade tariffs on Haitian exports and backed a call for the cancellation of Haiti’s foreign debt. Venezuela is the first country that has followed through with the call. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the cancellation of Haiti’s nearly $300 million debt to Venezuela on January 25th. In addition to thousands of tones of food aid, Venezuela has also sent more than 200,000 barrels of diesel fuel and gasoline, and Chavez has pledged “all the free fuel that Haiti needs.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5128

XIII. Electricity Emergency Declared in Venezuela, Special Measures Taken
Two weeks ago, after a prolonged drought diminished Venezuela’s principal energy source, the Guri hydroelectric dam, President Hugo Chavez declared a state of emergency in the electricity sector. The emergency decree permits the electricity minister to take extraordinary measures, instructs the National Electricity Corporation, Corpoelec, to accelerate its schedule of infrastructure and investments, and calls for an education campaign on energy saving. During his announcement, Chavez said the government has decided to reward energy reductions. Residential users who reduce consumption by at least 10% will receive a 25% discount on their bill. Those that reduce over 20% will receive a 50% discount. Those who don’t reduce use however by 10% will receive a 75% surcharge, and those who increase their usage by 10% will receive a 100% surcharge. Chavez said that the commercial sector should reduce its consumption by 20%. Failure to comply will result in service suspension of up to two days, and if the violation is repeated, an indefinite suspension. Electricity minister Ali Rodriguez said the government hopes to reduce dependence on hydropower, down from 70% to 50%. Venezuelan plans to achieve this with an investment of more than $4 billion, to increase the output and number of thermoelectric plants. Venezuela has signed electricity agreements with Russia and China and has received advice from Argentina, Brazil and Cuba. Among possible plans, Venezuela is considering a joint wind farm project with Argentina. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5127