Venezuela News Summary #94

US Military Commander: Venezuelan Government has no Links to Terrorists | Venezuelan Ambassador to US Senators: OAS Human Rights Report is Biased | Ousted Honduran President Visits Venezuela | During Inauguration Mujica Offers Venezuela / Colombia Mediation | Hoarding, Irregularities Lead To Seizure Of Venezuelan Sugar Mills | Venezuela Celebrates Women’s Day, Discusses Abortion Rights | Venezuela’s Public Sector Physicians to Receive Pay Increases | Venezuela Strengthens National Health System, Marks Advance in Fight Against Poverty | Chavez’s Party Sets Procedure for Nominating Candidates for Venezuela’s Legislature | Venezuelan Government Reviews 2009 Projects and Achievements

I. US Military Commander: Venezuelan Government has no Links to Terrorists
General Douglas Fraser, Chief of the United States Southern Military Command, confirmed last week that the Venezuelan government has no relation to the Basque separatist movement ETA nor the Colombia FARC guerrillas. Speaking to the US Senate, Fraser admitted that although the Southern Command has “continued to watch closely for any connections between terrorist organization activity within the region” there is no evidence to link the Venezuela government with the armed rebel groups. Accusations of a link between the armed groups and the Venezuelan government were made last week by a Spanish judge who accused the Chávez government of harboring terrorists. Venezuelan officials have rejected the claims, attributing them to an international effort to discredit the Chávez administration. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5185

II. Venezuelan Ambassador to US Senators: OAS Human Rights Report is Biased
Two weeks ago, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, responded to a call by US Senators Christopher Dodd and Richard Lugar to open a debate on Venezuela’s human rights record. Alvarez called the move, “tantamount to intervention.” The Senators called an OAS hearing after the organization’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a 350-page report criticizing Venezuela for political repression and rampant lack of freedom. The US Senators wrote in a joint statement that they were “deeply disturbed by some of the report’s observations.” In a letter addressed to Dodd and Lugar, Ambassador Alvarez challenged the findings of the OAS commission and the assertions of the two US lawmakers. The Venezuelan diplomat accused the Human Rights Commission of political bias and stated that the commission’s support for the illegal 2002 Venezuela coup d’etat has marred it’s credibility. Roy Chaderton Matos, Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, said that every time there is an election in Venezuela,“these organizations attack the Venezuelan government in order to gain some benefit at the polls.” In 2008, just before the Venezuelan regional elections, Human Rights Watch released a 230-page report that severely criticized the Venezuelan government for human rights abuses. This year, the OAS Human Rights Commission report comes in the run up to the country’s elections for the Venezuelan National Assembly. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5171

III. Ousted Honduran President Visits Venezuela

Still in international relations, the deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya visited Venezuela in early March, where he met with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. After the meeting, Foreign Affairs minister Nicolas Maduro told the press that they had decided that Zelaya would direct the political council of the five-year old Caribbean energy integration organization, Petrocaribe. Zelaya also spoke at the extraordinary congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV. Zelaya told the PSUV congress, “You have resisted everything, you have created a Latin American agenda, you have given freedom and struggle a place… I’m inspired by you, ….by the Bolivarian revolution.” PSUV vice-president Celia Flores welcomed Zelaya, once again expressed solidarity with the Honduran people, and reiterated that they “don’t recognise any government in Honduras that is a product of a de facto government.” In June last year Zelaya was removed by a military coup. He then returned clandestinely to the country in September and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Later, Porfirio Lobo was elected president under conditions of widespread repression. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5177

IV. During Inauguration Mujica Offers Venezuela / Colombia Mediation
Still in international relations, also two weeks ago, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez attended the swearing in ceremony for the new Uruguayan president, Jose Mujica. Jose Mujica, of the left wing Frente Amplio coalition, won the presidential elections in Uruguay last November. Chavez congratulated Mujica. The two presidents talked of Latin American unity, and further Venezuela-Uruguayan cooperation. Chavez told the press that the two countries want to increase their exchange. The two presidents will elaborate plans when Mujica visits Caracas on March 30th, following a visit to Brazil. Chavez also accepted Mujica’s offer to mediate between Venezuela and Colombia. The potential mediation comes after a verbal exchange at the recent Rio Group summit in Mexico, where Chavez reportedly told Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to “go to hell”, and Uribe told him to “be a man”. The offer also follows a year of vacillating diplomatic tensions since Colombia agreed to give the United States military access to seven of its bases. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5169

V. Hoarding, Irregularities Lead To Seizure Of Venezuelan Sugar Mills
The Chavez government seized a sugar plant hoarding four thousand tons of sugar in Portuguesa State. Venezuela’s Commerce Minister, Richard Canán, announced the Santa Elena plant occupation after an inspection carried out on March 9th. Venezuela has been facing severe sugar shortages for many months. Government officials attribute the shortages to price gauging moves by sugar producers to increase profit margins. The government regulates the domestic price of sugar at just under 4 BsF per kilo. Producers seeking to avoid the regulated price have engaged in a series of practices, which include illegal export to Colombia, selling unrefined sugar to producers of chocolate products, and keeping large amounts of the product from the domestic market. Hoarding has created an artificial shortage, and the growth of an informal domestic market whereby sugar can sell at more than double the regulated price. According to Canán, this month’s sugar cane harvest will produce some 200,000 tons of sugar. As such, there is no reason for shortages of the product in Venezuela. Another sugar plant in the state of Yaracuy, has also been implicated in distribution irregularities and has also been temporarily occupied by the government. The seizures of the sugar mills will last for 90 days during which time the Ministry of Commerce will work to ensure that the product reaches its appropriate and legitimate local markets. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5180

VI. Venezuela Celebrates Women’s Day, Discusses Abortion Rights

On Monday, March 8th, Venezuela celebrated International Women’s Day with a ceremony in Caracas amassing 200,000 women and some of Venezuela’s highest political female leaders. Those in attendance at the women’s day ceremony took an oath to form a Bicentennial Women’s Front, which will to fight for the Boliviarian revolution and for women. Venezuela celebrates 200 years of independence on April 19th.Women’s Minister, Maria Leon said that “in 11 years of revolution women have been able to advance much more than in 100 years of normal life.” Nevertheless, Leon added that to continue advancing, many things were needed including more equality in the home. Abortion is also on the agenda for change. Abortion in Venezuela is currently illegal, very difficult to obtain, and generally frowned upon. But the President of the National Assembly’s commission for family, women and youth, Marelys Perez, said in a press release that as part of the project for a new Penal Code, they are discussing both guaranteeing the right to abortion and prostitution as something not to be discriminated against. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5178

VIII. Venezuela’s Public Sector Physicians to Receive Pay Increases
Venezuela’s Ministry of Health approved wage increases last week designed to equalize incomes in the public health sector. President Hugo Chavez made the announcement from the Municipal Theater in Caracas during an event celebrating National Doctor’s Day. The wage increases will be retroactive from March 1st of this year and will benefit 12 thousand doctors. Pay inequalities have existed between physicians working for the country’s Social Security Institute and those working for the Ministry of Health. The measures announced last week will equalize the salaries of the two groups of doctors with an overall pay increase of 40% being planned for May of this year. With this new pay increase, doctor’s salaries will have increased by 500% over the past decade of the Chavez administration. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5183

IX. Venezuela Strengthens National Health System, Marks Advance in Fight Against Poverty

Two weeks ago, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez revealed government plans to increase health spending, and amplify Venezuela’s immunization program. According to Chavez, the National Vaccination Plan will immunize 95 percent of the Venezuelan population against 14 diseases in more than 2000 new immunization attention centers throughout the country. The government is also planning additional funding for hospital improvements and other health programs. The seven-year old, Barrio Adentro Mission, which provides free medical services in Venezuela, will see a boost in its budget. Nearly $100 million will be allocated to phase III of the mission, for technological and infrastructure improvements in the Venezuelan national health system. $20 million has been approved for the fight against dengue, malaria, and chagas, while another US$200 million has been allocated to other hospital improvements throughout the country. According to health minister Luis Reyes Reyes, the government plans to complete 90% of these projects by January of next year. According to the president of Venezuela’s National Statistics Institute, Elías Eljuri, in the second half of 2009, poverty in Venezuela declined to 23%, while extreme poverty fell to just 6%. This contrasts substantially with poverty rates of 70% and extreme poverty of 40% in 1996, before the election of Venezuela’s current president, Hugo Chávez. Eljuri noted that according to the internationally recognized, GINI Coefficient, Venezuela is the most equal country in Latin America. Eljuri added that the institute’s statistics have the backing of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the World Bank. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5173

X. Chavez’s Party Sets Procedure for Nominating Candidates for Venezuela’s Legislature
On the last Saturday in April, 700 hundred delegates at the 13th meeting of the four month long PSUV extraordinary congress unanimously approved internal regulations for nominating PSUV candidates to the National Assembly elections in September. All 7 million members registered in the party will be eligible to vote in a process which will be monitored by the National Electoral Council. The primary elections are planned for May 16. Nominees must be over 21 years old, have lived in the corresponding area for at least four years, be Venezuelan with at least 15 years of residency, and be registered in the PSUV. Later this month, the National Electoral Council will also carry out primary elections for the opposition party Copei, where it will elect its national, regional, and municipal leaders. The last time it elected such leaders was in 2002. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5168

XI. Venezuelan Government Reviews 2009 Projects and Achievements

Lastly, also in political news, Venezuelan vice-president Elias Jaua presented a balance of the government’s 2009 achievements to the National Assembly in late February. Highlights included nearly a thousand health projects, construction and renovation of schools, 18 million free distributed books and magazines, and more than 130,000 people trained in computer literacy. In his report Jaua highlighted how Venezuela had increased social investment by more than 5% despite a budget reduction due to the global financial crisis and a decrease in the price of oil. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/5164