Venezuela News Summary #97

OAS General Secretary Distorts Army Head’s Words - VZ Opposition Discusses Presidential Candidate for 2012 Election – VZ Municipalities and States Prepare for December Elections - VZ Gov Announces Plan for Nationalized Housing – VZ Gov Expropriates Major Shopping Mall - VZ Workers March for More Participation & Rights - Cuba and VZ Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Bilateral Cooperation - VZ Helps Cuba Overcome US-Imposed Internet Restrictions - VZ Celebrates Five Years Free of Illiteracy - “Smile Mission” Provides Dental Care to 96,000 Venezuelans

I. OAS General Secretary Distorts Army Head’s Words on Venezuela’s 2012 Presidential Elections

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said last week that recent comments made by a high-ranking general in the Venezuelan armed forces have been “distorted” by the international media and the Organization of American States. One week ago, the Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias, published an interview with Major General Henry Rangel in which he said, “The Armed Forces don’t have luke-warm loyalty, but rather complete loyalty to the people… we’re married to the project of this country”. He continued, “The idea [of an opposition government] is difficult, it would mean selling out the country; and the people, and the Armed Forces, aren’t going to accept that,” Rangel said that the opposition is supported by foreign countries and that this affects the people’s pride. The Venezuelan daily, El Universal responded with the headline: “Coup d’état announced?”. OAS General Secretary Jose Insulza, said the Organization of American States would not remain silent while armed officials threatened, “insubordination against a hypothetical future civilian authority.” Inzulsa said that he hoped a member country would bring the issue up before the Permanent Council. The Venezuelan government rejected Insulza’s statements. Chavez said Rangel’s comments were thrown out of context by Ultimas Noticias, and that Rangel had only expressed his commitment to the values of the Bolivarian Revolution. Chavez also criticised the opposition’s “distortions” of Rangel’s words, saying, “the Venezuelan opposition is not only obsessive… it has a type of derangement.” Chavez also announced that Rangel would be promoted to commander-in-chief of the armed forces.


II. Venezuelan Opposition Discusses its Presidential Candidate for 2012 Election

President Hugo Chavez has already said he will run again. And a week and a half ago, the Venezuelan opposition began to discuss its candidate for the 2012 elections. So far, there are four possible nominations. Miranda state governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski, opposition journalist Miguel Rodriguez, former Chavez ally, and constitutional lawyer, Herman Escarra, and Henry Falcon of the Patria Para Todos party. Falcon is the current governer of Lara state. He is a former member of governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV. However he split from the party to join the left-leaning PPT, citing bureaucracy and lack of PSUV internal dialogue. Several analysts have expressed the need for the opposition to decide on their united candidate within the next six moths.


III. 13 Venezuelan Municipalities and States Prepare for Elections on 5 December

On December 5th, nearly two million Venezuelans will be voting for the governors of Guarico and Amazonas, and in almost a dozen mayoral elections. Among the opposition candidates is the wife of the former opposition presidential candidate, Manuel Rosales, who fled the country last year following corruption charges.


IV. Venezuelan Government Announces Three-Stage Plan for Nationalized Housing Complexes

One week ago, Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua announced a three-stage plan to hand over thousands of recently nationalized apartments to the victims of fraud committed by the former private owners. In the first stage of the victim compensation plan, people who have already occupied homes will be granted their legal titles and their rent or payments will be re-negotiated. Nearly 500 recently-constructed homes will be handed over to the victims. In stage two, homes left unfinished by private real estate contractors will be completed with a special state fund. In stage 3, the government will build new homes on land that was undeveloped by real estate speculators. President Chavez has already approved a billion and a half dollars for their construction. The announcement came a week after the Venezuelan government nationalized several large housing complexes following complaints about the charging of illegal fees, price speculation, delays in handing over apartments, and the long-term stalling of private construction projects. Venezuela has an estimated housing shortage of approximately three million homes. The government has also recently nationalized several agricultural companies, a steel company, and a textile firm. The accelerated state interventions are said to be aimed at solving persistent problems in economic sectors that remain largely under private ownership.


V. Venezuelan Government Expropriates Major Shopping Mall

Among the most publicized nationalizations, two weeks ago, the Venezuelan government formally expropriated the Caracas shopping centre, Sambil La Candelaria. According to the government decree, the shopping complex and the large parking area will be used to carry out the socialist development plan. The Corporation of Commerce and Socialist Supply, Comersso, will execute the plan. According to the government decree, the Sambil area will be, “transformed into a meeting space for Venezuelans within the framework of a sustainable economy, permitting the development of the exchange of goods and services as well as the development of cultural expression”. Sambil is a chain of huge shopping centres in Venezuela. The largest shareholder of Sambil is a conglomerate of companies belonging to Gustavo Cisneros, the second richest man in South America, and the richest in Venezuela. The Sambil expropriation follows the government’s nationalisation of the Éxito supermarket chain in January.


VI. Venezuelan Workers March for More Participation and More Rights

Thousands of Venezuelan workers took to the streets of Caracas last week, demanding greater participation in their country’s fledgling socialist economy. They carried their demands to the Ministry of Communes and Social Protection, the National Assembly and the offices of the Vice Presidency. Venezuela’s major pro-Chavez Worker’s Federation, the UNT, called for the immediate passing of a new and radical labor law, the resolution of pending collective labor contracts, and the empowerment of workers, especially on jobsites that now belong to the network of recently nationalized industries. Marchers also demanded an increase in salaries, and further nationalizations. Many marchers called for a transition from “socialism in theory” to socialism in practice.


VII. Cuba and Venezuela Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Bilateral Cooperation

Two weeks ago, the Cuban and Venezuelan governments commemorated the 10th anniversary of bilateral cooperation. On October 30, tens years ago, during Chavez’s second year in office, the two countries signed the Cuba-Venezuela Agreement. It marked the beginning of their anti-imperialist alliance and proposed an alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Through the accord, Venezuela began shipping 50,000 barrels of oil per day to fuel-starved Cuba, in exchange for services worth the approximate market value of the oil. Over the last ten years, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, dentists, and other health care workers have staffed free clinics in thousands of Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods. Also through the agreement, Cuban agronomists have worked with Venezuelan officials to modernize Venezuela’s sugar industry, and Cuban specialists have provided on-site training in agroecology, irrigation, sustainable forestry, and the promotion of agricultural cooperatives. In 2004, based off of their experiences, Venezuela and Cuba created the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA. The ALBA bloc now also includes Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Antigua, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. President Chavez said this system of integration was, “unprecedented in Latin America and the world.”


VIII. Venezuela Helps Cuba Overcome US-Imposed Internet Restrictions

Meanwhile, earlier their month, Cuban Communications Minister, Ramiro Valdez announced that Cuba and Venezuela will install a joint deep-water fibre-optic cable between the two countries. The governments plan to begin installation this January and hope to finish it by the second half of 2011. The $70 million dollar project will connect Cuba with Venezuela and then Jamaica. According to Valdez, the cable is the first possibility for Cuba to have relatively fast internet. Currently all Cuban internet is via satellite, meaning it is slow, limited, and expensive. There is a fibre-optic connection between Miami and Cancun, Mexico which passes only 32 kilometres from Havana, but the U.S denies Cuban access.


IX. Venezuela Celebrates Five Years Free of Illiteracy

At the beginning of the month, Venezuela celebrated five years free of illiteracy, due to its social missions, based on the Cuban literacy model.


X. “Smile Mission” Provides Dental Care to 96,000 Venezuelans

Also according to government sources, since its founding in 2006, the “Smile Mission” has provided nearly 100,000 adults with dental care, including 35,000 people with dentures.