Saturday, May 31, 2008

Venezuela says troops kill Colombian "subversive"

Venezuelan troops killed a Colombian 'subversive' in a border gun battle, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday, an incident that could fuel new tensions between the two countries. The South American neighbors have maintained a war of words in recent months, with Venezuela accusing Colombia of trying to spark war and sending troops into its territory. Chavez said the Venezuelan army exchanged gunfire with armed 'subversives' near the border, but did not offer details on where the incident took place or which group was involved. 'They fired at each other and one (member) of the subversive group died,' Chavez said during a televised speech.

Chavez says 1 dead in clash with unknown group along Colombia border

President Hugo Chavez says one person has died in an armed encounter between Venezuelan soldiers and an unidentified subversive group along the Venezuelan-Colombian border. Chavez says Venezuela's interior minister told him of Friday clash but did not know who the subversives were or what they were doing. It wasn't clear if the encounter took place in Venezuela or Colombia. Relations between the neighbors have been strained since Colombia raided a rebel camp in Ecuador last March, claiming to find evidence there that Chavez had financed Colombian guerrillas.

Venezuela's legislature will consider next week whether to nationalize gasoline stations

Venezuela's legislature will consider next week whether to nationalize gasoline stations that were sold to investors a decade ago, because of complaints by a labor union, Correo del Caroni reported. Angel Marcano, a deputy in the National Assembly, said he supported a takeover and that workers and customers would be better served if the state ran the stations, said the newspaper based in Ciudad Guyana, Venezuela. Marcano blamed a labor dispute on ``the capitalist system of exploitation,'' the newspaper said. Earlier this year, Venezuela took over the Sidor steel mill after a protracted labor dispute, Correo del Caroni said.

Hugo Chavez cold-shoulders disciple claiming to be his son

The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has encountered an intriguing complication as he attempts to restore his popularity after a series of embarrassing political setbacks. A 30-year-old man claiming to be his illegitimate son has come forward with political ambitions of his own. Salomon Fernandez bears a striking physical resemblance to Chavez and has provided evidence of his identity to Venezuelan intelligence officials. He has met Chavez’s parents – who he claims are his grandparents – and has become friendly with one of the president’s aunts. Yet Chavez has declined either to acknowledge or to repudiate his would-be son, who has upset officials in the ruling Socialist party by seeking to enter politics in his home state of Carabobo.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Venezuela’s road to serfdom

Today’s FT reports on the ongoing traffic chaos in Caracas. Some Venezuelans are upset at the failure of a plan whereby Venezuela would provide subsidized fuel to the city of London, in exchange for transport and planning advice. How does one even begin to analyze the levels of stupidity involved here? Let’s start with what Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor who signed the deal, should have said to Chavez as his first piece of advice: DON’T SUBSIDIZE FUEL. Boris Johnson, to his credit, has cancelled the agreement, but Caracas remains a disaster."

VIDEO: Basic Industries & Mines (Mibam) Minister Rodolfo Sanz

Basic Industries & Mines (Mibam) Minister Rodolfo Sanz interviewed by Globovision on April 15, 2008 regarding the take-over of Hecla's gold mining interests in El Callao, southeastern Bolivar State, says "we are going to intervene in the (gold mining) sector ... I have instructions from President Chavez to undertake a revision of some concessions."

Pressure on gold mine developers grows as Venezuela says No

Funeral bells may have sounded for two of Latin America's top gold projects after mineral-rich Venezuela warned it will not issue permits in a forest reserve, part of a slow campaign grinding away at private miners. Left-wing President Hugo Chavez is on a nationalizing spree that has swallowed energy, steel and cement companies. For months he has toyed with the idea of taking a chunk of miners without ever fully revealing his intentions for the sector. But in April the environment ministry ruled that no new gold mines would be allowed in a reserve that houses the country's main projects, owned by Canada's Crystallex and Gold Reserve, the strongest steps yet taken against miners. Citing environmental concerns in the ecologically rich but degraded Imataca Forest Reserve, Minister Yuviri Ortega later said open-pit mining would be banned and all concessions were under review, prompting speculation the government is preparing to take over companies.

Noses held as pressure builds to shut down the Caracas city morgue at Bello Monte

Hot dog stallholders in west Caracas are complaining that they're constantly hassled by the Libertador municipal police. They claim the cops took away their equipment and are keeping it under lock and key at a police station in Cota 905, refusing to return it for reasons unexplained.

Nine new jails are to be built this year, according to Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin. Time was when one of his predecessors, Jesse Chacón, put the number at two. As it turns out, most of the projects will consist of additions to existing prisons including the Coro, Yare and El Rodeo complexes.

Investigators working on the murder of Prosecutor Carlos Lugo in Falcon state reckon the killer was a former officer with the state police hired under a "hit contract" for persons yet unknown. Scientific and investigative police (Cicpc) chief Marco Chavez claims the case is "80 percent" solved.

Neighbors in Carmen, a slum in far from salubrious Antimano, southwest Caracas, are up in arms claiming the authorities failed to stop waste water from flooding their homes. They say neither the Metropolitan Mayor's Office nor its Infrastructure Ministry even answered their pleas for help.

Pressure is building to shut down the city morgue at Bello Monte because it's no longer in a condition to handle all the bodies that turn up and the refrigeration's on the blink. Noses were held as officials from the National Guard (GN), fire brigade, prosecutors' office and health agencies inspected the morgue earlier this week.

Two very elderly ladies are living a lonely life on the eleventh floor of a tower block in El Recreo. Candelaria Mantill, who's chalked up a century, and her neighbor, Ana Flores, a relatively youthful 90, haven't been able to get out for over a year because none of the lifts are working.

United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Francisco Arias Milla says Venezuela is NOT under threat of crisis in food supply

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): Venezuela is not under the threat of a crisis in food supply, according to Francisco Arias Milla, the head of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in this country. His remarks came in sharp contrast with the continuing stream of warnings that shortages of key food items are lurking just around the corner. Reports on Friday said butchers had stopped selling some cuts of beef.

Milla pointed to the low cost of producing fertilizers and transporting products, both of them direct benefits of the country's wealth in oil. However, he emphasized that the country's relatively comfortable position was by no means certain.

Measures should be introduced to avert a crisis similar to that seen in countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere in Latin America, he warned. In particular, he pointed to what was happening in the outside world. Corn was the most important cereal in terms of what people in Venezuela consume, Milla continued. But, he noted, corn was also being used to produce ethanol as a substitute for gasoline and other oil products in energy-short economies, above all the United States, the biggest energy market in the world.

"The Agriculture and Land Ministry has initiated a program to augment the production of corn and the supply of white corn," Milla said. "It's vulnerable but it's not a problem at present," he added, taking note of some of measures taken by the government such as the formation of social organizations aimed at ensuring that people had access to food supplies.

Milla then turned to what the people were actually eating, and he was upbeat on this note, too. Venezuelans in the main eat corn, dairy products, meat and beans. These foodstuffs met the people's needs in terms of energy and protein, including the most vulnerable sectors of the population, he added. As to minerals intake, he argued that the threefold increase in the world price of phosphate didn't signify a problem for Venezuela, either, because the country fortunately had sufficient domestic output to meet demand.

Devaluation absolutely denied: Planning & Development minister sees no slowdown in economy after BCV figures

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): Planning & Development Minister Haiman El Troudi said the Bolívar Fuerte would "absolutely" not be devalued and that the government's system of price controls would remain in force to ensure sustained economic growth. The motives behind El Troudi's insistent devaluation denial remain unclear. Cynical observers tend to greet such denials as a sign that devaluation may be just around the corner. They say the chances of devaluation rise in line with the vehemence of denial.

Devaluation is a long-accepted recipe that's doled out when economies are deemed to be slowing down.

The problem with this is that devaluation can also fuel inflation since it boosts the local currency cost of imports -- and imports into Venezuela are steadily rising, not least to meet gaps in food supply. El Troudi's statements were the first detailed response from the government to the findings of the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) on the economy's performance during the first quarter of this year.

The report prompted pause for thought by revealing a slowdown in the rapid growth that had sparked warnings that the economy was in danger of over-heating. The upshot of this was that the economy might spiral into inflation and crash into the buffers.

Orthodox economists say most of the basics are there with one glaring exception -- the government's inability to throttle inflation. Inflation flattened last year's official target of 11 percent by hitting 22.5 percent -- and El Troudi's revised 2008 target of 19.5 percent is already deemed to be in danger. Consumer prices rose at an annual rate of almost 30 percent during the first four months of this year.

Skeptics suggest the figure would have been higher had it not been for the BCV tinkering with how it calculates the official index.

It was not just with devaluation that El Troudi was in denial. The BCV's estimate of 4.8 percent first quarter growth compared with 8.8 percent in the same period a year before was not a sign of deceleration in the economy, he claimed. Instead, he insisted that the figures showed that gross domestic product (GDP) had been in ascent for 18 quarters running. "The Venezuelan economy is well on the road of growth and development," he said.

Even economists critical of the government concede the economy still seems to be doing well. "At the end of the day, 4.8 percent GDP growth would be considered very good going anywhere else," said one analyst off the record. "The question is what happens next quarter and the one after that ... then we'll know whether the economy is heading back into recession, although there's no real reason why it should."

El Troudi has forecast GDP growth at between six and eight percent this year.

Opposition trying to stir up turmoil, encourage Chavez' assassination, look for pro-coup military and generate lack of supplies

Prensa Latina: Followers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are reinforcing the campaign towards the regional elections in November, amid warnings that the opposition has activated anti-democratic plans.

Addressing candidates of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on Thursday, Chavez alerted the opposition "is trying to stir up turmoil, encourage his assassination, look for pro-coup military, and generate lack of supplies."
  • Over 600 posts for governors, mayors, and regional deputies are at stake in the November 23 vote, and the president believes it is actually a tactical event with strategic impact for the country.
According to him, if the opposition, supported by the U.S., is able to win a significant number of governments and prefectures, 2009 will be a year of war, because they will try to oust him before the conclusion of his mandate in 2012. "The U.S. empire and unpatriotic oligarchy have several plans, so it is important to take the regional elections into account," said Chávez.

State Prosecutors Office calls Giovanny Vasquezas as 'imputado' in Danilo Anderson 2004 murder investigation

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): The State Prosecutors Office issued summonses for Giovanny Vasquez, the one-time "star witness" in the investigation of the murder of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, as an 'imputado' -- implying he may have a case to answer. The summons accused him of being involved in forging documents related to the case.
  • Also summonsed were former judge Gumer Quinata and former prosecutor Gilberto Landaeta.
State Prosecutor Liseth Rodriguez Penaranda set June 11 for an appearance by Quintana, who was in charge of a court where Vasquez was supposed to provide key testimony. His lawyer had said Vasquez was present at, or knew about, a meeting where a plot to kill Anderson was discussed. But once in court, Vasquez denied knowing anything of importance. He is due to make a statement to Rodriguez Penaranda on June 17, and Landaeta on June 12.

Anderson was killed by a car bomb in November 2004, as he was investigating about 400 people allegedly linked to the April 2002 crisis

which briefly ousted President Hugo Chavez from power.

Rosales' Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) accused of rushing the fences by naming contenders for November regional elections

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): Zulia State Governor Manuel Rosales' opposition party, Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), is accused of rushing the fences by naming contenders for November's regional elections, but Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) followed suit on Friday. Furthermore, the nominations included prominent figures identified with the Rosales camp, rather than MAS, most notably Mayor Leopoldo Lopez of the Chacao municipality in central Caracas as candidate for Metropolitan Mayor.

Talk is that while Lopez secured widespread opposition backing for this from the mainstream opposition including UNT, he and Rosales may not be keeping political company for much longer.

The problem is who follows Lopez in comfortable Chacao, arguably the cream of mayor's jobs in the country. UNT plumped for Lilian Hernandez without much ado, but not to Lopez' liking. He's backing Emilio Grateron, who's sworn to run on his own if UNT doesn't desist. There are whispers about Lopez moving across to Primero Justicia, to which he belonged before UNT.

Whether Primero Justicia, which has its own candidate for Chacao, Sonny Rosenthal, would welcome Lopez back is an open question. Local opposition activists mutter Lopez should put Chacao behind him and get on with pitching for the capital job.

Less controversially, MAS put its weight behind former Miranda State Governor Enrique Mendoza in his bid to try for his old job. Once from the Social Christian party, Copei, he's backed by UNT, too.

President Chavez says he would have liked to meet rebel leader Marulanda; hope death of FARC leader will lead to dialogue

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): President Hugo Chavez said no one should be celebrating the death of Colombian rebel leader Manuel Marulanda -- and that he regrets they never met. Chavez referred to the rebel commander's death for the first time during a televised speech on Thursday, four days after it was confirmed in a video by a senior rebel leader. "It's lamentable to see some people happy about someone's death. We aren't happy about the death of Manuel Marulanda ... I'm sorry that I couldn't meet with Manuel Marulanda to talk about peace.''

The President said he would have liked to talk with Marulanda about a proposed swap of rebel-held hostages for imprisoned guerrillas. He hoped that "dialogue, conversations, are reactivated in this new situation created by Manuel Marulanda's death.

Chavez expressed his willingness to cooperate with Colombia and try to help free more hostages. The rebels have an ideological affinity for Chavez and freed six hostages to Venezuelan officials earlier this year. But relations between Venezuela and Colombia have grown tense in recent months due to a Colombian military strike on the rebel group in Ecuadorean territory and Colombia's accusations that Chávez has sought to arm and fund the guerrillas.

Chavez insists he has not been aiding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and has been in contact only while seeking to broker hostage releases. That said, Chávez has long been under suspicion of sympathizing with the FARC. That relations between Chavez and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe are prickly is a secret to no one. Uribe's a conservative with free market instincts and Washington's closest ally in South America, none of which is in the least to Chavez' liking.
Uribe is in an alliance with the United States in his battle against drug trafficking. The FARC and other guerrilla groups are believed to be using the drug trade and common crimes such as kidnapping and extortion to finance their operations. For his part, Chávez has labeled the FARC as a legitimate "belligerent" in a civil conflict.

Skepticism about Chavez' links with the FARC was heightened by Colombian claims to have found files in a computer that supposedly belonged to the FARC's "foreign minister" and second in command, Raul Reyes, when he was killed on March 1. Whether the tapes actually demonstrate sustained links between Chavez and the FARC, as some of the President's opposers have claimed, remains a matter of debate. So, too, does the authenticity of the files and the claims made about their content. Marulanda's death of a heart attack in March was confirmed by senior rebel leader Timoleon Jimenez in a video broadcast last Sunday. Marulanda was believed to be 78.

Nokia Venezuela unveils Beta version of its locator application for trademark’s devices, Nokia 2.0.

Caracas Daily Journal (Jonathan Leo): Don't worry if you ever go astray in your own city again, whereas Nokia is willing to guide you through. How so? Because the local arm of the world's largest cell phone maker just cut loose last week in Venezuela the 2.0 version of its popular place track-down application Nokia Maps, containing a bundle of features, services and downloadable maps that will help users find the right spot at all times.

With this new Beta edition release, Nokia makes available to some Nokia phone users with GPS capabilities novel tools like that of "Drive", a high-quality navigation system meant for vehicles hitting the road, and a Nokia-assisted GPS orientation indicator.

Nokia Maps 2.0 also comes with "Walk", a pedestrian-dedicated component that accurately takes them from one spot to another helped by visual instructions given step by step. Among other highlights, it offers satellite and hybrid-type maps that blend in satellite and normal views of the main cities on the planet. These images display detailed views where specific avenues, streets and buildings around you can be easily spotted. Plus, switching between traditional, hybrid and satellite maps can be done in a jiffy.

On top of the Nokia Maps rollout, the company also introduced two new handsets: The Nokia N82 Black and Nokia N95 8GB. The first is a 5 mega-pixel cam, xenon flash-equipped phone with GPS, WiFi and HSDPA functionalities, while the latter is an enhanced version of the best-selling Nokia N95. Among the improvements, it highlights an onboard memory of 8 GB, a 2.8-inch display and an innovative rotating-action 3D user interface. Up until now, Nokia Maps relyon maps of over 200 countries, out of which more than 70 are fully navigable.

VENEZUELA: Carrying coals to Newcastle ... Gasoline IMPORTS almost double

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): It's a sign of shortcomings in Venezuela's downstream capacity in the oil sector that underpins everything else in the country. Venezuela is the biggest exporter of crude oil in Latin America, but it also imports fuel oil, gasoline and additives simply because it doesn't produce enough of these at home.

With the economy improving and living standards rising -- for which, in this context, read prosperous upper income people buying another new four-wheel drive status symbol and going for a gas-guzzling ride -- demand for gasoline is on the rise, too. Fuel oil is mainly used for electricity generation or industrial purposes, and additives enhance the quality of gasoline.

The Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) says the value of imports of the three petroleum products all but doubled during the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2007.

The cost of importing these products jumped 98 percent to $1.595 billion in the first quarter, while the increase in the volume of shipments was more modest. Such is the reality of relaying on imports in the midst of booming world oil prices. A year before, first quarter imports of these products cost $802 million. By the final quarter of last year, the three-month bill had reached $1.3 billion.

The BCV attributed the increase to rising demand in an improving economy ... but it was also noted that until an unexpected increase of 3.3 percent in the first quarter of this year, domestic oil output had dropped during four consecutive quarters.

While production rates rose in the first quarter, crude oil exports fell by 2.1 percent on a year before to 2.79 million barrels a day (b/d). This implied there was an extra 162,000 b/d to fill in gaps in the domestic market, but this obviously wasn't sufficient to cope with rising consumption. The central bank dryly commented that a 20 percent rise in overall imports in the first quarter wasn't solely due to shipping in key food items such as milk, meat, fish and cooking oil.

Odeen Ishmael: UNASUR constituent treaty propels South American integration

Guyana's ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Odeen Ishmael writes: At a special summit in Brasilia on May 23, leaders of the 12 South American nations signed the constituent treaty setting out the legal framework of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The treaty also establishes juridical mechanisms to propel active political coordination within the continental bloc.

Signing the constituent treaty were Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina; Evo Morales of Bolivia; Lula da Silva of Brazil; Michelle Bachelet of Chile; Alvaro Uribe from Colombia; Rafael Correa of Ecuador; Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana; Nicanor Duarte Frutos of Paraguay; Alan Garcia from Peru; Ronald Venetiaan of Suriname; and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Vice-President Rodolfo Nin Novoa signed for Uruguay.

The special summit was originally scheduled for Colombia in March, but had to be postponed in the light of the Colombian cross-border raid on Ecuadorian territory on March 1, which killed a top guerrilla leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and 26 other persons.

Accession to the treaty is, according to the preamble of the document, "a decisive step towards the strengthening of multilateralism and the rule of law in international relations to achieve a diversified, balanced and fair world."

The draft of the treaty was finalised at meetings of the UNASUR Council of Delegates in Cartagena (Colombia), Rio de Janeiro and Caracas earlier this year. It defines the organisation's administrative bodies as the Council of Heads of State and Government (the highest organ) to convene annually; the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs to meet twice a year; the Council of Delegates, (representatives of ambassadorial rank, to meet more frequently throughout the year); a rotating presidency; and a general secretariat manned by international civil servants drawn from the member nations, and headed by a Secretary-General elected for not more than two biennial terms. The official working languages of the body will be Dutch, English, Portuguese and Spanish.

The document also stipulates the setting up of a South American parliament based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, but a special protocol will have to be promulgated to enable its establishment.

The constituent treaty, which will come into force after it is ratified by nine states, emphasises the general objective of UNASUR as "building, in a participative and consensual manner, an integration and union process among its peoples in the cultural, social, economic and political dimensions, prioritising political dialogue, social policies, education, energy, infrastructure, financing and the environment, among others, with a view of eliminating socio-economic inequality, to achieving social inclusion and citizen participation, to strengthening democracy, and reducing the asymmetries in the background of strengthening the sovereignty of States."

But since all the member states may not be ready to accede to all the commitments of the Union immediately, the treaty gives consideration to the principle of "gradualism", proposed by Suriname and Guyana, among others, during the negotiations. Thus, the preamble specifies that since South American integration is "flexible and gradual in its implementation . . . . each State may assume the commitments according to their reality."

The treaty also notes that after the fifth year of its entry into force, other Latin American and Caribbean states can apply to be admitted as Associated States of UNASUR.

The genesis of UNASUR goes back to December 2004 when the 12 South American Presidents met in Cuzco, Peru, to establish the South American Community of Nations. But even before Cuzco, the Presidents held summits (from 2000) and set up various mechanisms aimed at continental integration. One significant mechanism is the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA) which has already formulated an ambitious project list to boost infrastructural integration throughout the continent.

Then in April 2007, at the South American Energy Summit held in Margarita, Venezuela, the leaders decided to change the Community's name to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and to establish a general secretariat based in Ecuador. Rodrigo Borja, a former Ecuadorian president, was also named as the first Secretary General.

The organization's institutional framework expanded in 2007 with the setting up of the South American Energy Council and a major financial mechanism, the Banco del Sur (Bank of the South), even though the latter is still not yet fully on-stream.

But the momentum suffered a setback with the resignation on the eve of the special summit of Rodrigo Borja, the appointed secretary-general. Media reports claimed he had earlier complained that some leaders did not support his vision of putting other regional trade blocs, including Mercosur and the Andean Community, under the UNASUR umbrella. But his resignation might have resulted because the constituent treaty did not provide the post with as much autonomy and power as he wanted. In addition, he was unhappy with the "gradualistic" approach to the integration process as stipulated in the treaty.

UNASUR brings together the 12 nations with a joint population of about 390 million and an annual GDP nearing 2 trillion dollars. The continent's intra-regional trade amounted to more than US$72 billion in 2006, while its economy grew by 5.7 percent in 2007, mainly due to foreign direct investment which reached a record US$106 billion. And according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the bloc's economy will grow a further 4.7 percent this year.

After the signing ceremony, Chile took over the pro-tempore presidency of UNASUR from Bolivia, since first-choice Colombia, citing differences with Ecuador and Venezuela, refused the position.

In assuming the position, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was firm on the unifying role of the organisation. "We want to show that Latin America is capable of speaking with a firm and strong voice and of building effective integration," she said during the discussions.

She stressed the importance of concrete integration measures, especially in infrastructure, and reaffirmed the commitment of Presidents Lula da Silva and Morales to complete by the end of 2009 the highway linking the Brazilian port of Santos on the Atlantic with Arica and Iquique on the Pacific coast of northern Chile after crossing Bolivia.
Bachelet added that UNASUR must quickly embark into social programmes for poverty reduction which could see the enhancement of financial and energy integration, the improvement of regional infrastructure, and cooperation in social policies, especially in the area of education.

Another matter discussed at the special summit was the Brazilian proposal for a South American Defence Council aimed at resolving conflicts and promoting military cooperation. While the proposal won wide support from the others, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe expressed his opposition and emphasised his trust on the existing OAS defence mechanism. He said the "terrorist threat" facing his country did not allow for military cooperation at present, and explained that his opposition to such a Defence Council was due to the resistance of some South American countries to define the leftist FARC as a terrorist organisation.

Nevertheless, a Colombian government statement shortly after declared that "Colombia does not oppose the creation of a working group to study the theme." The meeting subsequently established a commission to examine the proposal and to issue a report within three months.

The current tensions among some South American nations pose the main challenge for UNASUR. Ideological differences exist: on the one hand, there is the strong left leaning pro-socialist group comprising Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Argentina. On the other hand, Colombia is closely allied to the United States. In between, there are Chile, Guyana, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay and Suriname. There are also long-existing border issues, but political optimists see these being pushed on the back burner with the advance of political and economic integration, which can also act to ease future political tensions.

In addition, quarrels between Ecuador and Colombia and Venezuela and Colombia continue to bubble over despite the peace agreement reached during the Rio Group summit in the Dominican Republic earlier this year. In an effort to ease the diplomatic tensions, Lula met with Uribe, Chavez and Correa before the summit commenced to help resolve their differences.

On the economic front, UNASUR will be faced with the challenge of attempting to unite two large existing regional free trade schemes, Mercosur and the Andean Community, and at the same time integrate Chile, Guyana and Suriname in this process.

But right now, its immediate task is to find a new secretary-general to manage the day-to-day affairs of the Union. President Bachelet will be consulting on this matter with her South American colleagues over the next three months, and at the end of this period it is expected they will reach agreement on a likely candidate for this position.

Odeen Ishmael

(The writer is the Ambassador of Guyana to Venezuela. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.)

Poll: Spaniards dislike Venezuela's Chavez

Spaniards dislike Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez most among world leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush, a poll indicated. The survey of 2,500 Spaniards in 2007 found the leftist Chavez ranks first among major world leaders the Spanish do not care for, ahead of the U.S. president and Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro. Bush was the most disliked world leader among Spaniards in the 2006 version of the poll, El Pais reported Friday. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was among the leaders most admired in Spain.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Chavez's party gears up for primary vote in Venezuela

The party led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is holding a primary vote to choose candidates for upcoming state and elections. Members of the Venezuelan United Socialist Party will be selecting candidates for 23 state governor posts and 337 municipal seats. The National Electoral Council is setting up 8,000 voting machines for the primary this weekend. Sunday's vote will choose a slate of candidates that Chavez hopes will let his ruling party hold on to its dominant majority. Opposition leaders hope to hand Chavez another electoral setback after voters rejected a December referendum that would have scrapped term limits and let the president run for re-election indefinitely.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is keeping his information minister despite offer to resign

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is keeping his information minister in his post despite an offer by the top aide to resign. Information Minister Andres Izarra had offered to step down after deciding to make private TV channels pay to broadcast the president's speeches without consulting Chavez. The state television channel has since announced it will toss out the plan to charge private channels about US$200,000 an hour for the right to broadcast Chavez's speeches. The president's office said in a statement Friday that Chavez has decided not to accept Izarra's resignation offer. The statement praised the information minister's work overall.

One dead and 50 hurt in Venezuela ticket crush

One person was killed and 50 others injured on Friday in a crush to buy tickets for a league final at a soccer stadium in western Venezuela, a rescue official said. Victims were trampled underfoot when fans in the state of Tachira pushed over a security fence, trapping a group beneath the railings, emergency worker Esteban Fajardo said. 'Those at the front were the ones who suffered most,' he said. 'The fence fell, knocking down several people and the others walked over them.' The accident happened in Pueblo Nuevo de San Cristobal, about 480 miles (770 km) from the capital, where teams from Caracas and Tachira are due to play the second leg of the final on Saturday.

Crystallex Updates Shareholders on Las Cristinas

CRYSTALLEX INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION advised shareholders today that it has received a communication from the Director General in the Administrative Office of Permits at the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources of Venezuela ('MinAmb') that the legal rebuttal filed by Crystallex on May 12, 2008 has been denied. The communication expressly advises that Crystallex has the right to appeal to the Minister of MinAmb within fifteen business days from the date of the Director General's communication. Crystallex has instructed its legal counsel to prepare an appeal to the Minister. Crystallex has a number of legal avenues to pursue both in and out of Venezuela in order to protect its Shareholders' rights.

Patrick J. O'Donoghue's round up of news from Venezuela -- May 30, 2008

National Anti-Drugs Office (ONA) director, Nestor Reverol says 10 illegal planes transporting drugs have been seized this year. However, he adds, not all illegal flights are transporting drugs. Speaking at the first meeting to discuss the transshipment of drugs, the Colonel points out that drug transshipment planes are included in the list of "non-registered, secret and illegal" flights. Reverol has argued at the meeting that while at least 137 illegal flights took place in Venezuela in 2006, US attempts to count them all as drug planes are irresponsible. According to the Colonel, the ROTHR radar system the US uses to assess illegal flights from other parts of the world has been judged inefficient, which makes Washington's accusations against Venezuela all the more suspicious. "We are always ready to exchange information with all countries of the world in real-time and that has been reflected in the last agreements we have signed with Portugal and Germany ... we have other agreements pending signature."

In a meeting to review political consultation mechanisms, Cuba and Venezuela have agreed to continue strengthening strategic bilateral agreements. According to Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, the mechanism has become an efficient reference point for strengthening and deepening bilateral strategic relations. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro has called the mechanism used "useful" and "relevant" as a means of synchronizing answers to intense situations that crop up at any moment. Both sides agree that the relation the two countries enjoy goes beyond a simple context of international policy and has turned into a historic and strategic brotherhood.

State VTV Channel director, Yuri Pimentel is once again the centre of controversy after implementing and retracting a measure to make private media sources pay for transmitting VTV news items. The majority of media sources in Venezuela have reacted angrily to the price proposal and the measure has forced the resignation of Pimentel's mentor, Communication & Information (Minci) Minister, Andres Izarra. The reason given for the resignation is that the measure had been taken and approved without the approbation of President Chavez. Yesterday, Pimentel, who got himself in a mess as deputy minister of prisons last year, has announced that the measure was being dropped. At a press conference, lame duck Pimentel maintains that VTV ratifies its "commitment to truthful and opportune information" and calls on all other media sources to "make responsible and legal use of the signal which belong to all Venezuelans," namely VTV.

The resignation of Minci Minister Izarra has shook public opinion inside and outside the Bolivarian movement since he has been considered an effective and efficient Minister. The general opinion as of yesterday evening is that there is more in the resignation than what meets the eye. Opposition sources, such as Nelson Bocaranda allege that he is taking the rap for mistakes made by President Chavez, especially regarding recent international gaffes with Germany and Chile and for reactions to the situation in Colombia. Left-wing sources in the government suggest that ambivalence shown by the government to the death of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader, Manuel Marulanda and its dilly-dallying with Colombia's Alvaro Uribe has damaged its standing. Other observers, such as editor/publisher Miguel Salazar, claim that Pimentel landed the Minister in a quagmire.

The government is not the only side that has encountered difficulties in deciding on pre-candidates to the regional elections in November. Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) and Zulia State Governor, Manuel Rosales has accused some opposition leaders of breaking ranks and meeting with the government. Rosales also says he has proof that they are receiving financing from the government. The declaration comes after strong rumors of divisions between the two leading opposition parties, UNT and Primero Justicia (PJ), especially regarding the unitary candidate for Maracaibo Mayor.

Rosales criticized the VTV director, Yuri Pimentel's attempt to make private TV channels pay 432,000 bolivares an hour to transmit from the State Channel signal. The idea, he says, was to prevent private channels from showing the government's political events but he welcomes the resignation of Andres Izarra, quipping that at least someone the government has a bit of dignity.

President Chavez has offered a first statement on the death of FARC leader, Manuel Marulanda, stating that nobody should show happiness about the death of another person. Speaking at a United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) meeting in Puerto La Cruz, the President laments the fact that he was not able to meet Marulanda personally to talk about peace, the humanitarian agreement but says he hopes that the new situation generated by Marulanda's death will reactivate dialogue, conversations and that both the government and the guerrillas will reconsider their positions. The Venezuelan government for its part, the President insists, is ready to take up negotiations to secure a humanitarian agreement and cooperate in any agreement that leads to peace in Colombia.

Chavez rejects insistent speculations regarding the location where the video issued by the FARC and officially announcing the death of Marulanda was shot. Chavez points out that the same tactic has been employed by Colombia to hammer its version about the content of supposed computers belonging to Raul Reyes. "They're inventing anything and repeat it so many times that many people end up believing that Chavez sent Marulanda $300 million and I don't know how many rifles and uniforms and that here in Venezuela we protect terrorism and guerrillas."

Patrick J. O'Donoghue

Unwelcome attention for Venezuela's foreign miners

Funeral bells may have sounded for two of Latin America's top gold projects after mineral-rich Venezuela warned it will not issue permits in a forest reserve, part of a slow campaign grinding away at private miners. Left-wing President Hugo Chavez is on a nationalizing spree that has swallowed energy, steel and cement companies. For months he has toyed with the idea of taking a chunk of miners without ever fully revealing his intentions for the sector. But in April the environment ministry ruled that no new gold mines would be allowed in a reserve that houses the country's main projects, owned by Canada's Crystallex and Gold Reserve, the strongest steps yet taken against miners. Citing environmental concerns in the ecologically rich but degraded Imataca Forest Reserve, Minister Yuviri Ortega later said open-pit mining would be banned and all concessions were under review, prompting speculation the government is preparing to take over companies. It was the latest volley in a steady campaign to limit the activity of foreign investors, which has already made the Caribbean nation an unnerving place to do business and hammered foreign investment. Ortega's comments were a shock to the two companies, which have both invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their projects and had waited for months for final permits to start pulling gold from the ground. If the decision to ban new pits in Imataca sticks, it will put an end to the projects.

Colombia paramilitary bosses' laptops cause stir

Revelations that several laptop computers owned by paramilitary bosses extradited to the United States this month were not kept secure by Colombian officials have raised concerns about government carelessness with potential evidence. Colombia's Interior Ministry said it was investigating what happened to six of 11 laptops used by militia bosses in prison before they were extradited May 13 to face drug and terrorism charges in the United States. Chief prosecutor Mario Iguaran said an investigation could determine whether anyone tampered with the laptops. The computer used by paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso has not been recovered, but the hard drive of a laptop owned by Ramiro 'Cuco' Vanoy was returned by his attorney a week after Vanoy was sent with 13 others to the United States. Four other laptops belonging to paramilitary leaders were out of the possession of government officials for up to two days after the leaders were extradited. Some computers had been turned over to family members or attorneys by prison officials before being recovered by the government.

Learn about Commerical Banking in Venezuela

Venezuela’s CBBER is 52.0. In the context of Latin America, this means it is no more than a moderately attractive country; the CBBERs are higher in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Colombia. The major problems are low bankassurance potential, underdeveloped financial infrastructure and a complex bureaucracy. The ratings score for the market structure - the most important component of the assessment of the limits to potential returns - is a very middle of the road 56.3. By Latin American standards, the ratings score for the economy - at 34.4 - is the lowest in the region.

Food crisis: World Bank offers $1.2bn food aid

The World Bank is to offer immediate financial help to countries worst hit by sharp rises in food prices as part of a $1.2bn (£608m) assistance package. Grants worth a total of $200m are being set aside for 'high priority' countries most at risk from acute hunger. Haiti and Liberia will get $10m each to feed their most vulnerable people while Djibouti will receive $5m. The World Bank says 100 million people could be impoverished by the rising cost and scarcer availability of food. It has also identified Togo, Yemen and Tajikistan as being in need of immediate assistance following recent needs assessments. On Friday, representatives from 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries will also meet in Caracas, Venezuela, to discuss concerns over the rising cost of food.

Venezuelan National System of Youth & Children’s Orchestras honored ... founder says challenged by prize

Venezuela's National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras is "a school of social life," according to founder Jose Antonio Abreu, who says being honored with this year's Asturias Prize for the arts will spur the organization to be worthy of the distinction. In an interview with EFE, Abreu spoke about the recent award ... bestowed on behalf of Prince Felipe of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne, each prize is accompanied by 50,000 euros ($77,500) and a reproduction of a statuette designed by Joan Miro. The Asturias honors have come to be regarded on a par with the Nobel prizes.

In his small office at the organization's headquarters in Caracas, Abreu spoke about the concept of the network of orchestras that he founded in 1975 so that other children could have "the same opportunity" he had had and which -- over the years -- has become a model known around the world. "The System (as the network of orchestras is known) has penetrated more and more sectors of society," he said, recalling that handicapped children have joined the network, as well as street kids in communities where poverty is at critical levels. "It serves as a horizon of hope, of happiness, of family integration."

"A school of social life, and also of community development, of community integration" is his definition of the System, which is made up of some 170 orchestras in which some 265,000 youths and children have participated. The access to artistic education contributes, Abreu said, to "the social and moral rescue" of the kids with the least resources and to preventing "art from being confined to the elites."

For the Venezuelan composer and economist, "the democratization of artistic education must constitute one of the urgent goals of the educational system in the world." In commenting on the Asturias Prize the System received last week, Abreu emphasized his "two feelings" on the matter.

The jubilation of the orchestras "in the face of that news that rewards their effort, the sacrifice of the children, the almost heroic denial of our teachers ... is a reward," he said. "But on the other hand, at the same time, for those of us who have responsibilities in leading the System ... it is a very serious responsibility, an additional burden. It's the responsibility every day of confirming and perfecting our effort," he said. "We can't slack off in our effort ... (or think that) a prize, no matter how great, can be the end of our road ... On the contrary, it puts us before a broader and challenging horizon," emphasized Abreu, who will go to the northern Spanish city of Oviedo in October to receive the prize from Crown Prince Felipe. "But not only ... will a delegation of the children, of the teachers go ... Everyone deserves to be there."
  • A month ago, the System State Foundation signed an agreement with Spain's Albeniz Foundation to permit Venezuelan youths to have access to virtual classes with music teachers. Abreu called that agreement "momentous."
Modest despite the resounding success of the System, Abreu said he did not consider himself to be a "visionary," although that is what some say about him.
He defined himself as "a social worker with a profound faith in his art as an instrument to stimulate and promote human development in his country, a modest musician who contributes his portion of effort and work to that idea."

Abreu was born in 1939 in the western Venezuelan state of Trujillo. His mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants and his maternal grandfather was the director of a musical band who came from Italy at the end of the 19th Century. "He, along with other emigrant companions, founded a philharmonic band in Montecarmelo (Trujillo state) ... that was the first seed of this process. They had brought in the boat 46 musical instruments," he said.
Abreu added that "this vocation of my grandfather and this effort of so many years always inspired my vocation."

Fourteen traffic wardens robbed; 22 crimes of violence against women defined by law; Bad debts more than double at Venezuelan banks

Fourteen traffic wardens have been robbed in the last three months, most by bandits on motor bikes, according to the national terrestrial traffic institute (Inttt). This was announced at the official launch of a crackdown on road offences, particularly bad bikers. The first step was to enforce the law, Inttt said.

The Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) swore in judges to on new special courts that will try cases involving violence against women. No less than 22 such crimes are defined by law, but the trouble until now has been bringing cases to court and securing convictions, officials say.

Yaracuay Governor Carlos Gimenez can only be removed from his post if he is convicted of a crime in a court, according to Alberto Arteaga Sanchez, a lawyer and specialist in penal law. Similar arguments have been put forward on behalf of aspirant candidates included in Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian's controversial ban.

Bad debts more than doubled at Venezuelan banks, leaping by 109.46 percent to a little over Bs.Fs.1.73 billion in the year up to and including April, from Bs.Fs.827 million in the same period 12 months before, said the Banking Superintendent's Office (Sudeban). Growth in credit card use slowed slightly at the same time, but was still up 41.8 percent. Officials at the Light Industries and Commerce Ministry (Milco) say they're being "saturated" by requests for certificates of Venezuelan origin. This is a new requirement for exporting food under government efforts to prevent shortages.

Officials have declared 22 cultural institutions including the Teatro Teresa Carreño and the national dance and music companies as being of a "socialist" character. The measure is seen as part of the government's policy of ensuring greater "popular participation" in the arts. All together, now.

National Assembly (AN) ratifies bilateral agreements with Portugal in economics, energy and tourism

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): The National Assembly (AN) has ratified two bilateral agreements with Portugal in the economic, energy and tourism spheres. The accords are intended to develop economic and cultural links between the two countries.

The first agreement sets out the terms of an interchange of technicians, producers and students. It also contemplates consultation mechanisms for evaluating the possibilities for investment in "mixed companies" formed by partners from both countries. The governments of Venezuelan and Portugal are particularly interested in joint deals in the energy sector.
  • Portugal has scant energy resources of its own, but has considerable experience in developing and exploiting oil and natural resources around the world.
The second agreement is focused on tourism, and contemplates the exchange of information, experience and "good practice" in the hotel sector. Portugal, a country blessed with few natural resources of its own aside from the sea, has been a popular tourism destination for decades.

Venezuela and France in military cooperation talks ... Caracas interested in high-tech arms

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): Senior military officers from France and Venezuela have been meeting in Caracas this week to discuss cooperation in the Caribbean and to sign a plan for 2009, the Globovisión website reported, citing unidentified military sources from both sides.

The meeting was headed by Brig. Gen. Bruno Pinget of France and the head of the Venezuelan chiefs of staff, Gen. Julio Ramon Fernandez. They visited military bases and discussed operational aspects in the Caribbean.

France still has a presence in the Caribbean, including the national territory of Martinique. (Please don't call it a colony if you want to be popular in Paris).

The territories are considered an integral part of the republic and are still ruled directly from the French capital.

Fernandez said regular contacts would allow Venezuela access to advanced military technology.

Venezuelan officers also received "high level" training in France, he added. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Paris during the first half of next year.

Rumblings at the National Assembly (AN): government deputy and 60 colleagues worried about corruption

Caracas Daily Journal (Jeremy Morgan): Discontent about corruption broke to the surface in the corridors of the National Assembly (AN), where all but a handful of legislators are seen as fully committed supporters of President Hugo Chavez' government.

AN Deputy Luis Diaz said that "more than 60 parliamentarians will go out to combat corruption." He said he'd spoken to that number of fellow deputies about misuse of state funds -- and he claimed they'd all walk out of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) if things got worse. Diaz said he and his colleagues would take that "personal decision" because "we've reached the end" and all had crashed, in some cases, into fascism. He claimed many of the legislators he'd spoken with shared his thoughts about leaving the PSUV.

Recrimination was in the air in the wake of Wednesday's student march to the Assembly to hand in a list of demands.

AN first vice president Saul Ortega, who'd had formally to receive the document, complained there were deputies who'd promised student leaders to take up their points in the legislature. They would claim time for debate which would have to be met at all levels, starting with universities, he warned. "These deputies should bring these demands," he declared, "so that you know who they are."

The quite obvious target of this attack was deputy Ismael Garcia, head of Podemos, the social democratic party that's now in opposition. He had made a point of greeting the students and accompanied them as they left.

Out on the sidelines, Lina Ron, who tends to see herself as the very soul of chavismo - to the point of forming her own little party, Unidad Popular Venezolano, because she thought mainstream parties were letting the revolution down -- predicted lots of infighting in the contest to pick pro-Chavez candidates for the state and municipal elections scheduled for November 23. "Losers always shriek," she said with characteristic pith.

Millones de contralores necesita la radio y televisión Venezolana

Los Comités de Usuarios y Usuarios no tienen limitaciones geográficas para ejercer su derecho de controlar la actuación de los medios de radio y televisión, dijo el sociólogo Jonathan Carpio, jefe de la División de Participación Ciudadana de CONATEL, en la presentación del taller Organización de Usuarias y Usuarios a estudiantes y docentes de la Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela, UBV, Núcleo Monay del municipio Pampan, estado Trujillo, 780 kilómetros al oeste de Caracas. 'La responsabilidad de fiscalización y regulación sobre los horarios y los contenidos de los mismos es una tarea de todos, porque a todos nos importa un modelo de comunicación incluyente que profundice una educación que fomente principios y valores sociales, y que además defienda nuestra soberanía nacional', afirmó Carpio. También se acercaron a la aldea bolivariana voceros y voceras de diferentes colectivos sociales y de fundaciones de radio y televisión que cumplen actualmente con los requisitos exigidos por Conatel para la debida habilitación de sus futuros medios de comunicación comunitarios.

NS Power considers legal action against Venezuela company

Nova Scotia Power is poised to take legal action against Venezuela's state-owned coal company after it abruptly cancelled a coal contract with the electric utility, says NSP president Ralph Tedesco. Tedesco told a Halifax newspaper editorial board yesterday his utility, a subsidiary of Emera Inc., received a brief letter from the company last year saying that it was no longer honouring its coal deliveries to NSP for 2008. 'The letter we received from the coal company is quite concise -- about three lines,' Tedesco said. 'The first one begins, 'The contract is no longer in our interest.'' The deal with Carbozulia was for 750,000 tonnes of coal, which represents about eight per cent of NSP's coal requirements, he said. The company made public the cancellation of the contract last month when it released its first-quarter results, which also revealed record-breaking profits of $57.9 million.

Chavez revokes charges for retransmission of state-run TV signal

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday ordered the annulment of a measure that would introduce charges for the retransmission of the state-run channel's signals by private TV stations. The order came two days after Information and Communication Minister Andres Izarra tendered his resignation over the planned charges for the use of footage from the Venezolana de Television (VTV) channel. On Tuesday, Izarra told a news conference that he was stepping down from his post over the 'unilateral' move by VTV, which was criticized by private TV channels. Izarra said he would submit his resignation to Chavez because the decision to charge private TV stations was made without consulting with the president. There have been no reports so far on whether Chavez accepted Izarra's resignation.

Venezuela increases petroleum imports despite vast deposits at home

Statistics released by Venezuela's Central Bank show the oil-rich country has increased petroleum imports by nearly 150 percent between the first quarter of 2007 and the same period this year.
The bank figures demonstrate that petroleum imports reached US$1.5 billion (¤964 million) during the first quarter of 2008 _ their highest level for more than a decade _ and include diesel oil, gasoline and chemical additives to improve gasoline products. Economist Gustavo Garcia said Thursday that the growth in importations «demonstrates production has fallen. Venezuela's state oil company says they produced 3.15 million barrels per day last year. Analysts including the Paris-based International Energy Administration put Venezuela's production at around 2.4 million bpd.

Will the Bolivarian Revolution End Coal Mining in Venezuela?

Plans for new coal mining in the Sierra de Perijá, the northwestern region of the state of Zulia, Venezuela, were suspended by President Hugo Chávez last year following anti-coal declarations by Chávez and several ministers. The Wayúu, Yukpa, and Barí indigenous communities who would have been displaced by the projects cautiously interpreted the suspension as a temporary sign of relief. But their struggle against coal mining has lasted a quarter of a century and will not conclude until mining concessions are repealed for good.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Venezuela says arrests suspected U.S. drugs agent

Venezuela said on Thursday it arrested a man who identified himself as a U.S. anti-drugs agent, which if confirmed could inflame tensions between the United States and one of its biggest oil suppliers. President Hugo Chavez in 2005 ended cooperation with the the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), saying the agency was spying on him. The United States denied the charge and says Chavez does too little to stop trafficking from neighboring Colombia, the world's largest cocaine exporter. Gen. Gabriel Oviedo said the man was acting suspicious when he was detained close to the border with Colombia while bearing Canadian and French passports and a Venezuelan identity card. 'The official at the scene proceeded to interrogate him and he said he was a DEA agent,' Oviedo told state television.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas said it had no knowledge of the arrest.

Chilean filmmaker to film a documentary about President Chávez

The Chilean filmmaker and deputy Marco Enríquez-Ominami announced Wednesday that he will film a documentary about President Hugo Chávez and the Latin American left wing in order to show the nuances of the socialist model in the region. According to Prensa Latina news agency, when asked by the Chilean media, Enríquez-Ominami said that he would like to incorporate to the project carried out by the presidents of Ecuador, Rafael Correa; Brasil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; Bolivia, Evo Morales and Chile, Michelle Bachelet. 'I would to incorporate to the project in order to show the nuances of the Latin American left-wings, this new figures that embody new and old dreams,' the deputy for the Socialist Party said.

Foreign debt surges 48.5 percent despite the hike in oil prices

Amidst a dramatic increase of oil prices that has pushed the average price of the Venezuelan oil up from USD 49.63 ending the first quarter of 2007 to USD 89.21 the same period this year, the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) reported that Venezuela's foreign debt does not stop growing. The consolidated numbers of the public sector, an indicator that includes state-run oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa) and other state-owned businesses, show that the foreign debt rose 48.55 percent from USD 29.8 billion to USD 44.3 billion from March 2007 to March 2008. Indeed, between December 2007 and the first quarter of 2008, the burden heightened by USD 4.48 billion. The BCV attributed this result to 'foreign credits contracted by the oil sector and due to a renewed classification by sectors of the liabilities of recently nationalized businesses.' Last year, the government resorted continuously to the issue of bonds to keep under control the parallel exchange rate. This strategy explains most of the foreign debt growth.

Patrick J. O'Donoghue's round up of news from Venezuela -- May 29, 2008

Interior & Justice Minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin has announced the signing by President Chavez of the intelligence & counter-intelligence law. Rodriguez Chacin says the new law means that the current State Political & Security (DISIP) Police and the Military Intelligence Directorate (DIM) will be transformed. The new law, the Minister states, has guidelines on how the new organs will function and he argue that Venezuela of the 21st century now has the tools and the capacity to produce intelligence and counterintelligence that will enable the State to take strategic decisions in its road to Socialism. The Minister adds that the transformation will be undertaken in several stages.

According to a Center of International Policy analyst on Colombia, the announcement of Manuel Marulanda's death was not official but came from a few chance answers Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos "tossed off" in an interview with Colombia's Semana magazine. The analyst claims that Santos received a rebuke from President Alvaro Uribe and suggests that it is no secret that Santos, who comes from Colombia's most prominent newspaper family, wants to be President in 2010. His unorthodox announcement of Marulanda's death must be viewed in that context.

The Colombian government, it would appear, is desperate to get hold of the body of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader, Manuel Marulanda as a major war trophy. Colombian army chief, General Mario Montoya says the government will pay a ransom to anybody who can tell them where the body has been buried. Engaging on a damage control exercise, Montoya claims that he was misinterpreted when the sum of $2.7 million was put forward. The army, the General points out, uses two forms of reward, the first for specific information, such as the location of an FARC leader or arms dump and the second, for information needed at a specific moment in time, in this case the recovery of the body of Marulanda. Payments in the first category range from $55 to 2.7 million and in the case of Marulanda, the amount is being studied. The government, he defends, is interested in finding out how the rebel chief died, whether it was from a heart attack, which he doubts, or whether it was from a government attack on his camp.

President Chavez has attended the ceremony in which new integral general medicine doctors have received their job positions. The act took place in the Teresa Carreno Theatre in Caracas. President Chavez has announced the opening of 203 new basic clinics throughout Venezuela. 960 integral medicine doctors and 2,000 nurses have joined the health program, which includes 2,700 primary attention clinics throughout the country. President Chavez says that the Barrio Adentro health scheme has 3,681 primary and second stage clinics in Venezuela.

Colombian Senator, Piedad Cordoba says she is certain that under the new FARC leadership the humanitarian agreement, which has been put on ice, will be taken up again with the freedom of more hostages. The Senator maintains that she knows the new FARC commander and comments that he has a serious political structure. Cordova forecasts a political and negotiated solution to the current civil war in Colombia. The Venezuelan government has reacted cautiously to news of FARC leader, Manuel Marulanda's death.

Patrick J. O'Donoghue

Despliegan más de dos mil efectivos en el Plan Caracas Segura 2008

Más de dos mil efectivos de seguridad ciudadana, 300 motos y 100 vehículos están dispuestos para llevar a cabo la rutina pautada para todos los jueves dentro del Plan Caracas Segura 2008. La información la dio a conocer a un avance de La Noticia, de Venezolana de Televisión, el comandante del Comando Regional número 5 de la Guardia Nacional, general de brigada (GN) Alirio Rodríguez, desde Plaza Venezuela, informó ABN. En este punto de la ciudad capital se encuentran concentrados efectivos de la Policía Metropolitana, de Miranda, de Sucre, de la Guardia Nacional, del Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas (Cicpc), de Tránsito y Transporte Terrestre dispuestos a llevar a cabo la rutina de todos los jueves.

MineCore's assets include 520 hectares of gold bearing property in Venezuela

MineCore is an exploration company, as defined under SEC Industry Guide 7. The Company's mission is to successfully identify, acquire and develop mineral properties with a program to commence mining operations and develop solid growth with profitable operations. MineCore is planning to bring its sapphire operations in Madagascar into production through a strip mining operation in 2009 upon successful financing to sustain operations and administration costs. MineCore's assets include 15,000 square hectares of sapphire bearing property in Madagascar, 1,000 hectares of ammolite bearing property in Canada and 520 hectares of gold bearing property in Venezuela. MineCore also has revenue-producing subsidiaries in the construction and professional service sectors.

Medoro Resources Announces 2008 First Quarter Results, AIM De-Listing

The company also announces that at the Annual and Special Meeting held on May 27, 2008 all resolutions were passed, including the motion to de-list from the AIM market. As a result, the last day of dealings of the company's shares on AIM will be June 5, 2008. Cancellation of the admission to trading on AIM will occur on June 6, 2008 and will be effected by a dealing notice being issued at 7.00am. The company is continuing its diamond drilling program at its Lo Increible gold property in Venezuela. The program is intended to increase and enhance existing resources at La Cruz, La Sofia and Tapon. The company expects to prepare an updated resource estimate in the fourth quarter of this year. A drilling program has commenced at its Sindo property in Mali, with three holes completed to date.

Venezuela's Chavez creates new intelligence agencies

President Hugo Chavez is revamping his intelligence agencies to counter what he calls U.S. attempts to undermine his government. Four new spy agencies will replace the current DISIP secret police and DIM military intelligence agency, Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin said Thursday.
A new law has established the General Intelligence Office and the General Counterintelligence Office, both overseen by the Interior Ministry, plus similar military intelligence and counterintelligence components, Rodriguez Chacin told reporters. He did not say how they will differ from the current spy agencies or whether any top officials will be replaced. Rodriquez Chacin announced the change the previous night, saying the new agencies are meant to confront U.S. attempts to meddle in Venezuela's internal affairs.

Dan Russo: Crystallex ... doing business in Venezuela for sixteen years without incident!

VHeadline guest commentarist Dan Russo writes: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The pictures of what illegal mining has done to the Imataca region are a clear example of what a failed environmental policy, political in-fighting, and lack of social programs for extreme poverty have created.

Most people don't know that Crystallex has been operating without incident in Venezuela for 16 years.

Contrary to what has been reported, Crystallex has a plan in place to environmentally mine the area and build a new reservoir and eco-system that will benefit the area for years to come. The trees that were destroyed in the area have absolutely nothing to with Crystallex, in fact, there are no more trees in the areas where Crystallex will be mining ... and this was due to illegal activities as well.

Listen to Dan Russo, Todd MacSween and Roy Carson
in a May 29, 2008 broadcast on The American Voice
Radio Network AVRN networked to radio stations
in more than 1,000 countries worldwide

All requirements have been fulfilled .. so where is the permit?

Open-pit mining also known as open-cast mining and open-cut mining is a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow ... the procedure is used when rock or minerals are near the surface. Ortega de Carrizales is (or should be!) fully aware of this as her office, the Ministry the of Environment approved the EIS (Environmental Impact Study) in June, 2007.

Also, in June 2007, Crystallex posted bond, paid taxes and the government confirmed that ALL permit requirements fulfilled.

Certainly, Ortega de Carrizales wasn't sleeping during all this ... or was she?

  • Ortega de Carrizales' throw-away statement of not allowing open-pit mining in at this juncture is INSANE.
In fact, it is not government policy ... her comments are 360 degrees different from the laws of the land.

Right now Ortega de Carrizales is probably in violation of the current law and she should resign immediately, face termination or at the very least retract her statement.

Something tells me she is too pompous and callous to do any of these...

Chavez ... it's YOUR legacy ... NOT Ms. Ortega de Carrizales'

The bigger picture is employment, ceasing degradation from illegal mining, new infrastructure and showing the world that Venezuela is a place when foreign investment is welcome.

Right now,Venezuela has extreme poverty 27% (first half of 2007), high inflation (approximately 22%) and unemployment rate of approximately 9%. Believe it or not, these numbers are an improvement from a few years ago.

My point here is that the entire Venezuelan economy is built on, and depends on oil revenues which at the present time are favorable!

What happens if there is a "collapse" or a "bust" in this market ... Venezuela would see a depression like never before.

Why wait? Show the world that you can invest in Venezuela! Make it a place where not only mining finds it attractive, but hundreds of other industries as well.

Something tells me Ortega de Carrizales is not looking at the bigger picture.

Dan Russo


Venezuela is facing the most difficult period of its history with honest reporters crippled by sectarianism on top of rampant corruption within the administration and beyond, aided and abetted by criminal forces in the US and Spanish governments which cannot accept the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people to decide over their own future.


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Capricious personal decisions on environment and mining go against the economic and social development of Venezuela

Mining union representatives Antonio Rivas and Pablo Zambrano are insisting on a Referendum to decide which model of develop-ment shall be used to exploit mining resources in the south of Bolivar State. Quoted in today's issue of El Diario de Guayana they say a proposed referendum should be convoked by the National Elections Council (CNE) with the participation of both the Ministry of Basic Industries & Mines (Mibam) and the Ministry of the Environment (MinAmb) as well as small-scale mining organiz-ations. They insist that a referendum is "more democratic than capricious personal decisions handed down by individuals who allege environ-mental damage and negate the possibility that several companies can begin work taking into account technologies that can ensure environmental protection ... those decisions go against the economic and social development of the country, negatively affecting the people of southern Bolivar, including many indigenous communities."

Planning and Development Minister Haiman El-Troudi: Venezuela's economy needs investment from the private sector to keep expanding

Venezuela's economy, which grew at its slowest pace in more than four years in the first quarter, needs investment from the private sector to keep expanding, Planning and Development Minister Haiman El-Troudi said. Arguments that companies are afraid to invest because of government takeovers are ``political,'' El-Troudi said today in comments broadcast by state television. President Hugo Chavez is only interested in nationalizing ``strategic sectors'' of the economy, he said. ``The productive sector of the economy should be confident that economic policies are encouraging them to try to improve output,'' El-Troudi said. Venezuela's economy expanded 4.8 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace since 2003, as investment fell 1.8 percent, the central bank said May 27. The deceleration came even as prices for oil, Venezuela's top export, surged to a record. El-Troudi said the government won't modify its 6 percent forecast for growth included in this year's budget. Since he was re-elected in 2006, Chavez has tapped surging revenue from sales of crude oil to increase state control of the economy, announcing nationalizations in the telecommunications, electricity, steel, coal and cement industries.

Attorney General: Over 6,000 complaints of alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by the police between 2000 and 2007

According to Amnesty International (AI) political violence and insecurity continued in Venezuela in 2007 despite the coming into force of an organic law to protect women from violence. AI says "several demonstrations ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and between them and the police."

AI recalls that President Hugo Chavez Frias began his third term in office January and that the National Assembly granted him the power to enact by decree for 18 months laws on matters such as public security and institutional reform, and that Venezuelans rejected controversial constitutional changes in a national referendum.

As regards political violence, Amnesty International claims that "authorities failed to take effective measures to halt the escalation of violence in the context of demonstrations promoted by supporters and opponents of the Government." Dozens of demonstrators, mainly students -- including those under 18 -- were arrested or wounded during demonstrations protesting the government's decision not to renew Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) public broadcast license last May (2007).

As regards public security, AI says that, according to the Attorney General, over 6,000 complaints of alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by the police had been filed between 2000 and 2007 and of 2,000 officers reportedly involved in these acts, fewer than 400 had been arrested by the end of that year.
"The use of firearms to commit homicide and other violent crimes continued to be widespread, even in prisons," says AI presenting official figures which show between January and September 2007 there were 9,568 homicides ... 852 more than in the same period in the previous year."
Last March a new organic law on women's right to a life free from violence came into force but by the end of 2007, no action plan had been drawn up to provide the necessary resources to implement it. Human Rights activists continued to be subject to attacks and intimidation and Jose Luis Urbano, president of the Pro-Defence of the Right to Education Organization was wounded in an attack.

Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) issues appeal to Venezuelans to take their "old bolivar" banknotes to the bank!

The Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) has issued an appeal to Venezuelan citizens to take their "old bolivar" banknotes to the local branches of state-owned and private banks to exchange them for the new Bolivar Fuerte (Strong Bolivar) which came into force earlier this year.

Seven coins and six banknotes make up the new "family" of strong bolivares currently in circulation. Their face value is precisely one thousandth that of "old bolivares" which will soon be withdrawn completely from circulation and no longer be used as legal tender.

The government has guaranteed to exchange "old" currencies in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 bolivar denominations even if they are damaged but have not lost their serial numbers or signatures of the issuing authorities.

Central Bank officials reccomend businesses and services to only issue change in the new "strong" denominations to allow for a progressive withdrawal of the old.

National Guard (GN) officers seize 277 kilograms of mercury used principally for the manufacture of cocaine and in illegal mining

National Guard (GN) officers at Regional Command 1 at Paracal in Tachira state have seized 277 kilograms of mercury as it was being smuggled into Venezuela by a Colombian national who has been detained awaiting a court appearance.

Commanding officer, General Gabriel Oviedo said the mercury -- used principally for the manufacture of cocaine and in mining -- was transported in a vehicle owned by the as yet un-named detainee, who was stopped by the National Guard at a border control.

During preliminary investigation the detainee has admitted that he was heading for southeastern Bolivar State where the issue of environmental damage caused by contaminants like mercury in illegal mining is very high on the political agenda.


Venezuela is facing the most difficult period of its history with honest reporters crippled by sectarianism on top of rampant corruption within the administration and beyond, aided and abetted by criminal forces in the US and Spanish governments which cannot accept the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people to decide over their own future.


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USA subversion by the White House provides economic financing, psychological manipulation and efforts to destabilize strategic sectors

Venezuelan Popular Unity (UPV) party leader Lina Ron has again denounced "the intentions of counter-revolutionaries" backed by the United States government to bring about a coup d'etat in a subversive plan code-named "Choquinaque." She says the plan is led by the White House which provides economic financing, psychological manipulation and efforts to destabilize strategic sectors of the Venezuelan economy in a clear attempt to influence the November 23 election results, seeking to bring democratic mandate of the Head of State, Hugo Chavez Frias to an abrupt end.

Lina Ron has told a Caracas press conference that the plan includes attempts to manipulate and bribe senior military commanders, the go-slow operations, promoting candidates who are politically disqualified, and pressures on the National Electoral Council (CNE) ... already part of a plan orchestrated by opposition groups.

Although she has not yet named names, the UPV leader has denounced links to the privately-owned media which is already seeking to turn the June 1 primaries for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) into a fiasco.

Italian Festival 2008 reflects excellent cooperation with Venezuela

The excellent cooperation between the Republic of Italy and the Republic of Venezuela in several fields will be reflected during the fifth edition of the Italian Festival to be held from next June 2, according to the Italian Minister in Venezuela, Luigi Macotta, who said that the cooperation will be the special feature of this new edition, which is organized in Venezuela by the Italian diplomatic mission since 2004. 'The special feature of this edition is a extend and varied program in activities, which will cover not only the fashion and gastronomy, but also other fields of great importance such as technology and health, sectors where both governments have good cooperation,' Macotta said during a press conference. Furthermore, the ambassador also said that both countries have reinforced the cooperation in the cultural, educative and trade fields, ' the nest way to act is stressing the cooperation in each sector.'

Venezuela exchange team enjoys visit

Raquel Brito expected a difficult adjustment to American culture when arriving in Pittsburgh, but never the warm welcome extended to her and the rest of her Venezuelan exchange team. 'This has been such a good experience,' she said during a Wednesday visit to the Alle-Kiski Valley. 'I have had a lot of fun and learned a lot.' Brito is one of four professional adults participating in Rotary International's Group Study Exchange program. Brito, along with Diego Brito, the group's team leader and a Venezuelan Rotarian who is not related to Raquel, and Katia Rivas and Silvia Gil visited the Valley to learn about the region's history and enjoy a paddle down the Kiski River.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Student Activist Yon Goicoechea on Venezuela's Political Future

Yon Goicoechea, Venezuelan law student, activist, and founder of the Futuro Presente Foundation spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about his country's student activist movement, widely credited with playing a pivotal role in the defeat of a December 2007 constitutional referendum. Goicoechea was recently awarded the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty from the Cato Institute.“There are hundreds of thousands of young Venezuelans with a firm commitment to making good policy practices and that’s why I believe that in 10 years we will have renewed institutions in Venezuela and new opportunities for improvement,” says Goicoechea.

Oscar Heck: The "Great Fall of the USA - From the Inside" ... coming soon to a theater near you!

VHeadline commentarist Oscar Heck writes: If the US government dares to attack Iran, it will drag its people into the biggest hell-world that Americans have ever seen. I for one, will feel obligated to write against Americans in an ever more forceful fashion, against their murderous crimes, exposing their lies, their arrogance, their exploitive and criminal business and political practices abroad.

Since the Gulf War, which I experienced first hand for about 5 months, I lost all respect for the US government, and since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, I have lost all but the minimal respect for Americans.

If they dare attack Iran, which is a healthy and peaceful country, I will lose all respect for all Americans and all people who in any avoidable fashion collaborate with Americans. Brits, Australians and Canadians (myself included) are on a similar list of despicable, ruthless, conscienceless people who elect psychopaths to rule their stolen countries, create their mindless jurisprudence-excused laws, multiply their soulless repressive policing forces and increase the number of paid murderers to be sent away to "weaker" countries to assassinate innocent men, women and children.

A recent article in The Asia Times, entitled, "Bush 'plans Iran air strike by August,'" states:

"NEW YORK - The George W Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently. Two key US senators briefed on the attack planned to go public with their opposition to the move, according to the source, but their projected New York Times op-ed piece has yet to appear. The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously, said last week that the US plans an air strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC's elite Quds force. With an estimated strength of up to 90,000 fighters, the Quds' stated mission is to spread Iran's revolution of 1979 throughout the region."

Why would the USA attack Iran?

Iran is no threat to the USA, none whatsoever. All that garbage about Iran supporting or training "terrorists" is basically poppycock, it is manipulated information taken out of context and shoved at high pressure into the feeble minds of millions of Americans, Brits, Aussies, Canadians, and others, like most members of the violent, pro-USA, paranoid, anti-Chavez mid-to-upper classes in Venezuela and around the world ... those people who are members of the exploitive ruling classes who have no qualm about attacking and sacking a weaker peoples.

Even if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon, what is the problem?

The USA has nuclear weapons, so does India, and so does Pakistan, where some of the most "dangerous" "terrorists" are purported to live, according to the US government.

Why not attack Pakistan?

Why not attack Israel?

They have nuclear weapons.

Why not France or the UK?

They also have nuclear weapons.

Why not attack China? They have some too.

China? No, too big. France and the UK? Not worth it, they have no natural resources to plunder.

Israel? No way! Friends in arms! How about North Korea? They have nuclear weapons. No, too far away and not enough stuff to plunder. No oil. That leaves Pakistan and India. Nah, Pakistan does not have massive oil reserves, neither does India ... but Iran does ... so the story is invented that Iran is developing nuclear weapons ... and promoting "terrorism."

The USA is doing everything to distort reality so that they can steal the largest oil reserves in the world (apart from Saudi Arabia).

Venezuela is probably on the list as well.

We already have inside information that Chavez is in the greatest danger he has been in since the short-lived US-financed cup against him in 2002. Things in Venezuela are getting hot ... but so are things in the USA.

I bet that most people who would support or say nothing against a US attack on Iran think that Iranians are Arabs. Wrong. Completely wrong. The vast majority of Iranians are not Arabs, they are descendents of the Aryans and they speak Persian (Farsi), the main official language of Iran.

Just this fact tells you how ignorance exists in parallel fashion.

The most ignorant people will believe the biggest lies ... and the US government knows that ... and that is why they make great efforts to keep their citizenry ignorant. The more ignorant Americans are (and believe me, compared to most people in the world, they are very ignorant), the more they can be manipulated, the more they will obey and the more they will allow themselves to be taken advantage of and abused by the liars, the murderers and the thieves who run the US government, their churches, their schools and their corporations.

If the USA attacks Iran, Americans will get the surprise of their lives ... simply because the entire world will be forced to react against further US criminality and genocide (Afghanistan and Iraq). The world's population will not allow more innocent-people-for-oil to be massacred, slaughtered and maimed by the USA.

A US attack on Iran will be the last straw.

The USA is so accustomed to embargoing other nations, usually completely innocent ones, such as Cuba ... but what will happen if the USA attacks Iran?

First, some of the countries supplying the USA with oil will stop oil supplies to the USA and sell the same oil at a discount to countries such as China and India. This will cause a massive economic catastrophe within the USA (with waves hitting countries such as Canada, Europe and Japan).

Then, the USA will be embargoed by a massive world people's movement (soon to be organized, I suspect) ... embargoes against Walmart, McDonald's, any fast-food or restaurant chain, all US manufacturers and commerce abroad, all US-owned mass-exploitation operations such as sweat-shops and cheap-labor farms ... and US-based religious, diplomatic, political and scientific missions abroad.

All Americans and their collaborators traveling or living abroad will be at great risk for their lives. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen ... the time it takes to create a highly organized worldwide movement against US interests and against US citizens. However, there will be more problems, closer to home. Mutiny.

If the captain and "officers" of our ship are leading us, the crew and passengers directly into the hands of imminent mortal danger, and if they are lying to us in the process, will we, as crew members and passengers permit them to go ahead?

Unfortunately, most of us will say nothing because we are too far brainwashed and repressed and scared to say anything ... so we will allow ourselves to be led into the hands of useless death.

However, a few of us will have the courage to stand up and say something, even at the risk of being slain or jailed or tortured by the captain and his "officers" ... and that is precisely what is happening now.

I suspect that as we speak, those who have the balls to say something are getting organized in quiet, to later speak out ... but not necessarily only with words ... and that will be the beginning of the "Great Fall of the USA - From the Inside" ... coming soon to a theater near you.

This is not a reality show ... this is reality.

Oscar Heck