Venezuela Headlines #82

By Anonymous (not verified), 8 May, 2009
Michael Fox

Venezuela News Summary (May 1st- May 8th, 2009) - (Audio- 10min, 36secs): Police Arrested for Death of Venezuelan Student Protestor - Venezuela Celebrates May Day - Venezuela Rejects U.S. Terrorism Report - Venezuela Rejects Colombia’s International Intervention Request - Venezuelan President Calls for “Re-definition” of Socialist Party - Venezuela Initiates Production of Generic Medicines & Cell Phones - Venezuelan Trade Union Leader at Toyota Plant Assassinated - Venezuelan Supreme Court Denies Restraining Order Against RCTV and Globovision (all news from

I. Eight Police Arrested for Death of Venezuelan Student Protestor
Venezuelan authorities arrested eight Merida state police officers last Tuesday for their suspected involvement in the fatal shooting of student leader Yuban Ortega during a protest in late April. The police are charged with homicide, complicity, illegal use of firearms, and violation of international conventions regarding police conduct. Ortega was the president of the student association and an active pro-Chavez supporter. He was shot in the forehead with a marble during a student-led demonstration against allegedly corrupt university authorities. He died in a local hospital early Friday May 1st. It is suspected that the police had fired marbles in addition to the usual plastic shrapnel from their shotguns to break up the protest, a practice that has occurred in the past and is against the law. According to the youth wing of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Ortega was unarmed and the students were protesting peacefully when the shooting occurred. The youth activist condemned the shooting and called for the acceleration of the government's police reform program. Last week, President Chávez expressed his grief over Ortega's death and said an overhaul of the nation's police forces is underway.

II. Venezuela Celebrates May Day with Peaceful Protests and Some Clashes
Three days after the Merida Students protests, thousands marched in Caracas and across Venezuela on Friday, May 1st, to celebrate International Workers' Day. The marches were relatively peaceful although sectors of a small march in Caracas led by the Opposition Confederation of Venezuelan Worker's clashed with police, causing violence and minor injuries. The pro-government march was led by the National Front of Bolivarian Workers. It began at three different points in Caracas and then converged on Urdaneta Avenue, where it extended for a kilometer and half as marchers listened to a range of speakers and bands. President Hugo Chavez was among those who spoke to the crowd. He said that quote, “Workers will never again be slaves" and he reiterated his support for the reduction of the working week, one of the proposals in the constitutional referendum of November 2007. According to Chávez, the unemployment rate dropped slightly in March to just over 7%. Chavez pointed out that this is despite the fall in the price of oil and the economic crisis. A 10% minimum wage increase went in to effect on May 1st. Another 10% increase is expected later this year.

III. Venezuela Rejects U.S. Terrorism Report
In late April, the U.S. State Department released its 2008 Country Reports on Terrorism, in which it asserts that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's quote "ideological sympathy" with the Colombian guerrillas "limited Venezuelan cooperation with Colombia in combating terrorism." The report criticizes Venezuela for not systematically policing its 1400 mile border with Colombia, which left-wing Colombian guerrillas and right-wing Colombian paramilitaries are believed to have crossed to take refuge and raise funds illegally. The report also says Venezuela has not sufficiently investigated and prosecuted public officials who are suspected of supporting Colombian guerrilla groups, and does not properly monitor international flight arrivals from Iran, which the report classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. During the May Day march, President Chávez rejected the report. He said quote, "If there is any government that has attacked the people of our continent and the world, it has been the United States government." Chávez has consistently advocated against a military solution to the nearly fifty-year Colombian conflict. He has pressured for the international community to consider the FARC and ELN belligerent armies rather than terrorist groups, in order to enable peaceful negotiations. President Chávez has reiterated that his administration does not support guerrilla groups, and warned both the FARC and the Colombian military to keep their conflict out of Venezuela.

IV. Venezuela Says Colombia’s Request for International Intervention “Out of Place”
Last week, the Colombian government requested that international political institutions assist in the capture of Colombian guerrillas who are allegedly in Venezuelan territory. The Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry called the request "absolutely out of place." It argues that the conflict with the guerrillas is exclusively a Colombian issue. The diplomatic exchange follows the fatal crash of a Venezuelan military helicopter that was patrolling the Colombian border last weekend. Seventeen Venezuelan soldiers were killed. Venezuelan authorities are still investigating the cause of the crash. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe expressed his condolences to Venezuela for the soldiers' deaths. Then, Uribe reiterated his request to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for the capture of FARC guerrilla insurgents who fled into Venezuelan territory after killing eight Colombian troops in a battle last week. Uribe had originally issued the request last Wednesday, and the Foreign Relations Ministry had replied that insurgents caught in Venezuelan territory "will be confronted with all the possible force of Venezuelan authorities." Chávez added that Venezuela quote, "will not permit any armed incursion, wherever it comes from, to violate Venezuelan sovereignty." This was a warning to the Colombian military not to launch attacks outside its borders, as it did last year by bombarding a FARC encampment in Ecuador, sparking a regional diplomatic crisis. Nevertheless, the Venezuelan immigration service turned over five Colombian guerrillas from the National Liberation Army to Colombian authorities on Sunday. The insurgents were caught without proper documentation and wearing Colombian military clothing.

V. Venezuelan President Calls for “Re-definition” of Socialist Party
On his weekly talk show Aló Presidente last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said the PSUV will undergo a "re-definition" in which sectarianism and corrupt party leadership must end. Chavez said the party must also strengthen its ties to social movements. Chávez also told PSUV leaders not to take their leadership positions for granted, and not to prioritize their personal concerns over those of the party's more than four million members. Nevertheless, internal barriers to change persist within the party. To help carry out Chavez' redefinition, a commission of national party leaders has been formed to carry out a new membership drive for the next five weekends. In addition, the commission has been tasked with organizing more socialist battalions at the local level, which will meet in a national PSUV congress in August to discuss the structure and direction of the party. Chávez called for the creation of the PSUV after his re-election to a second presidential term in 2006, with the purpose of joining the pro-Chavez leftist parties into one party whose leadership would be democratically elected by the membership. Last year, 2 and a half million PSUV members went to the polls to choose the party's local and regional candidates.

VI. Venezuela Initiates Production of Generic Medicines and Cell Phones
Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated a new pharmaceutical production center in Caracas. The center was first launched in 1993 but was abandoned due to lack of investments by previous governments. The center has now been renovated and re-opened. It will make a range of medicines including insulin, antibiotics, syrups and anti-retrovirals. The medicines will be sold at subsidized prices to Venezuelans and member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA. Also last weekend Chavez allocated funding to build another such pharmaceutical center, inaugurated more than hundred new medical centers, and unveiled the country's first locally manufactured cell phone. The phone is made by the state-owned telecommunications company Vetelca. It costs roughly $14, which is 25% cheaper than the cheapest cell phones currently available in Venezuela. Vetelca aims to produce a quarter of a million phones this year for both the Venezuelan and Latin American markets.

VII. Venezuelan Trade Union Leader at Toyota Plant Assassinated
Argenis Vasquez, a union leader in a Toyota plant in the Eastern Venezuelan city of Cumana, was assassinated this week, triggering an occupation of the Toyota factory and quick investigations by government bodies. Vasquez was general secretary of the workers union at that Toyota assembly plant. The murder took place in the parking lot of the residential buildings where he lived. Two gunshots hit him in the head, causing his death. Minister of Justice, Tarek El Aissami said that a commission from Venezuela's Criminal Investigation Unit had already begun the investigation. The National Workers Union asserts that Vasquez was murdered by hired killers and currents within the Union have called for mobilizations and car industry strikes. This is the latest in a string of murders against labor leaders in Venezuela. As a result of the assassination, workers are occupying the Toyota factory and will maintain the occupation until "there is justice." Union leaders from Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and numerous other local car manufacturers expressed their regret over the assassination, and agreed to meet in Cumuna to discuss a plan of action with the Toyota workers.

VIII. Venezuelan Supreme Court Denies Restraining Order Against RCTV and Globovision
This week, Venezuela's Supreme Court denied a restraining order on two of the country's largest private television stations, RCTV and Globovision. The Latin American Foundation for the Development of Equity, Fundaequidad, requested the restraining order last November on the grounds that RCTV and Globovision had incited violence and encouraged a coup d'etat against the government. This, it said, was a threat to Fundaequidad's right to free, truthful, impartial communication under Article 58 of the Constitution. To support its case, Fundaequidad had accused RCTV and Globovisión of false reporting, when the news stations alleged last year that the Venezuelan government had links to the Colombian FARC guerrillas. The Supreme Court denied Fundaequidad's petition on the grounds that restraining orders are issued when the threat is "immediate and executable." It said that the alleged violation of rights should be a direct and immediate consequence of the act." Meanwhile this week, the Venezuelan National Assembly demanded that the National Telecommunications Commission, Conatel, penalize Globovision for infractions of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. National Assembly President Cilia Flores said Globovisión Director Alberto Ravell used the news of Monday's moderate earthquake to quote "generate terror in the population." After Monday's tremor that registered 5.4 on the Richter Scale, Ravell reported unofficial information and accused the government of being irresponsible for not responding fast enough to the situation. In April, Chávez called for legal investigations of RCTV and Globovision, accusing them of having promoted the two-day April 2002 coup d'etat.