Venezuela Headlines #87

By Anonymous (not verified), 23 July, 2009
Michael Fox


Venezuelan News Summary, July 12th- July 22nd
(Audio: 12min, 54secs) Telesur and Venezuelan TV Journalists Arrested in Honduras - Chavez: US Government Giving Oxygen to Honduran Coup - UN Dismisses Honduran Accusations of Venezuelan Scheming - Venezuelan Diplomats Defy Expulsion by Honduran Coup Regime - Debate Intensifies over Venezuela’s Proposed Same Sex Civil Union Law - Venezuelan Government Pays Worker Benefits in Ailing Aluminum Industry - Legislators Denounce Separatism and Paramilitarism in Venezuelan Border State - Venezuela Reviews Relations with Colombia as More US Bases Established - Venezuela: US Criticisms of Venezuelan Drug Policies Hypocritical

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I. Telesur and Venezuelan TV Journalists Arrested in Honduras
On Saturday, July 11th, the coup government arrested Telesur and VTV journalists. Both channels are based in Venezuela, and are the only international channels transmitting ongoing coverage of the coup situation and the anti-coup demonstrations. VTV producer Pedro Quesada reported they were hooded and taken to the police headquarters. The police said the Telesur vehicle was supposedly wanted by the police. Telesur journalist Madelein Garcia reported that under orders from the coup government, a police commission had entered their hotel and detained them without explanation. The arrested journalists were released at 3am the following morning, after the police told them to leave the country. According to Venezuelan government media reports, the journalists were eventually released due to negotiations by the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry. Quesada said the VTV crew were transported to the airport to leave Honduras, accompanied by representatives from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the Venezuelan Embassy in Honduras. This was the second time Telesur journalists had been detained in Honduras over the last month. On June 29 the pro-coup military detained and beat the media crew which was at that time filming the military repression of a peaceful protest against the coup.

II. Chavez: US Government Giving Oxygen to Honduran Coup
The day the journalists were released, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on U.S. President Barack Obama to withdraw all support for the coup government. Although Obama and secretary of state, Hilary Clinton have condemned the ousting of Zelaya, the US government has refused to legally recognize it as a "coup d'etat" which by U.S. law would forbid any U.S. aid to the de facto government. The United States has yet refused to cut diplomatic ties and millions of dollars in aid. Chavez said that this is a test for Obama and argued that it is imperative that the White House take a clear position on Honduras. Chavez emphasized the need to protest in the streets and to build a solidarity movement around the world in order to defeat the coup.

III. UN Dismisses Honduran Accusations of Venezuelan Scheming
Meanwhile, last week, the United Nations dismissed as illegitimate a letter it received from the current Honduran coup government which accused Venezuela of attempting to quote, "provoke a bloodbath" in Honduras. Private newspapers in Honduras and Venezuela echoed the coup regime's message, accusing Venezuela of organizing violent conspiracies against the Honduran regime. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the accusations were part of the de facto government's strategy to maintain power. Since the Honduran military kidnapped Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and transferred him to Costa Rica, Venezuela has ardently demanded an unconditional return of Zelaya to power. On July 15th, the coup government wrote to the UN Security Council to request its intervention in the face of quote, "threats and acts of provocation" by Chavez against the new authorities in Honduras. The letter was signed by the de facto Secretary of State Carlos Contreras and published by the Honduran paper El Heraldo. It accused Venezuela of publicly threatening to send the Venezuelan military to Honduras on July 1st and of violating Honduran airspace when it supplied Zelaya with an aircraft he used to try and re-enter Honduras on July 5th. UN Security Council President Ruhakana Ruganda received the letter but would not distribute it among the members as an official document, because it came from a government the UN considers illegitimate. The UN assembly unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing Zelaya as legitimate president of Honduras on 30 June. President Chavez said last week that the de facto government of Honduras is preparing a massacre and quote, "inventing the spectre of a Venezuelan invasion".
Ramon Alegria, a campesino leader and a leader of the National Resistance Front against the Coup in Honduras, said the media campaign in Honduras is aimed at demobilizing protestors and creating a climate of terror favorable to the Micheletti regime.

IV. Venezuelan Diplomats Defy Expulsion by Honduran Coup Regime
Meanwhile, this Tuesday, the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry refused to obey an order by the coup government of Honduras to withdraw all Venezuelan diplomatic, administrative, technical, and service personnel from the Central American country. The Ministry wouldn't budge on the grounds that the de facto regime is illegitimate. The Ministry warned the coup government that if it harms or subjects the Venezuelan personnel to any "offensive treatment," it could quote "incur a grave violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." The Ministry said that "the Venezuelan government will utilize all the necessary resources to preserve the integrity of its diplomatic mission in Tegucigalpa." The coup government also expelled the diplomatic officials from all member nations of the nine-country Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America or ALBA. Honduras joined the group in 2008. While the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and several Latin American integration blocs have condemned the coup, the ALBA bloc has been the most fervent in demanding the unconditional return of Zelaya to the presidency. On June 30th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the option of a "military intervention by the United Nations" should be considered if diplomatic means fail. Negotiations between Zelaya and the de facto Micheletti government went sour this week. Nevertheless Zelaya has vowed to return to the country.

V. Debate Intensifies over Venezuela’s Proposed Same Sex Civil Union Law
The public debate over a law proposal in Venezuela's National Assembly that would legalize same-sex civil unions intensified this week. Venezuela's Episcopal Church publicly condemned the proposal, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender activists responded. The proposed Organic Law for Gender Equity and Equality has passed through the first round of discussions in the National Assembly and will now face a second round and a final vote. The most controversial issue is Article 8 which, if included in the final draft, will establish that quote "every person has the right to exercise their preferred sexual orientation and identity freely and without any form of discrimination, and as a consequence, the state will recognize civil unions between two people of the same sex by mutual agreement." The article also states that people who "change gender by surgical or other means have the right to be recognized by their identity and to obtain or modify the documents associated with their identification." The law's passage would have positive implications for the rights of children of either member of the same sex couple, and for the couple's social security, inheritance, rent, and taxes. However, several LGBT and feminist activists estimate that less than 10% of National Assembly representatives support Article 8, and they say the president of the National Assembly Committee for Family, Women, and Youth, Marelis Pérez Marcano, is "openly opposed to the article." This is not the first time LGBT activists have seen their rights on the table in the National Assembly. The constitutional reform of 2007, which was voted down by a slim margin in a nation-wide referendum, would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

VI. Venezuelan Government Pays Worker Benefits in Ailing Aluminum Industry
Last week, Venezuela's minister of basic industries and mining, Rodolfo Sanz, announced that the state will inject nearly $100 million dollars into four majority state-owned aluminum companies in the southeastern state of Bolivar. Sanz's announcement followed three days of strikes by hundreds of aluminum workers who clamored for overdue wages and the replacement of corrupt company managers. The funds will help pay workers' benefits and salaries, as the companies weather a sharp drop in aluminum prices in the international market. The companies Alcasa, Carbonorca, Bauxilum, and Venalum will receive the funds in three installments. The measure follows last April's injection of $200 million dollars to pay off debts to the companies' service contractors. Due to the world economic crisis, the international price of aluminum has dropped by nearly half. The sector, which employs more than 22,000 workers, faces an estimated deficit of more than a billion dollars this year.

VII. Legislators Denounce Separatism and Paramilitarism in Venezuelan Border State
In a press conference last weekend the vice president of the legislative council in Táchira state, Jonathan García, denounced a campaign by opposition Táchira Governor César Pérez Vivas, to promote a separatist movement in the Venezuelan state, which borders Colombia. García said Vivas is working in cahoots with other sectors of the rightwing. On April 17th, Pérez Vivas decreed the formation of an "International Cooperation Commission" with the supposed ability to sign cooperation agreements with other countries, and take foreign policy positions. However, according to García, this oversteps the jurisdiction of the state government and is unconstitutional. García further explained that it is an indication of the direction of the regional administration "to behave as a nation, rather than part of one." On March 30th governor Perez Vivas created the Regional Human Security Council with the participation of representatives from business organizations and private security firms. García said the aim was to create a parallel police force. At a national level, García said the campaign is being promoted by the Liberal Democratic Movement or MDL. It's director, Marco Polessel, has visited the border state to promote proposed autonomy statutes and a plebiscite to separate the Venezuelan state. According to its website the MDL is also promoting autonomy statutes in at least six other Venezuelan states including Sucre, Monagas, Bolívar, Anzoátegui, Aragua, and Falcón. Among it's international collaborators, the MDL lists Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the U.S. Republican Party, the International Republican Institute, El Salvador's right-wing ARENA party, and Chile's pro-Pinochet Independent Democratic Union. García asserted that the tactic being promoted in Táchira is similar to that employed by right-wing opposition sectors in the wealthy eastern states of Bolivia opposed to the Evo Morales government. In addition García alleged that under the Pérez Vivas administration there has been abuse of workers, irregular management of the state budget and wasteful allocations of resources to the police and corrupt officials, some of whom he charged were linked to kidnappings in the region. Last Friday thousands of people marched through Táchira capital, San Cristóbal, to protest increased paramilitary activity in the region as well as the separatist campaign promoted by the governor.

VIII. Venezuela Reviews Relations with Colombia as More US Bases Established
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Monday night that bilateral relations with neighboring Colombia are being fully reviewed following the decision by Colombia to allow the United States to use five military bases in its territory. A high-level bilateral meeting of the Colombia-Venezuela Commission, which was set to meet Tuesday July 21st, was also suspended. Chavez said he had instructed Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro to conduct a full review of bilateral relations, including diplomatic relations because Colombia's decision represents a threat to Venezuela. The new military accord between the US and Colombia comes as the United States has been forced to pull out of its Manta military base in Ecuador. Ecuadoran President, Rafael Correa refused to renew the agreement which allowed the continued presence of US military personnel. The full details of the Colombian-US military agreement have not been released, but according to the Colombian magazine Cambio the central point of operations will be the Palanquero military base located between the departments of Caldas and Cundinamarca, which has the capacity for 60 aircraft and a runway of three and a half kilometers. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe defended the decision on Monday saying it was justified by the fight against drug trafficking and guerrillas. Other Latin American leaders have raised concerns about the role of US military bases in the region. During a ceremony to celebrate Bolivian Independence Day in La Paz on July 16th, Bolivian President Evo Morales said that the US aims to install military bases in the region under the guise of the ‘war on drugs', but in reality trains military personnel to carry out coups, such as the coup in Honduras, that overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28.

IX. Venezuela: US Criticisms of Venezuelan Drug Policies Hypocritical
The Venezuelan government called the drug trafficking report published on Monday by the US Government Accountability Office, or GAO, a political tool. The GAO report argues that Venezuela tolerates drug trafficking. Venezuela responded citing statistics by the United Nations which show Venezuela to be amongst the highest drug confiscators. The Venezuelan National Assembly also voted to reject the GAO report. In a press statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the report and other similar studies conducted by the United States, are quote "political blackmailing tools that lack scientific objectivity and methodological seriousness." Speaking to the National Assembly, the minister for justice and internal affairs, Tarek El Aissami, said the US discourse was "hypocritical" and stressed that in the United States over 50 million people use non-medicinal drugs and that the country consumes 30% of marihuana and 40% of cocaine produced globally. According to the June 26th UN report, US level of drug confiscation have decreased since the 1990s, while Venezuela has increased its levels of confiscation since 2006.