Working to provoke discussion and provide up-to-date information and analysis on US-Venezuelan relations, politics, policies, and culture.

Venezuela officers 'spied for US'

BBC News
January 26th, 2006

The Venezuelan government says several military officers have been caught passing state secrets to the US.

Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel said some "low-ranking officers" had passed information to the Pentagon.

Click here to read the full article

The Petty Politics of Venezuela's Arms Purchases

By Marcela Sanchez
Friday, January 20, 2006

The White House has long been warning that the leftist government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez represents a destabilizing force in Latin America. In recent months Washington appears to have expanded its assessment of Chavez's threat to the region, and has moved to undermine arms deals that "could contribute," according to the State Department, to military as well as ideological destabilization.

Click here to read the full article

Analysis of a Congressional Resolution toward Venezuela

Last month, Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) introduced a resolution condemning the Government of Venezuela. The Venezuela Information Office has dissected the resolution into what it terms, "Myths vs. Facts."

Click here to read their analysis.

A Washington Post Live Discussion with Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera

January 18th, 2006 -- 12:00pm

Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela's envoy to the United States, was online to answer questions from the public and to discuss recent developments within Venezuela and his nation's relations with rest of the world.

Click here to read the transcript.

Venezuela’s Chavez Says May Buy Military Aircraft from Russia, China

Venezuelan President Huga Chavez said on Tuesday, Jan. 17, that his government would buy military aircraft from Russia or China if the United States continues to block his country’s planned purchase of transport planes from Spain.

The United States denied Spain permission to sell 12 military transport planes to Venezuela because the aircraft were built with U.S. technology. Spain’s socialist government has said it will move ahead with the sale by replacing the U.S. technology.

Click here to read the full article

Venezuela Tax Chief Reports Oil Back Taxes

Associate Press
January 17, 2006

Foreign oil companies in Venezuela paid 270 billion bolivars ($125.6 million) in back taxes last year, the country's tax chief said Monday. The government has sought to increase its revenues from the oil industry, conducting an audit of private companies operating 32 oil fields to reclaim what it says are billions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

Click here to read article.

Day Four: Report from Venezuela

January 14, 2006

“Tell the American people: here, in this country, we are not trying to do anything weird. We are trying to achieve social justice.”

Julio Mendoza, Principal
Unidad Educativa Rafael Arévalo González
January 14, 2005 - Barvolento


The social missions conceived by President Hugo Chavez are designed to give the poor and the excluded in Venezuela the chance to be integrated into the nation’s social and economic mainstream. Poverty persisted in Venezuela, one of the wealthiest nations in the hemisphere, because the poor – as we have been told time and again by Venezuelans across the political spectrum – never appeared on anyone’s agenda. Supporters and opponents alike acknowledge that Chavez put the country’s social problems on the map, and the oil dividend gives him the purse and possibility of pursuing real and permanent social change. Where observers diverge is whether these missions are making a difference and have a sustainable chance of success. We can’t know the final answer to that question, but we did look outside of Caracas, in the region called Barvolento, to see what the missions are actually doing. This is our report.


The fishermen: Before Hugo Chavez came to power, fishermen and women in Barlovento had a freezer for their catch, but not sea-worthy boats or trucks to bring their fish to market. Now, they have both.

The fishermen are organized in a cooperative. Its goal is to broadly share the commercial benefits to the families who belong. They have been in association for six years. There are twelve members in the cooperative. They have received access to a credit line from the national government to buy boats and get help with distribution to the community. The primary catch is red snapper. They harvest 600 kilos of fish every week. The cooperative has six boats and they use two systems for fishing: big nets and undersea cages. They have been able to pay back their credit in full.

The fisherman told our delegation that the most significant action taken by the government is also the most controversial. President Chavez pushed through a law that bars large scale fishing operations within 6 miles from shore. That sets up a buffer zone within which the family-sized cooperative operations can fish freely. The big operations fought the law, saying it was interference with private property. This reform offers significant help for the smaller operations.

The delegation also visited the fish market used by the cooperative. The mongers were doing a lively business. (photo of the delegation at the fish market appears above)

Under construction, the Higuerote Health Clinic: The people of Higuerote are seeing the finishing touches put on a new diagnostic health center paid for by the Mission Barrio Adentro, the health program conceived by President Chavez.

The delegation was met by a large committee from the community, Cuban doctors and Venezuelan citizens, all involved in the project of improving this community’s access to health care. (photo of one of the Cuban doctors appears above)

Barrio Adentro has already put four Cuban doctors into the community, whose residents are receiving primary care never before available. Before the mission, the people had to go to Barlovento General Hospital for any kind of care. The hospital they said was poorly supplied. And when that hospital could not meet their needs, they had to go to the hospital in Caracas, ninety miles away. The only other alternative was a network of private health care facilities, but they are prohibitively expensive for the nation’s poor.

This new health center will provide a variety of services: diagnosis, physical, occupational, and language therapy, natural medicine, laboratory work, ultra-sound. People without economic means will be treated for free.

The Cuban doctors work in places that Venezuelan doctors have not previously been. They are doing primary care and family medicine: pregnancy attention, ill children, and elderly care. They respond to emergencies and care for patients unless and until a referral is needed due to the nature of the emergency.

But a lot of the work is done by Venezuelans too. Under Mission Barrio Adentro, community volunteers go house-to-house and perform assessments of each family’s health. Two nurses accompany the volunteers and do things like give vaccinations. The mission in Higuerote has contacted the national ministry of health and made wheel chairs and surgery available for people who otherwise had no access; they’ve procured free medicine for the residents, and also discovered people with nutritional needs and gotten them food.

The Venezuelan health care system has historically been a party patronage system. This is, in part, what drove Venezuelan medical students who became doctors out of the public health system and into the exclusive private health care system. Because the administration of the health care system is corrupt and politicized, the Chavez government has built a second system, a new system outside the old bureaucracy. The parties also penetrated the doctors’ union, which fought the introduction of Cuban doctors. The government accredited the Cubans, and the Venezuelans feel strongly about the contributions their new doctors are making.

The residents addressed the delegation and asked us to bring these messages back to the American people:

“We would like you to bring to the American people the message of cooperation between the Cuban doctors and the Venezuelans. This is a joint effort, an integrated program.”

“Some say we give oil away for free. But we get a benefit in return – health care for the most vulnerable in our society. You know about the blockade against Cuba for forty-five years. Venezuela benefits from the social advantages of better health, and Cuba gets the benefits of oil.”

“Before the missions, we couldn’t afford health care or have the opportunity to study medicine. Now we can. But we want to be ourselves. We are tired of being criticized internationally. Cuba has helped us, what are you (in the United States) willing to do? Cuba’s help has been invaluable. We could not repay Cuba for what it has done in one hundred or even one million years.”

“No government has ever paid attention to us. We will never let anyone take away this government that is listening to us for the first time.”

Message received.

Unidad Educativa Rafael Arevalo Gonzalez: The delegation visited a high school using a new curriculum and new approaches to learning. The Venezuelans say it is operating under Bolivarian principles. Sitting in a computer lab filled with nineteen modern desktop computers, the delegation received a briefing from a teacher named Julio Mendoza.

Learning is organized around three axes: learning, doing, and living together. The aim is educating a new kind of citizen who is capable of creating an equitable society in Venezuela. The curriculum specializes in science and mathematics; social sciences; training the students for productive work; physical education and environmental science; and Spanish literature and culture.

The teachers at this school are clearly working hard to ensure that these Venezuelan students have an opportunity to succeed.


In this visit, we were struck by the passion of Venezuelans who feel recognized by their government for the first time. They demonstrate the impact the missions of President Chavez has already had on this nation’s dispossessed. Their expectations are clearly high, for continued access to these programs and for their long-term success.

At the beach, we did hear a different story from a man who owns a transportation company. He bitterly criticized the government and said it was giving away money to people who were too lazy to work. He, on the other hand, made all of his money through his own work alone. He even asked one of us how much Chavez was paying us “to lie to the American people.”

It is interesting that his company has a contract for services with the state oil company.

The delegation ends its stay in Venezuela tomorrow. We’ll file new reports from the U.S. soon. Until then, that’s Caracas Connect connecting from Venezuela.

Day Three: Report from Venezuela

January 14, 2006

Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll file two reports today: one with pictures and commentary from Friday, January 13, and another with a few pictures and fewer words from our visit outside Caracas to a place called Barlovento on Saturday, January 14.


Caracas, regularly choked with traffic, seemed particularly close to a standstill on Friday nearest the city’s core. Venezuelans had their ears cocked to the closest television, radio, or street speaker, listening to their president, Hugo Chavez, deliver a five-hour plus state of the union address. Heavily armed soldiers were out adding a layer of security; we saw a military band march into place; Chavistas with their trademark red t-shirts listened and conversed on the street; vendors hawked Chavez t-shirts and Bolivariana baseball caps. A banner, “Chavez: Protector de Venezuela,” fluttered over the scene.

Before the speech started, our delegation was welcomed by Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the opposition newspaper Tal Cual. Petkoff, (pictured above) a Venezuelan patriot, fought in Venezuela’s civil war in the 1960s, was jailed and slipped away from jail twice in that decade. He is a former planning minister under the administration of President Caldera. He says that he is out of politics, though some believe he may consider a run for the presidency in 2006.

Petkoff is an opponent of the policies of President Chavez but is also tough-minded: he was an outspoken critic of the coup and general strike which took place in 2002.

In our conversation with him, he spoke with strength and specificity about the key issues he saw facing his country: actions taken by President Chavez to consolidate power and authority, including merging military and civilian powers in the office of the president; the rise in poverty over the last seven years in Venezuela (disputed by other observers in Caracas), despite Chavez’s emphasis on social missions; the political dynamics at work in Venezuela today including real political support for President Chavez and the debilitated condition of political parties; and the real shortcomings of U.S. policy not only toward Venezuela but also the entire region of Latin America.

Petkoff on the absence of checks and balances: From a practical point of view, there are no checks on this government: Supreme Court, Assembly, Attorney-General, Electoral Council, all are in the grip of Hugo Chavez. Now we have a parliament – not because of Chavez but because of the opposition’s decision not to participate in the last election – we have a parliament that is 100% Chavista.

Petkoff on the well-spring of support for Chavez: On the other side – on the social side – we must recognize that the greatest accomplishment of Hugo Chavez is that he has made the “social issue” the number one issue in Venezuela. For twenty years, the Social Democrats, the old political parties, did not deal with the impoverishment of the country. During the twenty years before Chavez, this country went from 20% poverty to 60% poverty. It is brutal. During this time, the old traditional parties transformed the electoral machines thinking only of themselves, fighting only for power, and nevermore spoke about the problems of the country. The country disappeared from the horizons of the political parties.

A taxi driver told me months ago, “I am not Chavista, but I will vote for him. I don’t want him to leave office; because if he does, you (the opposition parties) will forget about me again.” They know they are on his mind and in his checkbook.

Petkoff on what U.S. policy fails to understand: Chavez is helping (newly elected Bolivian president) Evo Morales. But to accuse (Morales) of dancing at the end of Chavez’s string is to show that you know nothing about Latin America. Evo Morales is the symbol of the inclusion movement. 60% of the population of Bolivia (the indigenous people) for the first time in 500 years now has a government. Who is Evo Morales? He is an expression of that. The indigenous people now have a chance at a better life.

If I were president of Venezuela, I would help Evo Morales. What’s the problem? …How can Bush attack Chavez for helping Evo Morales when Bush is giving money to everyone in Venezuela who is against Chavez?

I would say to Americans: Try to understand our history. Try to understand our grievances. [The problem with US policy is] the way you relate to Latin America. If every time a popular leader or an elected populist appears in the Latin American scene, it is reflexive on the part of American leaders to say “that is an enemy, or a potential enemy.” If, on the other hand, you try and understand the roots, the problems of the political parties, if you see Chavez as an answer, that Venezuelans looked for this way out, it is because of the failure of the prior government. If the political establishment of the U.S. does not understand why someone like Morales emerges than there is no future for U.S. policy in the region.

Just blocks from where the State of the Union was being delivered, two members of the Presidential Staff, Max Arvelaiz and Alex Main, foreign policy advisors to Hugo Chavez, broke away from the speech and met with the delegation.

They said that the state of the union address is an important speech for Chavez, because it gives a framework for their activities in 2006. It is the start of a presidential election year. They have plans for extensive travel by Chavez throughout Latin America. They have on-going plans for the social missions launched by Chavez. They have also the on-going challenges of US policy toward Venezuela and the region.

On the current state of US relations: Relations with the United States – at the highest level, there is no relationship at all. But that said it is in both nations’ interests to have some relationship at different levels. Following the coup in 2002, they came to recognize that the policy of the US government was to destabilize their government. There was deterioration in the relationship after that. They expressed their hope that after the November Congressional elections, or when there is a new administration, we hope there will be better relations.

US efforts to isolate Venezuela have failed: The aides said that Venezuela started 2005 feeling isolated, but it turned out to be a successful year. Venezuela joined Mercosur, the trade pact of the south. Venezuela intensified its initiatives to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean weather the escalating price of oil, by providing petroleum under cut-rate financing agreements. The visions of the two countries clashed at the Summit of the Americas held in Argentina at Mar del Plata, when Venezuela fought the US vision for the region on trade. US candidates for the leadership of the OAS were blocked; unprecedented in the history of the organization. They said Venezuela no longer feels isolated, and asserted that the US is now on the defensive in the region.

The aides discussed wide-ranging issues – including police reform, the need for Venezuela to diversify its economy, and efforts it is making toward regional integration. We spoke of the need to restart the dialogue between the U.S. and Venezuela; if the Bush administration won’t talk to the Chavez government, we will look for ways to bring the conversation to Caracas.


For fifty years – fifty years! – Omar Calzadilla has been a teacher and an activist against illiteracy in Venezuela. He now runs the campaign for literacy in his country as Vice Minister in the Ministry of Education and Sports, in charge of the Robinson (literacy) mission. Just before six pm on Friday evening, as his colleagues were leaving the building to start the weekend, he spent time with the delegation to discuss his campaign to teach Venezuelan children and adults to read.

When the program began, Venezuela, a nation of 25 million people, had a crisis in literacy. Previous campaigns had failed. The immediate purpose of the new policy was to attack illiteracy. The question was whether it would be fast or slow. They wanted to attack it in a massive way. To accomplish this, they had to create an alternative education system.

The Venezuelan literacy campaign was based on efforts in Cuba that erased illiteracy in that country. They used printed (“Yo, Si puedo”) and multi-media resources created in Cuba. Venezuela purchased televisions, VCRs, and instructional manuals for the creation of centers where reading could be taught outside the formal school system. The target audience for the program is Venezuelans who live in extreme poverty and had been excluded from the education system.

The nation embarked on a social audit to find out where the illiterate members of its population could be found. They identified places where the literacy centers could be created and reach the people who needed the services. They had the military guard the equipment. They recruited teachers – and at the outset – the only requirement to be a teacher was the ability to read and write.

The initiative started official July 1, 2003. By October 28, 2005: 1,482,543 people had already been taught to read.

The social missions started at the primary school level. They have been expanded to include secondary school and college. The programs are aimed at each of these levels because the over-arching purpose is inclusion; it is a system that pays attention to those who had been excluded from education.

As the Venezuelans accumulated more experience with the program, they discovered related problems to illiteracy: students had no food, some had no glasses and they could not see, and many others had no money for transportation. So the policy has been expanded, budgets have been added to address these related issues.

The meeting concluded as members of the delegation expressed the hope that these programs would be permanent and sustainable in order to help more Venezuelans over time. The program clearly has a devoted warrior to make this campaign succeed.


The delegation continues its work today in Barlovento and later in Caracas. We’ll file another report soon. Until then, that’s Caracas Connect connecting from Venezuela.

Day Three

January 13, 2006

We had a great and informative day. Full report tomorrow!

Day Two: Report from Venezuela

January 12, 2006

Now we’re starting to get “under the hood.”

President Hugo Chavez is using his oil dividend to try and improve living conditions for the massive majority of his country that is living under the poverty line. One of his programs is devoted to raising health care coverage among the poor. Is it working? We visited the medical college located in Caracas to ask the man who helped design the program.

What is really happening in Venezuela politically? We met with the editor of the number one circulation newspaper in Venezuela, who earned his large and growing readership by insisting that his paper be free of either pro- or anti-government bias. In a nation where people lose trust in their institutions, his newspaper is trusted by many as an unbiased source of news.

What is the true standing of the anti-government opposition, and what are the bases of their complaints against the system – and against President Chavez? We spoke directly to the senior leadership of Sumate to find out. It was a good day to get connected in Caracas.


Charisma: Meeting with Dr. Fernando J. Bianco, Presidente of the Colegio de Medicos in Caracas.

Yesterday, we went to a secondary care clinic that has seen over 60,000 Venezuelan patients from the barrios that encircle Caracas in just the last eleven months. The clinic is part of an extensive new public health care program instituted by President Chavez and funded by the oil dividend created by high global oil prices. The program was designed with the help of a physician and psychiatrist, trained in the United States, named Fernando Bianco. With buoyancy and a barrage of facts, Dr. Bianco explained the program to members of our delegation today in Caracas.

Dr. Bianco talked to us about the roots of the health care program starting in the Venezuelan constitution adopted in a popular vote in 1999. The new constitution redefined the relationship of the state to the Venezuelan people as regards their health care. It reoriented the direction of health care from private to public, from treatment to prevention, from exclusion of the poor to inclusion of the poor, to a new emphasis on healthful living and training thousands of new Venezuelan doctors.

Dr. Bianco talked candidly about problems with health care delivery for Venezuela’s poor. But he also made the case that the reforms introduced by the health care mission are already producing results, and that he has persuaded the government to meet and analyze the new program in medical education to measure whether it is working and how it can be improved.

Character: Meeting with Eleazar Diaz Rangel, editor of Ultimas Noticias.

The politics of Venezuela is intensely polarized. This political polarization is reflected in the press. Most major newspapers and broadcast outlets are affiliated with opposition parties or, in some few instances, the government. News organizations opposed to the government are aligned with elites, the rich and powerful families and institutions in Venezuela society. A few news organizations parrot the government line and are rewarded as a result. Against this backdrop, it showed real character on the part of Ultimas Noticias and its editors to strike an independent course – to side with the truth, to try and report on conditions in Venezuela objectively, and to appeal for readers accordingly.

As related to us by Eleazar Diaz Rangel, the truthful path has also been a path to success. Ultimas Noticias is now the best read newspaper in Venezuela with an audited readership of 300,000. According to public opinion research, it is also the most trusted: In a recent questionnaire by a polling firm, 70% of the Venezuelan public considers this newspaper to be balanced; 13% thought it to be pro-Chavez; 6% thought anti-Chavez.

Navigating a newspaper devoted to balance through the politics of contemporary Venezuela is no easy feat. Yet, Ultimas Noticias has tried to report the news without fear or favor – covering, the coup against Chavez in 2002; the strike called in the same year that was conceived to undermine popular support for Chavez (it failed); covering the referendum in 2004 that determined that Chavez would not be recalled; while also blowing the whistle on examples of corruption in Venezuela’s government.

Diaz Rangel was equally and specifically critical of both the opposition parties (when they were in government) and the Chavez administration for failing to be vigilant against corruption.

Under questioning from former Ambassador Bob White, president of The Center for International Policy, Diaz Rangel said that his newspaper had published evidence of U.S. complicity in the 2002 coup against Chavez. To this date, our government denies any involvement.


Concern: Meeting with Marina Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz of Sumate.

On Wednesday, January 18, Marina Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz will go on trial for allegedly violating Venezuelan law when they accepted thousands of dollars of donations for their work from The National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. based institution funded by the U.S. Congress. Less than seven days before their trial began, the delegation met with these individuals to hear their passionate case about the need for real democracy and a strong and independent civil society in Venezuela.

In addition to discussing their own case, they expressed their views about how the independence of the Venezuelan judiciary has been compromised. They talked about the lack of trust among some Venezuelans in the electoral system. They said, in clear and straightforward terms that while President Chavez has won elections in the country, he has taken Venezuela in unexpected and unwelcome directions -- the alliance with Cuba, the increased political polarization in the society, changes to the free market economic system – directions not approved by the voters.

Bob White asked pointedly about the voice of the opposition when it was in power, when Venezuela was a nation of great oil wealth, but the dispossessed in the country were left out of the economic system, without health care or literacy training. How could a country so rich in natural resources endure two-thirds of its people living below the poverty line? Didn’t the preconditions for Chavez’s election – and his rule – exist when the opposition was in power, and don’t they now express regret for failing to address those conditions years before?

The Sumate leadership worried that some U.S. policymakers are concerned with the wrong things; they are treating threats to civil society by Chavez as “internal matters” of concern. They said they were predominantly focused, not on the economy but on reforming the Venezuelan political system. But they confessed, ‘mistakes were made.’

The delegation concluded the meeting by expressing genuine concern about the upcoming trial and its hope that the Bush administration would be monitoring the judicial proceedings actively.


Finally, the delegation did have a chance to visit with senior Foreign Service Officers at the United States Embassy in Venezuela today. We received a professional briefing from the embassy staff, and got a spirited defense of Bush Administration policy toward Venezuela and a strong critique by our government of the problems they see in Hugo Chavez’s rule. The meeting was conducted on an off-the-record basis.

The delegation continues its work tomorrow. And we’ll file another before the sun goes down somewhere in the USA. Until then, that’s Caracas Connect connecting from Caracas.

Day One: Report from Venezuela

January 11, 2006

When Hugo Chavez took office the price of oil plunged as low as $7 per barrel. Now – thanks in part to the Iraq War – oil is reliably selling in excess of $50 per barrel. The Iraq War, which Chavez opposes, is providing oil rich Venezuela with billions in extra cash to help his country finance an ambitious program whose aims include narrowing the gap between its rich and poor, and intensifying economic and diplomatic ties between Venezuela and other nations in the region. It’s a program the Bush administration scorns. Whether Chavez can transform Venezuelan society with this paradoxical oil dividend is the $5 billion question confronting this country.


CIP’s Venezuela delegation spent its first day in Caracas examining some of the fundamental challenges facing President Hugo Chavez’s government.

Can it build a more equitable and inclusive society by plunging oil profits into social projects such as providing literacy and health care to the nation’s poor?

Can a nation that has historically generated wealth from natural resources –hydrocarbons – successfully diversify its economy? Can any nation do so, particularly absent protections for other industries that must compete in a global economy?

Can the Chavez presidential office and the state oil company, PDVSA, successfully manage an array of social programs while bypassing the ministries in Venezuela’s government that have traditionally run such programs – ministries viewed by Chavez supporters as obstacles to reform and staffed by some who oppose Chavez’s program?

What are the human rights conditions in the country, and can human rights advocates meaningfully shape the state’s policy toward protecting political rights?


When it comes to oil and social programs, Venezuela just does things differently, differently at least from the ways we in the United States are accustomed. The oil company is state-owned, and the Venezuelan government is merging the missions of the oil company and the state energy agency which sets policy. Venezuela is using its rising oil profits to fund social programs – PDVSA is doing things Exxon-Mobil wouldn’t be caught dead doing. A military officer, Col. Dester Rodriguez, is administering the overall program using oil profits for social ends.

The delegation heard from Col. Rodriguez this morning, and he talked a great deal about the theory behind the program and its historic background. The delegation had more specific questions than the Colonel was willing, or able, to answer. But he did make an awfully strong case that PDVSA was responsible for sparks of social change that the Chavez government means to transform Venezuelan society.

The public clearly thinks so too. As our delegation arrived at the PDVSA building, a small and respectful demonstration was taking place outside its chained gates – parents and protestors praising Chavez for his social missions, but blaming the oil company for not fulfilling the government’s promises to help the nation’s children.

Blaming the oil company. Perhaps not that different from the United States after all.

Unlike the human rights abuses that CIP has investigated in the past – brutality against citizens for expressing their political views, using violence and illegal measures to stifle political change – we learned today that the NGOs here are focused on something else. Human rights abuses are aimed at the poor, committed by the police, and are measures to repress the poor as a form of social control. These NGOs help the victims, when their families report incidents of abuse and violence against them. They work with the police to professionalize their activities through education. And they have worked with the government to change the constitution and Venezuelan law, to try and provide a better legal framework for protecting the victims of abuse.

The NGOs have historically worked on 100-150 such cases per year. They recently scored a victory when the Venezuelan Attorney-General made the remarkable disclosure that the government believes that 6,000 cases of abuse had occurred in the last five years, a multiple of what the NGOs themselves recorded. Their on-going mission is dealing with the activities of local police forces which are responsible for the human rights violations committed against Venezuelan citizens.

There’s a center in Caracas near some of its desperate barrios, precariously perched on the city’s hillsides, where the Chavez social missions employ poor Venezuelans, and give them access to health care, education, and better lives. We visited this center, named for a Venezuelan patriot, Fabricio Ojeda, and saw the words expressed this morning by Col. Rodriguez at PDVSA turned into actions.

There’s a shoe factory on the site that employs 144 locals, largely women, that is currently filling an order for 20,000 pairs of shoes destined for Cuba. The shoes – we say with admiration – looked like Venezuela’s version of “Doc Marten’s”. The workers earn money based on their productivity, and they were hard at work on stitching machines and other equipment in a relatively quiet and completely clean factory.

We also looked in on the health clinic, where teams of twenty doctors working in shifts, have seen an astounding 64,000 patients in the eleven months it has been open. The clinic provides care to people with illnesses first diagnosed in barrio clinics. It also has care for dental patients, women expecting children, internal medicine, and other specialties. Reforming health care is a high priority for the Chavez government; it has sent 9,000 low-income Venezuelan students to study in Cuban medical schools, and is building new medical schools in Venezuela to produce more doctors for its people.


One member of the delegation said, “The money really is getting to the people.” He said this outside the clinic, as we watched a mixed group of Venezuelan kids working moves on a basketball court, built to sturdy American-style standards, near the clinic, and next to an equally impressive soccer field. It’s impossible to measure on the first day of a tour, but what we saw did provide some measure of hope.

At the same time, Venezuela clearly has a distance to go. Not long before we arrived, a bridge nearly buckled on the road which takes the majority of the traffic from Caracas’s new international airport into the nation’s capital. Cars are now barred from traversing this highway, and there appears that there may be no solution to the problem until 2007. Meanwhile, traffic is tied up on two alternative routes; commercial trucks have to wait until after 9pm to travel into Caracas and back to the airport and port, just to keep the city supplied. Tourists coming into the country at night have to navigate drives around bending mountain roads that can last 4 hours. It used to take 25 minutes to get into the city. Alarms have been raised about the bridge for more than twenty years.

The delegation continues its work tomorrow. And we’ll file another report –with photos of course – before the sun goes down somewhere in the USA. Until then, that’s Caracas Connect connecting from Caracas.

Reporting from Venezuela

January 8, 2005

This week, representatives from The Center for International Policy (CIP), who write for Caracas Connect will travel to Venezuela for a fact-finding mission to kick-off CIP’s new Venezuela program.

We will be posting pictures and reports from Venezuela here. Please follow the site as we record our take on Venezuelan political, cultural, and social life; look at pictures taken by our delegation, and most importantly, make comments of your own.

We look forward to an informative and exciting trip, and want you to take part in the analysis and evaluation of our findings.

So, keep an eye on Caracas Connect, beginning Wednesday, January 10th for our postings.

Morales set for energy accord with Chavez

By Andy Webb-Vidal
The Financial Times
January 4, 2006

Bolivia's president-elect Evo Morales was yesterday set to seal a series of accords with Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, that are expected to underpin forthcoming radical reforms to Bolivia's economy and energy sector.

Mr Morales, who later this month will enter office as the first indigenous president of South America's poorest country, stopped in Caracas before heading to Europe, South Africa and China.

Go to full article.