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

Anti-U.S. Chavez leads Venezuelan race

President Hugo Chavez commanded a wide lead before Venezuela's election on Sunday, setting the stage for the self-styled revolutionary to intensify his anti-U.S., leftist crusade in Latin America.

His rival Manuel Rosales, the governor of an oil-producing state in the west of the OPEC nation, trails by double-digits in most polls because he has made little headway eroding Chavez's overwhelming support among the majority poor.

If the polls showing Chavez has close to 60 percent support prove right, he vows to use re-election with a strong mandate to scrap term limits and to rule for decades atop a single-party that he wants to create from the cacophony of groups he now heads.

Go to the full article here.

Venezuelans debate U.S. ties

The BBC posted a slideshow entitled, "In pictures: Venezuelans debate U.S. ties". See the photos here.

Tensions up ahead of Venezuela election

Venezuela's leading opposition candidate called Wednesday for President Hugo Chavez's government to play clean in Sunday's presidential election amid signs of a widening political divide in the country.

The race has highlighted how increasingly polarized Venezuela has become, largely along class lines, with the wealthier supporting Rosales, the poor backing Chavez and the middle class fractured.

Shoppers are packing supermarkets to stock up on supplies, fearful that Sunday's outcome could prompt street protests and violence.

"It has to be a clean game ... If that happens, all of us will be calm," Manuel Rosales, governor of oil-rich Zulia state, said to The Associated Press shortly before closing his campaign with a huge rally in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city.

Both Rosales and Chavez have warned their supporters to be alert for fraud and to be ready to defend the vote.

Chavez, speaking at his own rally in southeastern Trujillo state, warned that the U.S. government was backing Rosales and would try to undermine the election.

"If the imperialists and its lackeys try to destabilize Venezuela with riots, they will regret it for the rest of their lives. I warn them," he said.

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Electronic Vote Distrusted in Venezuela

Under pressure from opponents of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's elections council has adopted safeguards for the country's electronic voting machines to prevent tampering in Sunday's election _ conditions so strict that experts say they surpass some standards in the United States.

The opposition boycotted Venezuela's legislative elections a year ago, saying it couldn't trust that the electronic machines would be used fairly. But after thorough checks of hardware and software and some key concessions by electoral officials, presidential challenger Manuel Rosales says he's satisfied _ as long as the agreed-upon rules are respected.

"The Venezuelan people and I hope that the electoral council doesn't step outside the rules, that it maintains impartiality," Rosales said Monday. "I'm going to defend the transparency and the results of this process, even if it's with my last breath."

Unlike with most U.S. electronic voting machines, Venezuelans will get paper receipts that verify their choices were properly recorded, and must deposit them into boxes before leaving the polls. After Sunday's vote, election officials monitored by representatives of each candidate will count millions of the paper receipts for comparison to the electronic totals.

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The world of statesmanship can now be divided into at least two camps: the kind of diplomacy that speaks to to nations and movements we disagree with, and the kind of diplomacy that doesn't. President George Bush and the Wall Street Journal belong to the second camp, and we need look only as far as Iraq and North Korea to see where such diplomacy leads. The Bush administration and the Journal don't much like the distribution of lower cost heating oil to poor people in America either. So neither the President nor the editorial page of the Journal have much time for President Chavez and Venezuela. We believe that the first kind of diplomacy needs to be reinvigorated; after all, diplomacy was invented to settle disputes not ignore them, not hope they'll go away, not for the purpose of disparaging or attacking governments like that in Venezuela, even when we have political concerns about how they are conducting their domestic or international political affairs.

We believe in engagement, and we believe in democracy.

On Sunday, the people of Venezuela will go to the polls to decide who their next president should be, an election that will be monited by institutions like The Carter Center and the OAS. If they can abide by the results, so should we. And if the poor here in America are lucky, their access to less expensive heating oil will continue unabated, no matter who wins Venezuela's election. They don't seem to be getting such a deal from the oil companies here or even their own government.

Dial Joe-4-Chávez

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez is an ally of the Iranian mullahs, a supporter of North Korea, a close friend of Fidel Castro and a good customer for Vladimir Putin's weapon factories. Now he's also a business partner of Joseph P. Kennedy II.

The former Democratic Congressman describes the deal he's cooked up with Mr. Chávez as charity for low-income consumers of heating oil. But it's worth asking what the price of this largesse is to Venezuelans and to U.S. security interests.

The arrangement is this: Mr. Chávez's Citgo -- a Houston-based oil company owned by the Venezuelan government -- is supplying home heating oil to Mr. Kennedy's Citizens Energy Corporation at a 40% discount. Citizens, a nonprofit outfit, says it passes the savings onto the poor, aiming to help 400,000 homes in 16 states that would otherwise have trouble heating their homes. In the process, Mr. Kennedy happens to get a high-profile publicity plug. If you think you qualify, says the television ad that drew our attention to this partnership, just dial 1-877-Joe-4-Oil.

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Venezuela: A nation divided

That Venezuela is a deeply polarised nation is something no-one in the capital, Caracas, seems to dispute.

"You'll find siblings who no longer speak to each other because one supports [President Hugo] Chavez and the other doesn't," says a man in the well-heeled Altamira neighbourhood. Like many others, he would rather not be named or photographed.

The tension ahead of the 3 December presidential elections is palpable everywhere.

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Chavez Says 'Win' Dedicated to Castro

President Hugo Chavez told hundreds of thousands of red-clad supporters Sunday that he will win re-election next weekend by an overwhelming margin and dedicate his victory to ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Chavez noted the Dec. 3 election will be the same weekend that Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of Castro's arrival in Cuba with other armed rebels aboard a yacht to launch the guerrilla war that eventually brought him to power.

"This victory on Dec. 3 ... we're going to dedicate it to the 50 years since the arrival of the revolutionary boat Granma led by Fidel Castro to the coast of Cuba," Chavez said to cheers. "Fidel, applause from Venezuela! Long live Cuba! Long live revolutionary Cuba!"

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Venezuelans live poor in an oil-rich country

In Venezuela, the revolution is everywhere, even on the packaging for beans, margarine and cooking oil on the shelves of the state-run supermarkets. Images of independence heroes on horseback gallop across packages of pasta. Socialist slogans decorate bags of flour, all sold at deep discount at the 15,000 Mercal shops — non-profit grocery stores the government has opened across the country.

“For a Venezuela without illiteracy,” reads a bag of rice, with a lengthy reference to the constitutional rights of the people. A one-kilo bag costs 50 cents, half the price charged in the “capitalist” store down the street.

“We lived a lot worse before Hugo Chavez came along,” said Noris Palma, 29, one of a dozen customers at the Mercal outlet in Parroquia El Valle, a poor neighbourhood at the city's western edge, which is also home to a government-run soup kitchen and a free medical clinic. “Now there are more opportunities for the poor — to go to university, maybe to get a house. I have asked the government to help build one for me and my fiancé.”

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Petition to respect the democratic electoral process in Venezuela

"Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of democracy are not a President, Senate or government officials but the voters of this country." - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Dear President Bush,

If you value democracy, respect the voters of Venezuela.

Since 1999, the citizens of Venezuela have repeatedly voted for a government that -- unlike others in the past -- would share their country's oil wealth with millions of poor Venezuelans. This has happened: the vast majority of poor Venezuelans now have access to free health care in their neighborhoods, subsidized basic foods, and increased educational opportunities.

These social and economic changes have come about through a democratic process of free and fair elections. That has been the consensus opinion of international election observers -- including experts from the Carter Center, the Organization of American States, and the European Union. With the help of the international community, Venezuelan elections have become one of the most heavily scrutinized and transparent systems in the world.

But the Bush Administration has not respected the democratic process in Venezuela. In April of 2002, Administration officials lent their support to a military coup against the democratically elected government. According to the U.S. State Department Office of Inspector General, our government provided "support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved" in this military coup.

This December, Venezuelans will once again participate in the process of choosing their president through democratic elections. When the outcome is confirmed by Venezuelan authorities and the international community, it is our duty as Americans to respect the results.

We call for a new policy of engagement with Venezuela. It is long past time to abandon the Cold War framework that has portrayed Venezuela as an "enemy," and has in the process alienated most of our neighbors to the South. This new policy would respect the democratic process in Venezuela and put an end to U.S. funding of opposition political groups -- a practice which is illegal in the United States.
As Americans who cherish the right of people to make their voice heard through free and fair elections, we call on our government to respect those noble principles in Venezuela, and not deny the voters of Venezuela the same right to democracy that we uphold for ourselves.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson
Cornel West, PhD.
Dolores Huerta
Tom Hayden

Go here to sign the petition.

Citgo Brings Discounted Heating Oil to Region

At 10 a.m. today, Minnie Davis, a 65-year-old widow who lives with three of her grandchildren on North Capitol Street, is scheduled to get some unusual visitors -- the Venezuelan ambassador, the chief executive of Citgo Petroleum and former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II.

The occasion: The arrival of a Venezuelan-backed program to bring 7.5 million gallons of deeply discounted heating oil to as many as 37,000 low-income households in Maryland, Virginia and the District and free heating oil to some homeless shelters.

The program has the blessings of Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chavez, who has used it to demonstrate that he cares about the poor in the United States as well as Venezuela -- while tweaking President Bush, who he called "evil" in a September speech at the United Nations.

Many people have dismissed the assistance as a publicity stunt, but for some, it will have a real impact nonetheless.

Go to full article here.

European Union sends election observers to Venezuela

More than 100 observers from the European Union are fanning out over 17 of Venezuela's 23 states to observe the South American nation's upcoming presidential election, the mission's leader said Tuesday.

Monica Frassoni said at a news conference that Venezuela's National Elections Council had granted the delegation permission to oversee balloting on Dec. 3 as well as to conduct audits of results immediately following the vote.

''They have access to all the stages of the electoral process,'' Frassoni said.

The EU delegation will be joined by observers from the Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who founded the Carter Center, is not expected to travel to Venezuela for the election.

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Venezuelans Square Off Over Race, Oil and a Populist Political Slogan

“Mi negra” is an almost untranslatable term of endearment used in rich and poor households in this racially mixed country, with a definition somewhere between “My dark-skinned woman” and “My dear.”

Now, it also has another meaning. In a reference to the color of oil, President Hugo Chávez’s main electoral challenger chose Mi Negra as the name of a banking card he proposes that would transfer oil revenues directly to the poor.

Few other projects point so succinctly to the populism that permeates the campaigns of both Mr. Chávez and the top contender to unseat him, Manuel Rosales, governor of the oil-producing Zulia State, leading to the elections on Dec. 3.

Go to full New York Times article here.

Venezuelans on a spending spree

Manuel Rodriguez was walking through his neighborhood on a recent Saturday when he passed a Harley-Davidson showroom.

Rodriguez ducked inside, got on several gleaming motorcycles and within minutes was negotiating with a dealer to purchase two Harley-Davidson Road Kings — one for himself and another for his 30-year-old son. The total price: $57,000.

"It's unbelievable. What a bike!" said the 57-year-old factory owner. "I've always wanted to have one before I turned 60."

Like many Venezuelans, Rodriguez is flush with cash as this South American country rides an unprecedented wave of prosperity fueled by high oil prices, cheap credit and massive government spending that has created a new elite and bolstered President Hugo Chávez's popularity less than a month before he seeks re-election.

Read the rest of the Chicago Tribune article here.

Venezuela, Guatemala quit race for Security Council seat

Guatemala and Venezuela agreed to withdraw from the race for a seat on the U.N. Security Council and support Panama as a consensus candidate, Ecuador's U.N. ambassador announced Wednesday.

Ambassador Diego Cordovez, who hosted two meetings between the foreign ministers of Guatemala and Venezuela, made the announcement at Ecuador's U.N. Mission.

Go to full article here.