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

Yes, oil from Venezuela

THERE'S BEEN a lot of controversy lately over whether Citizens Energy Corp. should distribute -- and the poor should accept -- discount heating oil from Venezuela while that country is under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez.

But those who have no problem staying warm at night should not condemn others for accepting Venezuela's oil. Rhetoric means little to an elderly woman who has to drag an old cot from her basement to sleep by the warmth of the open kitchen stove or give up food or medicine to pay her heating bill.

Read all of Joseph Kennedy's editorial from the Boston Globe here.

Chávez Backs Ecuador in Attacking U.S. Drug War

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela on Wednesday backed Ecuador’s president-elect in his criticism of United States-financed spraying of Colombian drug crops, accusing Washington of hypocrisy in its war on drugs.

Mr. Chávez also insisted that the United States was using its antinarcotics drive to gain a military foothold in Latin America, and he accused the American envoy in Caracas of lying when he said drug smuggling was soaring in Venezuela.

Go to full article here.

U.S. seeks pragmatic Venezuela approach

Washington is seeking a pragmatic relationship with President Hugo Chavez's government that will allow for cooperation on trade and other issues despite deep political differences, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela said Tuesday.

Ambassador William Brownfield, in comments published by the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, cited communist China and Vietnam as examples of countries where the U.S. has put aside ideological differences to pursue commercial relations.

Go to full article here.

Venezuela Starts to Construct Single Ruling Party

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezelan President Hugo Chavez's dominant political party said on Monday it was dissolving, laying the keystone for a single ruling party that critics fear is Chavez's attempt to turn Venezuela into Cuba.

Chavez, who cruised to re-election this month, has said the single party is intended to improve the administration of his self-styled leftist revolution, not copy the model of his mentor, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Information Minister Willian Lara said The Fifth Republic Movement, by far Venezuela's most popular party, was dissolving to form the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

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Sign of hope in US-Venezuela ties

After several years of rising diplomatic tension, Venezuela and the United States say they have made a positive start to improving relations.

The announcement came from the US ambassador in Caracas and Venezuela's foreign minister after a special meeting lasting several hours.

Relations have worsened since claims of US involvement in a coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez in 2002.

The White House has often accused Mr Chavez of harming regional stability.

Go to the full article here.

Color Venezuela's Hugo Chavez red

Out of all the colorful and politically charged campaign slogans that I heard during my coverage of the Venezuelan elections, the one that grabbed me the most was "Roja, rojita," or "red, reddish." Women in the poor neighborhood of San Agustin would repeat it, laughing. They would show me their pinkie, stained with indelible ink after voting. They would point to their red caps or blouses and say, "Roja, rojita."

What I didn't get is if they were simply repeating catchwords coined by the Chavez campaign, or if, in effect, they were declaring themselves communists by conviction.

After the hammer and sickle, perhaps the most identifiable symbol of communism around the world is the color red. I would swear that Chavez owns at least 20 red shirts. Maybe up to 30 red berets. The presidential car is a red Volkswagen Beetle.

Chavez dedicated his victory in the polls to his "comrade Fidel Castro and to the Cuban people." But is Chavez himself a communist? Is Chavez a dictator? The Venezuelan comandante laughs at the mere suggestion of it. "This is the most democratic country in the hemisphere," he often says.

Go to the full article here.

In Hugo's hands

WHEN Hugo Chávez first took office as president of Venezuela, in 1999, he made no mention of socialism. But as he celebrated another crushing victory in reasonably fair presidential elections on Sunday December 3rd the controversial leader claimed that “more than 60% of Venezuelans voted not for Chávez but for a project that has a name—Bolivarian socialism”.

Mr Chávez can certainly claim a mandate. Preliminary results gave him 61% of the votes, compared with 38% for his challenger, Manuel Rosales. But it is far from clear quite what the voters understand “Bolivarian socialism”—named after a 19th-century independence hero—to mean. Polls suggest that many people think it has something to do with social welfare projects and the redistribution of Venezuela’s substantial oil income. But most (perhaps 80%) reject any idea of adopting a Cuban-type system, despite Mr Chávez’s cosy relationship with Fidel Castro and the fondness of both men for rhetoric about their “indivisible” revolutions.

Go to the full article here.

Venezuelans Give Chávez a Mandate to Tighten His Grip

If President Hugo Chávez rules like an autocrat, as his critics in Washington and here charge, then he does so with the full permission of a substantial majority of the Venezuelan people, Sunday’s election here showed.

Sent to power for a third time, Mr. Chávez seems intent on assuming the mantle from the fading Fidel Castro of chief Latin American scourge of the United States. He also has made no secret of his intent to consolidate his power further through legal and personnel changes.

He has spoken of a desire to unite his supporters in one political party and to alter legislation to allow him to remain in power past 2020.

Winning support for such measures may not be difficult in a country where his allies already control the legislature and the Supreme Court as well as governorships in all but two states, and where the military, the national oil company and other government bureaucracies and institutions have been systematically packed with Chávez boosters and stripped of opponents.

Now, facing an anemic opposition that could not win in any of Venezuela’s 23 states or Caracas, Mr. Chávez is expected to tighten his grip, first and foremost over his own supporters in an effort to prevent challenges to his rule from emerging.

Go to the full article here.

Controversial U.N. ambassador to step down announced this morning that, "Unable to win Senate confirmation, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton will step down when his recess appointment expires soon, the White House said Monday.

Bolton's nomination has languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more than a year, blocked by Democrats and several Republicans.

President Bush gave Bolton the job temporarily in August 2005, while Congress was in recess. But the appointment expires when Congress formally adjourns, no later than early January."

Telemundo: Venezuela Halts Transmission

Officials identifying themselves as members of a state regulatory agency forced the U.S.-based Spanish-language TV network Telemundo to halt transmission Sunday of its presidential election coverage.

"We're surprised by this," said Pablo Iacub, a member of Telemundo's eight-person team, which arrived last week. "We only want to do our work," he said by telephone.

At least six people who identified themselves as members of the National Commission of Telecommunications (CONATEL), which regulates electronic media in Venezuela, arrived Sunday afternoon at the hotel from which Telemundo had been transmitting since Friday, said Iacub.

Go to the full article here.

Venezuela's Chávez Wins Decisive Victory

Venezuelans overwhelmingly reelected President Hugo Chávez on Sunday, further extending a presidency that began when he was swept into power eight years ago. The populist leader will receive another six years in office to broaden his leftist revolution and cement his government as the most defiant anti-Bush administration voice in Latin America.

With 78 percent of the votes counted by 10 p.m., electoral authorities announced that Chávez, 52, had secured 61.3 percent of the vote to 38.4 percent for Manuel Rosales, whose candidacy united a fractured opposition but had only four months to gather momentum. Chávez's tally presented an insurmountable lead.

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Chavez expected to win big today

Asserting that Venezuela's democracy isn't just for the rich and powerful anymore, posters plastered to doors and lamp posts in Caracas' slums proclaim that under President Hugo Chavez, "We all govern."

Chavez has spent billions of petrodollars on health, nutrition and literacy programs for the poor and has urged them to get involved in politics. Many will vote for him in today's presidential election, and he's likely to win another six-year term by a wide margin.

Critics, however, claim that rather than expanding political rights, Chavez is gradually rolling back democratic freedoms in this oil-rich nation. What he has created, in the view of some political scientists, is a hybrid form of government, a system that falls into a gray area between representative democracy and authoritarian rule.

Go to the full article here.

Venezuela’s Elections: How to Fake a Fraud

Daniel Hellinger is professor of political science at Webster University and serves on the board of the Washington DC based Center for Democracy in the Americas.

Sunday, Venezuelans go to the polls. President Chavez will likely win again, probably with a margin between 55 and 60 percent. Facing little prospect of victory, the opposition and Washington are preparing instead to discredit the results.

An abstentionist sector is already convinced the election will be fraudulent. The main opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, may take a nuanced position. He will probably complain about irregularities but try to preserve his credibility with voters, and his future political prospects, by keeping a distance from the most intransigent sectors of the opposition. He will leave it to the abstentionists and the private media to convince the international community that a fraud was perpetrated.

Go here to read the full article.

For Chávez, Firm Rule and Favors: Venezuelan President Expected to Win Easily in Sunday Vote

This country's populist president, Hugo Chávez, beloved by his followers, has achieved a cultlike status by mixing his considerable charisma with a free-spending policy of funneling billions into social programs. But that hasn't stopped his oil-rich government from using every tool at its disposal to ensure that voters flock to its side in Sunday's presidential election.

Ramon Antonio Perez, 41, found that out the hard way. Never shy about expressing his dislike for the government, Perez said he was fired from his job in the publicly run Caracas subway system after ignoring repeated warnings about his political activities. "From night to day," he said, "I've been left with nothing."

At the state oil company, a young lawyer -- also opposed to the government -- described how the red T-shirts government supporters wear are handed out in bulk to workers, who are then expected to don them for pro-Chávez rallies.

Go to the full article here.

Venezuela's Chavez Says Plot Was Foiled

President Hugo Chavez said Thursday during a marathon news conference that authorities had foiled a planned sniper attack against his main opponent in this weekend's elections.

As campaigning ended ahead of Sunday's vote, Chavez said "fascist" militants had planned to use a rifle with a telescopic sight to shoot Manuel Rosales during a speech and then blame it on Chavez's government in hopes of derailing the balloting.

Go here to read the full article.