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

ConocoPhillips Holds Talks in Venezuela

ConocoPhillips held last-minute negotiations with President Hugo Chavez's government before Tuesday's deadline to decide whether to accept tougher terms or give up on Venezuelan oil.

Most of the five other major energy companies involved appeared likely to accept the government's terms and sign deals Tuesday formally reducing their ownership positions to minority stakes in state-run joint ventures to keep pumping heavy crude in the lucrative Orinoco River basin.

Venezuela is taking at least 60 percent of each Orinoco venture, and gave the companies until Tuesday to negotiate the terms of their remaining stakes. Chavez's government already took over operational control of Venezuela's last privately run oil fields on May 1 as part of its nationalization drive.

ConocoPhillips (nyse: COP - news - people ) spokesman Bill Tanner in Houston said Monday afternoon that negotiations were continuing. "As you can imagine, it's pretty fluid," Tanner said.

Go to full article here.

Zoellick Belittles impact of Venezuela's withdrawal from the World Bank

Robert Zoellick, a candidate to become the next head of the World Bank, on June 16 said the financial body's influence would not be undermined by Venezuela's likely withdrawal, and claimed that the bank's major challenge is finding new financial products for middle-income countries, AP reported.

During a news conference in Mexico City, Zoellick said: "If a country feels it does not need or want the services of the international financial institutions, then that is their choice. Venezuelans have a great amount of oil money. "I have found no shortage of countries interested in trying to work with the World Bank."

Go to full article here.

Guest Writer on RCTV

President Hugo Chavez’ decision not to extend RCTV’s license, thus removing the station from the public airwaves, has sparked a controversy – in Venezuela and globally —with a diversity of opinions.

People across the political spectrum have voiced protest over Mr. Chavez’ actions. They start from the position that shutting down a TV station goes against the freedom of speech that is the right of publics in a democracy. RCTV had an audience, and a high one, and the decision by the government to shut it down means that now pro-government TV will dominate. Despite the role its role in the 2002 coup, it is not Hugo Chavez’ institutional responsibility as president to decide if RCTV broke the terms of its license. It is truly the role of the courts to decide that.

Supporters take an opposite tact. Democratic societies are constantly making judgments about when to balance freedom of speech versus the need for security. This happened quite famously in Europe when were asked to stop the publication of cartoons that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in late 2005 and early 2006. They also ask whether RCTV did, in fact, cross a line with its participation in the coup of 2002, and wonder whether a broadcaster in the United States would keep its license if it tried to help oust President Bush from office. Finally, they say, closing down RCTV does not mean that freedom of expression has died in Venezuela. Opposition still exists, and this needs to be recognized.

With all of this in mind however, to shut down any outlet of information is dangerous, because voices in a democracy deserve to be heard, especially when it is a voice that the government considers to be against the will of the people. Moreover, the way RCTV was shut down only gave ammunition to those who criticize President Chavez.

If Chavez would have allowed the courts to make that decision, he would have shown that in Venezuela the rule of law still exists and that there are institutions, other than the executive, that can keep checks and balances in the country. This would have mitigated criticism, and been an example to critics that Chavez is still working within a democratic framework.

This has become a self-inflicted wound with the international press escalating a conflict in a region that needs a broader focus than the ups and downs of the Chavez government.

Pedro, Mexico City

Venezuela seizes 2.5 tons of cocaine

(AP) -- Venezuelan authorities seized 2.5 tons of cocaine bound for Africa and arrested nine suspects, including four federal police officers and a U.S. citizen, the military said Sunday.

Following an undercover operation, military intelligence agents seized the drugs Saturday at the airport on the tourist destination of Margarita Island, National Guard Cmdr. Marcos Rojas Figueroa said.

The alleged smugglers were preparing to load it onto a private plane bound for Sierra Leone, Rojas Figueroa told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency. He did not say how authorities knew the drugs were destined for the West African nation, a common way station for Colombian cocaine bound for Europe.

Four police officers who helped transport the cocaine to the airport tarmac were detained along with an airport security guard and four foreigners, including one U.S. citizen, two Mexicans and a Sierra Leone national, Rojas Figueroa said.

Venezuela is a major conduit for Colombian cocaine, and Washington has accused President Hugo Chávez of not doing enough to crack down on authorities who collaborate with traffickers.

Chávez, who says Venezuela is doing everything it can, vowed Sunday to send additional soldiers to the porous 1,400-mile border to crack down on Colombia's leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and other groups involved in drug smuggling.

Go to full article here.

Worrisome economic signals in Venezuela

The Central Bank of Venezuela is preparing a new set of economic measures intended to curb inflation


Awash in cash from booming oil prices and thriving consumption, seasoned by low interest rates, the Venezuelan economy is partying good time, but a number of structural gaps and poor expectations suggest that the effervescent period is coming to an end.

Undoubtedly, in Venezuela the middle class is getting heavy financing to purchase vehicles, apartments and home appliances. Meanwhile, unemployment is dropping and Hugo Chávez' administration is expanding expenses by granting scholarships, subsidies, and has increased wages to encourage consumption. However, in parallel, inflation is skyrocketing; the country risk is soaring; the unofficial exchange rate is mounting unstoppably; the public finances show a deficit and imports have climbed to alarmingly high levels.

Yet another recipe
Besieged by growing prices, Gastón Parra Luzardo, President of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), last June 8 announced that -once again- he is designing, together with the government, a new plan allowing Chávez administration to meet this year's annual inflation goal of 12 percent.

Go to full article here.

Growing Crisis for Journalists in Venezuela

A group of Venezuelan journalists who have been critical of Hugo Chávez's government have been accused of receiving money from the CIA in order to destabilise the state. The accused journalists deny the claim. Two have explained that they took part in cultural exchange programmes at the invitation of the US government. A group of Venezuelan journalists who have been critical of Hugo Chávez's government have been accused of receiving money from the CIA in order to destabilise the state. The accused journalists deny the claim. Two have explained that they took part in cultural exchange programmes at the invitation of the US government.

Go to article here.

Colombia, Venezuela inch toward Cold War

Despite warm relations between their leaders, Colombia and Venezuela seem to be entering a Cold War.

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are starting to resemble a Latin American version of the Cold War, as the two countries try to sort out the murders of two Bogotá intelligence agents in Venezuela and Colombia's recent deportation of a Venezuelan politician.

The new tensions come atop Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro's recent decision to cancel a trip to Bogotá, saying Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos had falsely accused Caracas of being a major transit point for drug and weapons smugglers.

''We aren't going to accept any more conduct of this sort,'' Maduro told reporters. ``It's not a game to us.''

Maduro more recently met with Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araújo in Bogotá and called for a ''positive agenda.'' But relations remain chilly.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe come from different ideological corners, with Chávez pushing for what he calls ''Bolivarian socialism'' while Uribe is a free-market conservative who has launched an unprecedented offensive against leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as FARC.

Relations briefly came apart in early 2005, after Uribe sent secret agents to capture and bring back a top FARC member in Caracas. Venezuela threatened to sever all diplomatic ties, until Uribe made a special trip to patch up relations.

Go to full article here.

Petroleos Venezuela May Explore in Vietnam, Argentina (Update1)

June 12 (Bloomberg) -- Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the country's state oil company, plans to explore for oil and gas in Vietnam, Bolivia and Argentina.

The company is considering exploration in Vietnam's offshore areas, Luis Vierma, vice president for exploration and production of Petroleos Venezuela, told reporters after attending the Asia Oil and Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

``We are analyzing the data packages for the opportunities they are offering us,'' said Veirma. ``They offered us two blocks but we refused and now they are offering us more.''

Go to full article here.

Chavez says US oil company abandons Venezuela wells

CARACAS, June 7 (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday a U.S. oil company has abandoned oil wells in Venezuela during his nationalization drive this year in the sector.

The state oil company took over the multibillion-dollar operations of Venezuela's last privately run oil fields on May 1. But Chavez has given the companies involved until June 26 to agree with the government over whether they remain as partners in the projects.

On Thursday, Chavez trumpeted the nationalization of the sector.
"Due to this policy ... some companies even left. There is one Yankee company that left and left the wells abandoned," Chavez said at a political event with university students, without naming any company.

Go to full article here.

A Bid to Ease Chávez's Power Grip

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A student movement that has swept across Venezuela is posing a strong challenge to President Hugo Chávez's drive to extinguish independent power centers in the universities and media.

Although Mr. Chávez continues to have a firm grip on the government, the student protests have demonstrated a broad uneasiness with his efforts to dominate Venezuelan society.

Mr. Chávez's approval ratings have fallen and suspicion of his intentions has grown among Venezuelans. He also hasn't responded to the protests in a way that resonates with the public, many of whom view the students with sympathy. Instead, he has threatened to use violence to put down the demonstrations. In Venezuela, as in most Latin American countries, students have played an outsized political role, including in the country's transition to democracy in 1958.

Since he was first elected president in 1998, Mr. Chávez has brought to heel a number of once-independent power centers in Venezuela -- notably the oil industry, judiciary, military and legislature. The university system and a quickly diminishing sector of the Venezuelan media are among the few important institutions outside the ambit of his control.

Go to full article here.

Venezuela's Chavez calls protesting students 'pawns of Washington'

CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez derided students who have protested his decision to force an opposition TV station off the air as U.S. "pawns," ridiculing them for walking out of a congressional debate on freedom of expression.

University students — who have led more than a week of street protests condemning his decision not to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV — walked out of a National Assembly debate Thursday saying they did not want to become part of a political spectacle.

"I had information that those youths were going to put on a show in the National Assembly," Chavez said. "They're nothing but pawns of the empire."

Chavez's comments came during a speech to pro-government students that all Venezuelan television channels broadcast by government order — a frequent practice by Chavez known as a "cadena" or national network.

As the cadena interrupted regular programming, residents in some parts of the capital banged on pots and pans from their windows in protest. Such protests have occurred several times since RCTV was taken off the air on May 27.

Go to full article here.

Chavez says US suffered 'great defeat' in move to condemn Venezuela over TV case

President Hugo Chavez said the United States suffered a humiliating defeat in its move to condemn Venezuela internationally for forcing an opposition-aligned TV station off the air.

Chavez warned Wednesday that U.S.-backed interests, including the Boston-based Albert Einstein Institution, were trying to stage a «soft coup» against his government, claiming they were behind student protests over his refusal to renew the channel's license. The institution, however, said it had no presence in Venezuela.

Chavez began his news conference by playing a video of a heated debate between his foreign minister and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at an Organization of American States meeting in Panama on Monday. The OAS declined to adopt a U.S. request to investigate his government's removal of Radio Caracas Television from the air.

Go to full article here.

At OAS gathering, debate over Venezuela

A 34-nation hemispheric gathering that was supposed to celebrate an agreement to cooperate on energy issues instead veered into the politics of Venezuela's provocative President Hugo Chávez.

The annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States that began with the opening ceremonies in Panama Sunday comes just a week after Chávez refused to renew the broadcast license of an opposition TV station, making almost certain that freedom of expression issues would loom large in the Panamanian capital.

Watchdog groups say taking RCTV off the air constituted the most forceful attack on independent media in Latin America by the executive branch in recent times, testing the ability of OAS member-states to enforce the democratic principles they espouse.

The leftwing Chávez accuses RCTV of coup-mongering and representing the interests of ''oligarchs'' but his decision has brought him a flood of condemnation, from the legislative branches of the United States and Brazil to the European Union.

Go to full article here

Protests subside, calm returns to Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — Calm returned to the streets Thursday after three days of demonstrations touched off by President Hugo Chávez's refusal to renew the broadcast license of a Caracas television station.

The government halted broadcasts by Radio Caracas Television on Sunday. Since then, police have repeatedly clashed with angry crowds.

In parts of Caracas on Thursday, Venezuelans walked to work along sidewalks littered with debris from the protests.

The Carter Center called for dialogue between Chávez and the protesters. The Atlanta-based organization, founded by former president Jimmy Carter, expressed concern about the potential for escalating violence.

"Healthy democracies require spaces for political dialogue and debate to allow divisions about the future direction of the country to be addressed in peaceful ways," the Carter Center said in a statement.

Go to full article here