Venezuelan ambassador to Egypt, Juan Antonio Hernandez, denounced on Wednesday that an Israeli aircraft attacked the Venezuelan humanitarian delegation in Rameh along the border post between Egypt and Palestine. No one was injured during the attack.
The F-16 airplane dropped a missile very close to the humanitarian site but did not explode. The ambassador confirmed that the missile fell approximately 50 to 70 meters from the site.
The Venezuelan humanitarian delegation delivered twelve tons of aid to the Palestinian people.
Hernandez referred to the action as “an act of intimidation, which is not a coincidence and it proves that Tel Aviv is trying to halt humanitarian aid, because right now Venezuela is an important beacon for the Palestinian people”.
El Universal reported that Roni Kaplan, the spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces, asserted that “there was no attack by the Israeli forces on the Egyptian side of Gaza. The air force has not attacked nor launched sound bombs to any humanitarian convoy on its way to Gaza from Egypt.”
Venezuela has setup orphanages to shelter Palestinian children who have been injured or who have lost their parents in the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, President Nicolás Maduro announced yesterday.
In a fiery speech delivered on the occasion of the end of the General Assembly of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Maduro pointed out that contact has already been made with Palestinian families who would be adopting children.
Maduro said he decided to establish a shelter under the name of the late president Hugo Chavez to host Palestinian children injured in the war, and boys and girls that have become orphans. “We will bring them to Venezuela,” he told a cheering audience.
“We will welcome them with love, and in coordination with the Palestinian government. We will find these little girls and boys Venezuelan parents,” he said.
Maduro called for an end to the Israeli “genocide” against Palestinians.
Chile, El Salvador and Peru have announced they are recalling their ambassadors in Tel Aviv in consultation to protest the Israeli assault on the besieged strip of Gaza.
The moves come on the heels of Brazil and Ecuador, who announced last week that they were recalling their envoys.
“Given the escalation of Israeli military operations in Gaza, the Government of Chile, in coordination with others in our region, has decided to call in consultation Santiago Ambassador of Chile in Tel Aviv, Jorge Montero,” the Chilean foreign ministry in Santiago said in a statement.
“Chile notes with great concern and dismay that such military operations, which at this stage of development are subject to a collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza do not respect fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”
The Chilean foreign ministry emphasized the more than 1,000 Palestinians killed, including women and children during Operation Protective Edge, which continued for a 22nd day on Tuesday. The statement also noted Israel’s attacks “on schools and hospitals.”
“The scale and intensity of Israeli operations in Gaza violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an essential requirement to justify self-defense,” the statement added, referring to rocket fire by the resistance movements in the coastal territory.
El Salvador Ambassador in the Zionist entity Susana Edith Gun was also recalled for “urgent consultations” on Tuesday. The Foreign Ministry of the Central American country said that El Salvador President Sanchez Ceren gave these instructions “over serious escalation of violence and Israel’s bombings in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.”
A similar statement was also published by the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, condemning Israel’s operation in Gaza.
Venezuela and Bolivia that cut their ties with Tel Aviv over Israel’s 2009 war on Gaza have also strongly condemned Israel’s actions.
Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela were among the 29 countries that voted in favor of a probe by the UN Human Rights Council into Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.
General Hugo Carvajal arrived Sunday evening in Venezuela after being released from a jail in Aruba, where he had been arbitrarily detained since July 24, and immediately headed to Caracas to be received by President Nicolas Maduro at the Third Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Elias Jaua received Carvajal and the deputy Minister of Foreign Relations to Europe, Calixto Ortega, at the Maiquetia International Airport, some 18 miles from the capital’s city of Caracas.
Ortega told teleSUR that, “The government of the Netherlands — which recognized that the arrest of the official had been illegal and in violation of international treaties on diplomats — accepted the criteria of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry in regards to the fact that the Major General is a diplomatic official.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he was satisfied with the release of the general consul Hugo Carvajal, who he said was falsely accused of drug trafficking by the United States.
“Hugo Carvajal broke world records by arresting over 75 heads of drug trafficking organizations,” said Maduro during the second day of the Third National Congress of the PSUV. Carvajal was standing next to Maduro in the presence of the 985 delegates of the ruling party participating in the political event.
Maduro said Carvajal was an innocent victim of “lies fabricated” against him by Western media.
Carvajal was released this Sunday evening by the Dutch autorities in Aruba, after they admitted they had illlegaly arrested him on July 24.
Special Correspondent for teleSUR, Madelein Garcia, reported that Carvajal exited the prison in Aruba, accompanied by deputy Minister of Foreign Relations to Europe, Calixto Ortega, and his lawyers.
The government of Netherlands said on Sunday that General Hugo Carvajal would be released. The Venezuelan official was arrested by Aruban authorities in violation of international law, in particular the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The announcement of Carvajal´s release was made on Sunday by Jaua, in the framework of the III National Congress.
Jaua read a statement sent by the Netherlands to the Venezuelan government, in which it recognized that the arrest occurred “outside international treaties for diplomatic personnel.”
“Comrade Hugo Carvajal at this time is in a prison and probably still does not know this news,” Jaua said. He stressed that the Netherlands rectified and complied with international law.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Thursday rejecting the arrest and said the Venezuelan government will provide all support to Carvajal.
On July 10th, just two days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (the largest attack on Gaza in several years) President Obama released a statement in which he “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” With a death toll now over 550, it is important to look beyond U.S. government sources for information and perspective. Foreign policy among the countries in Latin America conforms to the long-standing, overwhelming international consensus that opposes Israeli aggression and occupation, but it also reflects the region’s “second independence.” Over the last 15 years, most countries in Latin America have increased their ability to pursue a foreign policy agenda separate from the goals of the U.S. State Department. In the vast majority of cases, reactions to the latest hostilities are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. position, but they are also varied: many governments directly criticize Israel, using words like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to describe recent events; other official statements limit themselves to calling for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Some of the strongest statements were issued by left-leaning governments in South America, including those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The government of Argentina issued a statement “strongly condemn[ing] that Israel — defying calls by the Security County, by the Secretary General and by the many voices of the international community – has decided to escalate the crisis by launching a ground offensive.” President Evo Morales of Bolivia announced that he had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” (Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza.) The statement from Brazil reads in part:
The Brazilian Government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in more than 230 Palestinians dead, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.
The foreign ministry of Chile released a statement that “strongly condemns the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip,” also saying that “The reprehensible kidnappings and deaths of three young Israelis and one young Palestinian cannot serve as an excuse to initiate terrorist actions nor to attack areas densely populated by civilians.” Chile has reportedly suspended trade talks with Israel and is considering withdrawal of its ambassador in Tel Aviv over Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The Government of Ecuador released a statement saying that it:
strongly condemns the disproportionate military operations by the Israeli army against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which have left more than a hundred deaths [sic] and considerable damage to property and civil infrastructure, demands an immediate cessation of these aggressions against the Palestinian civilian population and called [sic] the State of Israel to exercise maximum restraint and act in accordance to international law and humanitarian law.
Uruguay issued a similar statement condemning the military attacks by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which “caused dozens of civilian deaths and injuries, including women and children, in a disproportionate response to the launch of rockets against the Israeli territory on the part of armed Palestinian groups.” The statement also condemns the “repeated [rocket] launchings that put the civilian population in central and southern Israel at risk.” On the whole, this was not positively received by the Israeli ambassador to Uruguay. Finally, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a statement lamenting the murders of three young Israelis, saying it is a case that “demands a full investigation.” He also rejected the attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, saying:
the Bolivarian Government of Venezuelan energetically condemns the unjust, disproportionate and illegal military response of the State of Israel against the historic Palestinian nation and urges its government to immediately end this aggression which goes against international law and against the most elemental sense of respect for life and human dignity.
Clearly the language used by each country varies, but it is interesting to note that Venezuela’s response falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of condemning the Israeli siege. The Venezuelan foreign ministry issued a separate statement on behalf of the ALBA counties which echoes the Venezuelan government’s statement and reaffirms the ALBA group’s “unconditional solidarity, support and influence for the people of Palestine before this new wave of violence.”
Outside South America, several other countries issued strong responses, including Cuba and El Salvador. Cuba’s foreign ministry condemned Israel for “us[ing] its military and technological superiority to execute a policy of collective punishment with a disproportionate use of force which causes civilian casualties and enormous material damage.” El Salvador issued a statement in which the government “strongly condemns and rejects Israel’s increased armed aggression against the Gaza Strip” which caused the “loss of human lives, hundreds of injuries and the flight of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, besides serious material damage.” Also, the statement explains that the U.N.’s legitimate self-defense clause “does not justify the use of disproportionate military force against another State, much less against its civilian population.”
As an historical aside, the United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and several of the countries that introduced the resolution to the General Assembly were from Latin America, including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guayana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
Colombia stands out, not only in South America but in Latin America as a whole, for condemning the “acts of violence and terrorism” against Israel and its civilian population. They called on both Israel and Palestine to end the confrontations and return to the dialogue and negotiation. Colombia has not supported U.N. membership for Palestine, abstaining during the 2012 vote.
More measured statements were issued by the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras [PDF], Mexico, and Peru. These statements typically called for a ceasefire, a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and condemned both sides equally for the violence. Several countries have not issued official responses, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Panama’s foreign minister did not release a dedicated statement on the recent events, but received the Israeli Ambassador for a meeting to strengthen the bilateral relationship during which time the Panamanian official expressed concern over the rise in violence in the Middle East and expressed support for a peaceful resolution.
These statements clearly show not only that the vast majority of Latin American countries are at odds with U.S. foreign policy, but also that these countries are more and more able to articulate opposing views that challenge U.S. State Department narratives. Back in 2010, CEPR examined the region’s response to Israel’s deadly raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and then as now we found that there was a “hemispheric isolation of the U.S. on critical foreign policy issues.” While the era of U.S. supported coups and interference in the region is not over, significant progress has been made to increase national sovereignty and independence in Latin America, and these are changes that reverberate not just throughout the hemisphere, but across the world.
 In this blog post, estimates for casualties and other statistics included in official statements are quoted as written in the original versions, not corrected for the latest information available. The latest numbers for the death toll indicate over 550 killed since July 8, 2014.
Mérida – Venezuela participated in the gathering of the BRICS emerging powers and Latin American regional blocs in Brazil this week, where new agreements were hailed as beginning the creation of a new global financial architecture.
Several multilateral meetings were held in the city of Fortaleza, including the 6th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit, and meetings between China and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
During the BRICS summit, the five emerging economies created a new development bank and a multilateral reserve fund, each of which will potentially hold US $100 billion of pooled capital. The reserve fund will be used to support members of the bloc against adverse economic conditions or external impacts.
The creation of the new institutions is partly motivated by dissatisfaction with the terms of the financial hegemony exercised by the U.S. and its European allies through the IMF and World Bank.
“The strength of our project has positive potential: we want the global [financial] system to be fairer and more equal,” said Brazilian president Dilma Roussef to media.
On Wednesday and Thursday China met with the UNASUR and CELAC blocs in order to explore strategies through which the Asian power could deepen its involvement in Latin America.
In the meeting with UNASUR countries it was discussed how BRICS and UNASUR could create more ties. After the meeting, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro reported that it had been proposed that the new BRICS Development Bank and UNASUR’s Bank of the South adopt a common strategy in the regional and global economies.
“The [new] financial institutions have the same objectives: the construction of a new financial architecture that benefits economic development in conditions of equity for our countries; where speculative financial capital is ended, where the looting of our economies is ended, and productive investment which creates employment and wealth is promoted,” he said to Telesur on Wednesday.
The Venezuelan president also argued that closer relations between BRICS and Latin America represented a “win win alliance” and “the birth of the multi-polar world”.
“In the past we were dominated powers, and now we are emerging countries and blocs,” he said.
The BRICS bloc has become a key trading partner for Venezuela. Commerce with the bloc increased by 72% from 2006 – 2013.
Meanwhile, agreements reached on Thursday between China and the CELAC bloc, which brings together all countries in the Americas apart from the U.S. and Canada, included the establishment of a $1 billion investment fund for infrastructure projects in Latin America, and a Chinese offer of scholarships for 6,000 Latin American students.
Other funds potentially worth $15 billion to support Latin American development were also discussed.
Latin America has become an important source of Chinese investment and exports, while South American powers have increasingly turned to China as a source of financing, technology transfer, and destination to export primary materials.
A top level delegation led by Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently touring the continent to further deepen China’s economic involvement in Latin America, with visits including Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela, where Xi Jinping arrives today.
Venezuela also held several bilateral meetings in Fortaleza, including with China and Colombia.
The South American OPEC nation agreed to import a further 1,500 Chinese-made Yutong buses for the expansion of its public transport system. A Yutong factory is being built in Venezuela to begin domestic production of the vehicles, which will open next year.
The Venezuelan and Chinese central banks also reached an agreement to share information on statistical methodologies, monetary policy, and funding mechanisms. Both parties called the accord a “breakthrough” for enhancing economic ties.
Since 2001 the two countries have constructed what has been labeled as a “strategic alliance”. A high level bilateral session initiates in Caracas today with the arrival of Chinese president Xi Jinping.
As murmurs of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela continue in the aftermath of the protest violence there, researcher Michael McCarthy recently published an article in World Politics Review making some good arguments for why they would be a bad idea. He points out that unilateral sanctions lack regional support, and argues that they would discourage dialogue within Venezuela, would likely be ineffective, and may even harm U.S. interests by scuttling efforts to improve and maintain ties in the region.
McCarthy claims that the push for sanctions represents a “symbolic action” on the part of U.S. officials to communicate “universal support for human rights.” This assumption is pervasive in the mainstream debate about Venezuela sanctions; most commentators assume that the moral basis of imposing sanctions is sound and that the only real debate is on whether they will have the desired practical effect. In this context, some of the most obvious questions are missing from the discussion—in particular: a) what right does the U.S. have to enact coercive, unilateral economic measures against democratically-elected governments (measures that in this case, happen to be nearly universally opposed in the rest of the region and, as a study by pollster Luis Vicente Leon recently presented at the Washington Office on Latin America shows, are overwhelmingly opposed domestically in Venezuela)? And b) what integrity does the U.S. have when it comes to promoting human rights?
Last year, over a thousand unarmed protestors were killed by the U.S.-backed military government of Egypt after an illegal coup overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president. Among those killed was a young journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, who had the misfortune to film his own murder at the hands of a government soldier who had spotted his camera. It was a grim echo of an event from another era—in June, 1973, Swedish journalist Leonardo Henrichsen similarly filmed his own death in Chile at the hands of a soldier in an unsuccessful military coup attempt that presaged Augusto Pinochet’s U.S. supported takeover three months later. The State Department claims that U.S. interests always align with democracy and human rights, but it is hard to miss the glaring gap between U.S. rhetoric on these issues and its actions.
While officials and Congress members throw unfounded accusations at the Venezuelan government and continue to discuss punitive measures, there are no comparable discussions about removing tax-payer funded military aid to U.S. allies with abysmal human rights records – let alone imposing sanctions — including states like Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many others. The U.S. ended its partial freeze of military aid to Egypt this January and has quietly defended Israel during its latest assault on Gaza, even as Palestinian casualties rise at an alarming rate. In this hemisphere, in places like Honduras and Colombia, countries ruled by rightwing allies of the Obama administration, the laws that condition U.S. military and security aid on human rights standards are nearly systematically ignored, just as they are in the Middle East.
Over the past dozen years, the U.S. government has made no secret of its hostility toward the government of Venezuela – even supporting and getting involved in a 2002 military coup against Chávez – despite the fact that, over and over again, it has been elected democratically. In her recent book, “Hard Choices,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even refers to Chávez as a “self-aggrandizing dictator.” She is much more sympathetic toward Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, whom she doesn’t label a dictator, though she does qualify her praise of his commitment to Middle East peace by mentioning that he is an “autocrat at home.” Clinton is not shy in explaining how she urged President Obama not to call for Mubarak to step down during the height of the 2011 Egyptian protests, citing her concerns about U.S. interests, just as she is not shy about detailing how she intervened to ensure that democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was not reinstalled after an illegal military coup in Honduras. Most importantly, while Mubarak was in office and while she was Secretary of State (i.e. when it mattered), Clinton, like virtually every other U.S. official, consistently defended the U.S. relationship with Egypt. Instead of referring to him as an autocrat while she headed the State Department, she famously referred to Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of the family.”
Last November, the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Latin America and announced the “end of the Monroe Doctrine,” stating that the U.S. would no longer work to undermine the sovereignty of its hemispheric neighbors in order to promote its own interests. The open secret is that U.S. officials still actively reserve the right to define human rights and democracy in ways that serve U.S. objectives. Over the decades and right up to the present, the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to arm some of the world’s least democratic actors, often with some of the worst human rights records, from Suharto to Sisi. Even if one disagrees that the U.S.’s historic disdain for left governments in Latin America is not a factor in the push for sanctions against Venezuela, considering the role that the U.S. continues to play in supporting human right abuses around the world, why accept the U.S. government’s own terms in the debate?
Caracas – Hundreds of people gathered after work yesterday in downtown Caracas to protest Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” – the continuing massive bombardment of Gaza.
At the rally, speaker after speaker voiced outrage at the massacre of innocent children and other civilians and called for the Venezuelan government and MERCOSUR to cut all ties with Israel.
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cut diplomatic relations with Israel after its earlier war on Gaza in 2008-2009. However, the two countries have maintained commercial relations, and a number of Venezuela’s Latin American allies also maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.
On July 10, President Maduro expressed grief over the assassination of three Israeli youth and urged a thorough investigation of the crime. Then he went on to “energetically condemn Israel’s unjust , disproportionate and illegal military attack on the heroic Palestinian people”… and demanded the Israeli government immediately stop this aggression. Then, the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, called on the world powers to raise their voices against the massacre of the Palestinian people by Israeli bombs on Gaza.
An article released by the government sponsored, Venezuelan News Agency (AVN) also pointed out that private media around the world have contributed to the massacre of the people of Gaza by perpetuating the narrative that the military action is a “war between equals”.
AVN noted that Israel is a great military power while the Palestinian people in Gaza have no modern military resources. AVN added that Israel has surrounded and blockaded Gaza, keeping it under siege, since Hamas won elections there in 2006.
Calling for an end to Israeli Impunity
At the rally, and in a number of editorials, members of various grassroots organizations called for an international response to Israel’s “chronic and flagrant disregard for international law”. Hindu Anderi, winner of the prestigious Anibal Nazoa prize in journalism, delivered the main speech at the rally. She received prolonged applause when she called Israel a “terrorist state” that practices systematic murder to maintain its military occupation of Palestine.
The crowd at the rally included children and their parents, youth in kaffiehs and elderly people, Venezuelans from various political organizations on the left, and individuals waving handmade signs and articles picturing wounded children.
They grew more serious when Anderi reminded them, “Our solidarity with Palestine is not enough. We call for a total boycott of Israel by MERCOSUR, ALBA… All countries must put an end to diplomatic, economic, political and cultural ties to Israel. The only thing that will finally stop the terrorist state is to pressure US imperialism, Israel’s principle ally, to stop its support.”
The rally had been announced in government media and the independent left news website, Aporrea. News services had featured graphic photos of the mayhem caused by Israeli bombing. Editorials reflected a consensus that Israel’s international impunity must end. [...]
More information on upcoming events can be found on the University of Simon Bolivar’s Solidarity Facebook page.
In the heated media war over Venezuela, studies produced by well-funded NGOs (usually with ties to powerful states) have been regularly cited by the western corporate media to paint a grim picture of the country.
A Venezuela report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in May might give some people the impression that it is an even handed account done by authors committed to decreasing political violence in Venezuela. The report makes a few good recommendations, but it actually reveals that the ICG’s commitment to whitewashing right wing extremists is much stronger than any commitment to sensible analysis or to reducing political violence.
In the crucial section of the report where it discusses protest related violence, the ICG claims that there is only “weak evidence” that any opposition supporters ever used firearms:
In contrast to the abundant evidence linking security forces and pro-government civilians to deaths and injuries, it is unclear whether some in the opposition used firearms. In any case, the evidence on this is weak. The only deaths that appear clearly linked to the protesters are those involving accidents caused by barricades, including the use of barbed wire or other obstacles.
As far as the ICG is concerned, the bodies of several police and other pro government people shot to death while attempting to clear barricades in opposition strongholds are “weak evidence” of firearm use by anyone in the opposition. It might be argued that “concrete proof” of the exact individuals who shot every one of those victims is lacking. However saying that anti-government protesters are not very strongly implicated in the shootings of any government supporters or police is beyond preposterous.
In an attempt to make the evidence appear weak, the ICG mentions one incident in which a journalist working for a right wing business newspaper, El Universal, claims that a government supporter shot and killed a policeman at an opposition barricade. This kind of counter claim had also been made by government officials about some opposition protesters who have been shot (some government officials claiming the shots were fired by other opposition people), but the ICG wouldn’t dare use these claims to conclude that there is only “weak evidence” that government supporters had ever used firearms. In fact, the ICG discusses the death of opposition protester Génesis Carmona without ever mentioning government claims that she had been shot by another protester. Such inconsistent and biased standards for assessing evidence cannot possibly lead to a reliable version of events.
In addition to various opposition aligned sources, the ICG defers to the New York City based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to assess responsibility for violence. HRW was very recently sent a letter signed by two Nobel Peace Prize laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk; and over 100 scholars all requesting that it take steps to close the revolving door between it and the US government. The letter noted:
In a 2012 letter to President Chávez, HRW criticized the country’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Venezuela had fallen “far short of acceptable standards” and questioning its “ability to serve as a credible voice on human rights.” At no point has U.S. membership in the same council merited censure from HRW, despite Washington’s secret, global assassination program, its preservation of renditions, and its illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay.
Ken Roth, head of HRW, once referred to Venezuela and a few other ALBA countries as the “most abusive” in Latin America – an insane remark as he should know by merely sampling his own organization’s reports about Colombia. Daniel Wilkinson, another HRW official, went so far as to lie about the Venezuelan TV media in an op-ed published in the New York Review of Books. HRW’s responses to the 2002 coup in Venezuela and as well as the 2004 coup in Haiti were disgraceful. By now, anyone who uncritically cites HRW about any country at odds with the US is, at best, uninformed about HRW’s track record.
The ICG’s report makes no mention of numerous falsified images the opposition has spread through social media to bolster its allegations of repression. Even a corporate outlet like Reuters made mention of this tactic but the ICG ignored it. The ICG also cites the anti-government newspaper El National various times – a newspaper whose dishonesty is so flagrant it has sometimes dismayed opposition people. An atrocious record doesn’t “weaken” El Nacional articles as evidence in the view of the ICG or provoke any statement of caution.
Attempts to put the 2004 recall referendum results under a cloud
The ICG report made the astounding remark that the opposition merely lacked “concrete proof” of fraud in the 2004 recall referendum that was won by Hugo Chavez. The report stated:
Concrete proof [of fraud] was not presented, though a peer-reviewed statistical analysis of the results later found significant anomalies. Maria M. Febres and Bernardo Márquez, “A Statistical Approach to Assess Referendum Results: The Venezuelan Recall Referendum 2004”, International Statistical Review, vol. 74, no. 3 (2006), p. 379. Jennifer McCoy, Carter Center election observation head in Venezuela, found the anomalies had not affected the referendum outcome.
In fact, elaborate statistical arguments – one of them based on “anomalies” in the distribution of votes – were made immediately after the referendum took place, not years later as the ICG implies. The Carter Center hired a team of very specialized statisticians – not simply Jennifer McCoy as the ICG very sloppily suggests – whose only job was to assess those arguments. The statisticians explained why the arguments did not substantiate allegations of fraud. The oppositions’ various “statistical analyses” received expert scrutiny that decided something far more important than acceptability for publication (which is what peer-review committees decide for journals) and that required extensive review of the arguments made by both sides. One of the key points made by the Carter Center’s statisticians was that there was no credible explanation how the government could have perpetrated fraud such that the random audit of the results would have failed to expose it.
The government’s victory in the 2004 referendum was subjected to a remarkably severe test. One of the key monitors, the Carter Center, is deeply tied to the US establishment which has been very hostile to Chavista administrations. In spite of all that, the ICG still pretends that there is reasonable doubt about the results. That will encourage the members of the opposition who allege that Chavista victories are stolen no matter how overwhelming the evidence is against them.
It’s unsurprising, given the ICG’s willingness to smear the 2004 referendum which was very far from close, that it also published a hopelessly one-sided account of the dispute surrounding the vastly closer presidential election of April 2013. The ICG absolved the opposition in advance for any act of violence by stating that the government must “clarify” the validity of the results or face “violent consequences”. In reality, the Election Day audit of the results, as CEPR has reported, already proved that the odds of a Capriles victory were less than one in 25 thousand trillion. The audit was, nevertheless, expanded.
It is quite clear to anyone who has been paying attention that opposition claims of electoral fraud are not driven by the facts but by the level of support they expect from the US government, foreign media and groups like the ICG.
Speaking the opposition’s language
In section IX of the report the ICG contrasts the “left leaning regimes” of the Bolivarian Alliance for our America (ALBA) with “those representing more market-friendly, centre and right-leaning governments”. On the left the ICG describes “regimes” while elsewhere on the political spectrum it describes “governments”.
Some political scientists use the word “regime” in a neutral way, but it is most commonly used to describe an oppressive and undemocratic government. I can find no example of the ICG ever referring to US government as a “regime” despite its abysmal human rights record and money-dominated political process. However it is very easy to find ICG reports replete with the word “regime” to describe states that the US government opposes.
The ICG also adopts the use of the word “coletivo” to mean an armed government supporter. It acknowledges that this is highly partisan usage by noting that it “is a term that covers pro-government community organisations of various kinds, most of them non-violent. But it has come to be used in particular for armed groups of the revolutionary left that have proliferated under chavista governments.”
In short, the opposition media (whom the ICG attempts to hide through the use of passive voice “has come to be used”) has demonized the word “colectivo” and the ICG reflexively follows suit.
Tamara Pearson, a proud colectivo member who has been living and working in Venezuela for several years, remarked about the media vilification campaign:
Where previously everything, even the drought or the actions of big business, were Chavez’s fault, now it must be “the collectives”. Now that Chavez is gone and the opposition still hasn’t got its electoral victory, they have realised it’s not enough to call the current president a “dictator” and belittle him because of his lack of formal university education, they need to demonise the active and organising people too. Because they aren’t going away.
A few good suggestions completely undermined
The ICG said that “the opposition can, and should, drop calls for the Maduro administration to step down “. This is a sound suggestion, no doubt, but one that is hypocritical and ineffective coming from the ICG. Whitewashing opposition violence and impugning clean elections, as the ICG does, is a propaganda gift to the “regime change” crowd.
The ICG recommends that Venezuela’s “international partners” should “help de-escalate the violence by sending clear messages that only peaceful methods will be tolerated.” UNASUR, and even the OAS which has traditionally towed Washington’s line, have already sent that message. The ICG is sending the opposite message.
Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24
Venezuelan President and High Ranking Officials to Declare Wealth, Ex-Minister Investigated for Corruption
San Francisco – Venezuelan comptroller Adelina Gonzalez announced yesterday that all senior officials in public office must update their sworn declaration of wealth (DJP) between the 1st and 31st of July.
The DJP has been required for select offices since the ratification of the Law Against Corruption in 2003. A government website for the task was set in place in 2009. The last DJP summons was for all police bodies, though the current injunction – detailed in the Official Gazette published just days after president Nicolas Maduro’s election to office – is much broader in scale.
The mandate extends to all state, federal, and municipal employs of superior rank, as well as any functionary working within the realm of public accounting. This includes President Nicolas Maduro, as well as magistrates of the Supreme Court, military generals and high ranking army personnel, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s Office, governors, ministers and vice ministers, ambassadors, consuls, notaries, the Central Bank directors’ office and university rectors.
Those who do not comply with this requirement will be fined or, as articles 38 and 39 of the corruption law indicate, may be removed from their post and banished from all public office for up to 12 months.
Maduro’s firm stance against corruption has defined his presidency from the beginning, though critics believe his policies have been largely unsuccessful. Since he took office in April of 2013, there have been arrests and investigations within the tax and customs office, Seniat, the goods and services monitor, Indepabis, and state owned iron ore company, Ferrominera.
While addressing the National Assembly last October, the head of state implored deputies to reject the notion of corruption as “normal in political life.”
“I call on the people to not tolerate corruption,” he said, “neither of those with a yellow collar [opposition supporters] nor the corruption of those with a red collar [supporters of the Bolivarian revolution]. It’s the same thuggery, no matter how you dress; it’s the same anti-people and anti-country behavior.”
In an interview last September, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres went into detail, “This problem of corruption neither started with the revolution, nor did it increase during the revolution. Rather, it began when the republic began. I believe that we should see corruption as part of an effort to dominate sectors of the public administration… In all public institutions there used to be parallel institutions. There always was someone who you would pay [on the side], to take care of the procedures. This created a culture.”
He explained how increasing government efficiency and eliminating bureaucracy are two key methods of destroying the normalized institution of corruption. He reminded reporters that in the pre-Chavez era, there was only one moment when politicians were publicly accused of corruption. That moment involved a scheme which left the country with “literally zero dollars in foreign currency reserves.
“Some experts who have studied this say that this was the greatest fraud in the history of the world,” Rodriguez stated.
Though the conspiracy was of vast proportions and markedly reliant on government insiders, only one man was accused and convicted for the renowned “RICADI fraud,” Rodriguez said.
The Attorney General’s Office, presided over by Luisa Ortega Diaz, is currently conducting an investigation on Eugenia Sader, Health Minister from 2010 to 2013. Sader, a known supporter of Hugo Chavez, was replaced in her position shortly after Maduro took office.
An alleged Justice Department informant leaked information to local newspapers that Sader’s trial will begin on Thursday, at which time she will be questioned regarding numerous “irregularities in management” during her time as Health Minister. The informant took this to mean corruption and embezzlement, but others interpreted the term differently.
On Tuesday a house deputy for the opposition Justice First party and physician, Dinorah Figuera, asked attorney general Diaz to clarify what the charges against Sader are to be. Figuera told reporters she believes the case corresponds with a number of grave complaints her office made in regards to public hospital management under Sader’s administration, including emergency rooms closed for improvements that were never reopened.
An auditing commission of the national assembly last year questioned Merida city mayor and member of the opposition Lestor Rodriguez, in response to a dozen accusations of embezzlement gathered by a city councilor. At the time, the mayoralty had not collected trash in Merida since the previous year, though Rodriguez had claimed it was for lack of funds.
Rodriguez was later indicted for corruption.
Mérida – Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro unveiled a new policy to focus on the needs of the least well off as part of his pledge to eradicate extreme poverty in the country by 2018.
The policy involves creating almost 1,500 special attention points that group together various social programs in areas where extreme poverty still prevails, in order to meet the basic needs of these communities.
The attention points, called Social Mission Bases, will house government social programs such as free community food kitchens, subsidised food stores, and free medical clinics. They will be spread out over the 255 of the country’s 1163 local districts where households experiencing extreme poverty still exist.
Venezuela’s National Institute of Statistics estimates that 5.5% of Venezuelan households still experience extreme poverty. This is calculated using the regionally based Unsatisfied Basic Needs (UBN) structural poverty indicator, which considers as extremely poor those homes where two or more basic needs, such as access to basic services, adequate living conditions, or schooling, are not met.
The percentage of households in extreme poverty has decreased steadily over the previous decade from 12.7% in 2003 to 5.5% currently. In the same period, overall structural poverty has decreased from 30.5% to 19.6%.
President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to eliminate extreme poverty altogether by 2018, the end of his current term of office, as well as to continue to reduce overall structural poverty.
“In the year 2018 I’ll be…able to say that we’ve achieved the goal of zero misery in Venezuela… the Bolivarian revolution must end poverty to establish a system of equality [and] justice,” he said as the first Social Mission Base was founded in the coastal state of Miranda.
Maduro also informed the country that the Social Mission Bases will be complemented with multidisciplinary teams of social program workers, such as community doctors, sports therapy trainers and cultural promoters, who will visit deprived communities house by house to assess living conditions and attend to differing needs.
“The great battalion [multi-disciplinary team] … won’t have another objective but to fight a strong battle along with our people to eradicate extreme poverty,” the president said, while also encouraging supporters to participate in the work of the Social Mission Bases.
The policy announcements come amid a debate over poverty in Venezuela, with government critics pointing to an increase in income-based poverty between the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013, in the context of a sharp increase in annual inflation.
“The days when poverty was a winning issue for chavismo are over. Official statistics now show that poverty is rising rapidly,” wrote anti-government blogger Juan Nagel for Foreign Policy magazine recently.
Nevertheless income-based poverty actually decreased in the second half of 2013 to lower than it was in early 2012, and in keeping with the level of income-based poverty recorded in recent years, at 32.1%, down from 62.1% a decade earlier.
The Social Mission Bases policy also comes not long after Maduro announced reforms to the country’s national system of welfare programs, in order to improve their performance and reduce bureaucracy and overlapping functions.
The programs, known as “missions”, include free health clinics, free educational programs, subsidised food outlets, and the construction of heavily subsidised housing. They are held as one factor behind the large reduction in poverty since the Bolivarian government was elected to power in 1999.
Twelve South American states have rejected an effort by US legislators to impose sanctions on Venezuela over alleged rights abuses.
In a statement issued on Friday following a meeting in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, foreign ministers from the 12-member Union of South American Nations (Unasur) said that a bill proposed by American lawmakers against Caracas would violate Venezuela’s internal affairs and undermine attempts to defuse the crisis in the country.
Sanctions are obstacles for Venezuela, whose “people can overcome their difficulties with independence, and in democratic peace,” the statement said.
The US House of Representatives will vote on the legislation on Wednesday. The bill will order the administration of US President Barack Obama to ban visas and freeze the assets of Venezuelan officials involved in the alleged rights abuses in the past three months.
Venezuela has been the scene of protests against and in support of the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro since February.
The protests broke out in the western city of San Cristobal, where students took to the streets to criticize the crime rate and inflation in the country. The demonstrations later spread to other cities including the capital Caracas.
Maduro says the unrest is a US-backed plan to topple his government.
Last week, Maduro urged opposition leaders to return to political talks aimed at ending street clashes in the country.
The move came after the Venezuelan opposition suspended the negotiations with the government on May 14 to protest against what it called the mass arrests of anti-government activists.
The opposition says it will not return to the negotiating table until the government accepts its demands, including amnesty for opposition prisoners.
The government, on the other hand, says the opposition is making impossible requests that are akin to blackmail.