from Weekly News Update on the Americas
OIL DEAL FOR U.S. POOR
The Houston-based oil company CITGO, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), is set to supply 9 million gallons of discounted home heating oil to 45,000 low-income families in Massachusetts in December, and another 3 million gallons to local charities. The deal—arranged by Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA), the Boston-based nonprofit energy corporation Citizens Energy and left-populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias—provides the oil at a 40% discount. CITGO and Citizens Energy, which is headed by former US representative Joseph Kennedy II, were scheduled to sign a contract on Nov. 22.
Chavez has frequently criticized the US government for not helping its own poor. In August, he offered discounted home-heating oil to poor US communities after meeting in Caracas with US African American leader Jesse Jackson. Home heating oil prices are expected to increase by 30-50% percent this winter because of rising oil prices, according to Larry Chretien, executive director of Mass Energy Consumer Alliance, a nonprofit which will distribute one fourth of the oil. He said the Venezuelan aid would present “a friendly challenge” to US oil companies to use their recent windfall profits to help poor families survive the winter. On Nov. 18 a US State Department official declined to comment on the deal. (Boston Globe, Nov. 20)
A similar arrangement will bring 8 million gallons of heating oil to thousands of low-income residents of New York City’s South Bronx at a 40% discount starting in late November or early December, according to Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who arranged the deal with Chavez. There were technical difficulties with implementing the program in New York, where most low-income residents rent their apartments and don’t pay directly for fuel costs. Serrano said the program would “start off with three nonprofit affordable housing community corporations” and will initially aid residents of about 200 apartments. The residents will receive vouchers for rent reductions and improvements in their buildings. (New York Times, Nov. 26)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, 27
LITERACY AND CHAVEZ RATINGS UP
On Oct. 28 Venezuelan education minister Aristobulo Izturiz declared the country an “illiteracy-free territory” as the official literacy rate reached 99%. According to Izturiz, a total of 1,482,533 residents of rural and working-class areas learned to read and write through a massive government program that started on July 1, 2003, using the Cuban “Yes I Can” method. The major failure was among some indigenous Yanomami and Yekuana communities in the south of the country, Izturiz said. Maria Elisa Jauregui, the head of literacy programs in Latin America for UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education, told reporters that Venezuela is “the first and the only country that has met the goals that were set when we met in Havana in 2002” as part of the UN’s Millennium Agenda for social programs.
Venezuela is planning to send literacy teachers to Bolivia and the Dominican Republic in the near future in a program that also includes Cuban teachers. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Oct. 29 from AFP)
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez now has an approval rating of 77%, according to a poll the Instituto Venezolano de Analisis de Datos company carried out on Oct. 7-18. The poll was based on a sampling of 1,200 people, with a 2% margin of error. (ED-LP, Oct. 24 from EFE)
“HOLOCAUST” IN THE PRISONS
In the first nine months of 2005, 314 prisoners died violently in Venezuelan prisons and 518 were wounded, Humberto Prado, the director of the non-governmental organization Venezuelan Prison Observation (OVP), charged in a press conference in early October. He said that 99 prisoners had died in the third quarter, July through September, and 235 were wounded. During the period there was a 25% increase in violent incidents compared to the previous year, according to the group, which said a total of 327 prisoners died violently in 2004, with 655 wounded.
Describing the situation as a “holocaust,” Prado called for the regional governments to take over administration of the prisons from the central government. He also called the Interior and Justice Ministry to maintain boards in the prisons to monitor the implementation of sentencing and to grant prisoners benefits they are entitled to. Observers attribute the violent incidents to disputes between rival gangs; these disputes are aggravated by poor prison conditions and the large number of prisoners waiting months or years for their trials. (Adital, Oct. 5)
On Nov. 1 Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon said it was “impossible” for the government to enter into a dialogue with Prado, who he said had worked in the penitentiary system from 1989-1997. Prado directed the Yare I prison in 1996-97, a period in which 527 Yare I inmates were wounded, according to Chacon. (El Universal, Caracas, Nov. 2)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 7
CARACAS: METRO WORKERS STRIKE
A group of 25 workers began a hunger strike on Nov. 1 over a project to extend Line 3 of the Metro system in Caracas. The hunger strike was continuing as of Nov. 18. A total of 145 workers on the project are striking to demand union recognition and the payment of wages, social security and production bonuses owed to them by their employer, Geobrain—a subsidiary of the multinational engineering company Odebrecht. About 130 of the 145 strikers joined an independent union, the National Autonomous Workers Construction Union (SOANCA); they say the Venezuelan Construction Union (SOVINCA), which has a contract with Geobrain, has not represented them properly. (World of Labor, Nov. 18)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 20
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #115
See also our last news brief on Venezuela:
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec.. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution