from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias started his third term—his second full six-year term—on Jan. 10 in a ceremony before the 167-deputy National Assembly. No foreign dignitaries attended the Jan. 10 inauguration. According to Colombian foreign minister Maria Consuelo Araujo, Chavez had made the decision not to have a diplomatic presence. Instead, she said, heads of state would be attending the inauguration of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega later the same day. Chavez himself flew to Managua after his own inauguration. (El Universal, Caracas, Jan. 10)

Chavez used the ceremony to emphasize his plans for what he calls “21st-century socialism.” In a three-hour speech he called for the National Assembly to help the “acceleration of tempos” by passing a special law empowering him to issue decrees with the status of law. He has also been pushing for his backers to unite in a single socialist party. On Jan. 8 he had announced his intention to nationalize electric and telecommunication services and to increase the government’s stake in oil projects in the Orinoco Basin. “All that was privatized, let it be nationalized,” he said, referring to privatizations under neoliberal economic policies in the 1990s. Shares of Compania Anonima Telefonos de Venezuela (CANTV), a state telephone company that was privatized in 1991, promptly fell 14% on New York stock exchanges. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 11; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Jan. 11/07 from EFE; New York Times, Jan. 9)

In press conferences on Jan. 11, cabinet ministers indicated that the nationalizations wouldn’t be as dramatic as Chavez had suggested. Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon explained that CANTV would be the only telecommunications company affected. Currently New York-based Verizon manages CANTV and owns 28.5% of the shares; the Spanish firm Telefonica owns 6.9%, the government owns 6.5% and CANTV employees own 11.7%. Verizon had planned to sell its stake in April for $677 million to a joint venture of America Movil and Telefonos de Mexico SA, controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim; this plan is now on hold. Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas insisted on Jan. 11 that CANTV “[s]hareholders will receive…the fair value of their assets…. [A]ny decisions to be made are under the current laws. Rationality will prevail; the process will [not be] traumatic.” But a major electric company, La Electricidad de Caracas, will be nationalized, Cabezas said, even though unlike CANTV it was started as a private company. (ED, Jan. 9 from AP; International Herald Tribune, Jan. 11 from AP; El Universal, Jan. 11)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 14

Veep Removed, Cabinet Reshuffled

In a surprise call to the television program “Contragolpe” on the night of Jan. 3, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias announced that he was replacing Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel with former National Electoral Council (CNE) president Jorge Rodriguez, and that legislative deputy Pedro Carreno would replace Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon. Chavez announced other changes in his cabinet on Jan. 4, including the replacement of Finance Minister Nelson Merentes with legislative deputy Rodrigo Eduardo Cabezas Morales.

Chavez had been expected to change his cabinet in preparation for his new six-year term, which starts on Jan. 10, but analysts were surprised that he removed Rangel, a close associate who had held various key cabinet posts over the last eight years. In announcing the change, Chavez himself referred to Rangel as a “star pitcher…for whom I feel the affection and respect of a child for a father.” The 77-year-old Rangel is expected to remain an adviser to Chavez.

16 Dead in Prison Violence

A conflict authorities described as a fight between rival gangs left 16 prisoners dead and 13 wounded early on Jan. 2 in Uribana prison near the western Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto. Fanny Marquez, a federal prison official, said some inmates were killed with guns and knives and others were hanged before prison authorities regained control of the facility. The violence began on the night of Jan. 1; National Guard troops restored order on the morning of Jan. 2, Marquez told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency. “It was a fight for control of two cellblocks,” Marquez said. “We have the situation under control.” (Miami Herald, Jan. 3)

In replacing Interior Minister Jesse Chacon, whose responsibilities included the prison system, Chavez mentioned the “sorrowful tragedy” of the Uribana killings, which he called the “product of internal security defects.” But analysts said Chavez had undoubtedly planned the change before the prison incident. (El Universal, Jan. 4; La Jornada, Jan. 5; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Jan. 5)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7

Zulia: Another Campesino Leader Murdered

On Oct. 22, two hooded men on a motorcycle—probably hired killers—shot to death 75-year old campesino leader Jesus Fernandez in Catatumbo municipality on the southern shores of Lake Maracaibo, in Venezuela’s Zulia state. Fernandez was hit by seven bullets. The Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) reports that Marcos Gonzales and Giusseppe Gannetti, alleged owners of the lands occupied by the Bello Horizonte XV cooperative in Catatumbo, had days earlier threatened to kill Fernandez if he didn’t abandon his occupation of the land. More than 165 campesinos have been killed, and no one has been brought to justice in any of the cases, the FNCEZ notes. “We’re tired of providing the dead bodies for this revolution while the bureaucrats and corrupt ones fill their pockets with revolutionary phraseology,” the FNCEZ said in a communique. (FNCEZ Communique, undated, via Resumen Latinoamericano, Oct. 27)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 29

US Blacks Out Grant Info

On Aug. 26 the Associated Press (AP) reported that it had received a response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed nearly nine months earlier for documents from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the funding of non-governmental organizations in Venezuela. USAID finally responded by sending AP 132 grant contracts, totaling some 1,600 pages, for 2004 and 2005, but whited out the names of nearly half the recipient groups. The agency said revealing their names might make them targets of intimidation or legal action by the Venezuelan government. AP is filing an appeal.

Some of the grants were for small projects, like $19,543 for baseball equipment delivered to a pro-Chavez neighborhood. But Chavez supporters question some larger grants whose recipients were whited out, such as: a $47,459 grant for a “democratic leadership campaign”; $37,614 for citizen meetings to discuss a “shared vision” for society; and $56,124 to analyze Venezuela’s new Constitution of 1999.

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI)—which also works in such “priority countries” as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia and Haiti—has overseen much of the spending, but not all. The OTI says it has overseen a total of $26 million in Venezuela since 2002. President Chavez charged recently that some of his political opponents take “gringo money.” “The empire pays its lackeys, and it pays them well,” he said. (Miami Herald, Aug. 26 from AP)

On Aug. 23 the Venezuelan National Guard seized cargo the US had brought into the country in a C-17 transport plane, along with a diplomat’s belongings. The US protested the seizure as a violation of diplomatic conventions. The material included ejection seat parts for combat planes which Venezuela had bought from the US before the US imposed an arms embargo, but Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said in a press conference on Aug. 25 that the cargo also included fuses for detonators. (MH, Aug. 26) In addition, there were rockets for Bronco airplanes in the seized material; the Venezuelans said they had ordered these but that they should have been turned over directly to the Venezuelan military. Adm. Luis Cabrera Aguirre, one of Chavez’s military advisers, warned that this equipment could have gotten into the hands of opposition groups. (La Jornada, Aug. 28 from DPA, Reuters, Prensa Latina)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 10


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution