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Re Venezuela: [WWF] Washington Wrestling Federation

By Alexandra Beech, veninvestor.com

In what seemed like a pre-wrestling match psyche-out, the OAS Ambassadors from the US and Venezuela delivered tough speeches against each other’s countries this week. Dow Jones reports that “Venezuela's brewing human rights debate reached Washington this week, with the U.S. accusing Venezuela of trying to undermine the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, a branch of the Organization of American States.” Venezuela’s ambassador Jorge Valero accused the OAS human rights commission of "an intense campaign to distort the reality about human rights in Venezuela." US Ambassador John Maisto fired back, saying that Varelo’s statements "parrot the criticisms of this organization made by the most flagrant and vicious violator of human rights in this hemisphere, the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro."

The Washington invective reached as far as China. In “Venezuela Demands ‘More Forceful’ Answer from US,” Xinhuanet reports that “Jorge Valero, alleged in a speech authorized by President Hugo Chavez at the OAS Permanent Council that Washington ‘backed’ the thwarted coup d'etat in April 2002 against Chavez and urged ‘an end of foreign intervention.’” In addition, “US permanent representative to the OAS, John Maisto, responded to the allegation by saying Valero's speech was a series of ‘irresponsible and false accusations’ made to ‘divert attention’ and block the recall process sought by the Venezuelan opposition.”

What is at stake here is nothing less that Venezuela’s future, as any foreign action against Venezuela’s government will be determined by the OAS Secretary General’s report due to be released soon. According a UN source, that report will determine whether the US, Peru, and Canada will call for an OAS Permanent Council meeting to discuss any possible sanctions against Venezuela. While no one believes that Chavez’s allies within the OAS will permit such a move, even a debate on the matter would further call into question the legitimacy of the Chavez government.

Thus far, it seems clear that the human rights issue has weakened the government’s stance substantially. Prestigious international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Inter-American Human Rights Commission have condemned the actions of the National Guard in February and March, when dissidents were arrested and often tortured. As of April 1, seventeen are dead and seven others are missing. (Read below). Credible reports, such as the vicious detainment and torture of Carlos Iscaray, the Venezuelan symphony’s 26 year old cellist, have received international attention. “Iscaray says he and several other people were beaten and given electrical shocks after being detained during a March 1 protest and placed inside National Guard vehicles,” reports Dow Jones.

At a summit in Uruguay last week, Venezuela’s ambassadors in the region and PDVSA president Ali Rodriguez met to “defend and promote the regime headed by President Hugo Chavez”. The weekly Semanario Búsqueda Montevideo reports that “during a press conference. they presented an angelic panorama of the conduct of the government they represent: Mr. Chavez, according to them, is a poor victim of ‘dissident’ groups who are attempting to subvert internal order and ‘stop the revolutionary process’, a victim of the press that ‘disinforms’ and ‘deforms the truth’ and that is why they justified ‘the defense’ of the president and the National Armed Forces for ‘the process’, including its ‘dark points’, such as certain deaths which haven’t been clarified and this or that torture at police and military headquarters.”

Rather than rebuke the undeniable accusations against it, the government has launched a campaign to discredit human rights activists. Besides accusing the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of siding with the opposition, the government has accused local human rights organizations such as “Cofavic, of receiving U.S. funds in a plot to destabilize his government,” according to Dow Jones. “Harassment increased after Cofavic denounced alleged torture and rights abuses by security forces during the March riots.” In particular, both Chavez and his supporters have targeted the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). “The non-partisan NED” reports Dow Jones, “receives U.S. government money and works around the globe.” It is interesting to note that “Cofavic never received NED funds...Cofavic receives more regular funding from other foreign governments, including Finland, Norway and Britain.” Other groups, such as “Red de Justicia por la Paz, Provea, and the Human Rights Vicarite of the Caracas Archdiocese -said they don't receive any U.S. or NED funds. Red de Justicia and Provea have been funded in part by Canada and Britain.”

If Chavez has a bone to pick with outsiders, he would be more accurate focusing on Finland, Norway, Britain, and Canada. However, he knows that he can gain more political points at home and abroad by focusing on the United States, which was recently accused of participating in Aristide’s ouster.

Looking for Funds in all the Wrong Places...

Chavez is also diverting attention of human rights violations in other areas. As the clock ticks on the almost defunct recall referendum, he is desperately trying to purchase favor among the poor by spending on social programs. If the constitution says that only 2.4 signatures were needed for a referendum, and over 3 million were collected, (according to “Venezuela's Church Leaders Endorse Presidential Recall” by Dow Jones), and he managed to bypass the referendum, then why not bypass other parts of the constitution, such as article 318, which clearly states that the Central Bank is autonomous? Now he is forging ahead with plans to access the country’s international reserves at the Central Bank to obtain more funds for social spending. The Miami Herald reports that “Chávez has renewed his effort to withdraw at least $1 billion from the autonomous central bank, which holds $23 billion in foreign reserves, most collected from oil export revenue. Chávez says the bank has $8 billion more than it really needs.” Than it really needs for what? To contain inflation and maintain investor confidence at a time when the country needs investment?

The Central Bank is not the only institution that Chavez has tried to squeeze dry. “To pay for many of the new programs, analysts say, Chávez has looked outside the government's $26 billion budget for extra money. He’s found some of it at PDVSA, which, in a break from its past, is directly financing some of his large-scale social projects instead of channeling its profits through the official government budget...Economists say the oil company’s direct contribution to the social programs has topped $1 billion since early 2003.” Unfortunately, PDVSA is therefore not investing where it should to sustain revenues in the long term.

But it’s not the long term that worries Chavez, but the now. “Elected in 1998 with about 80 percent of the vote, Chávez’s support has dwindled to the mid-30s, according to some polls,” reports the Miami Herald. It seems perfectly clear that Chavez has avoided a recall referendum because he would lose it, even among the poor.

One Central Bank officer “suggested that Chávez replenish a national rainy-day fund that his government has already depleted, from $7 billion to $700 million since 2001,” according to the Miami Herald. “The government is supposed to deposit money into the fund when oil prices are high and withdraw when they are low, so swings in oil prices don’t drastically affect Venezuelas national budget. But although oil prices are now high, Chávez's' government has suspended deposits into that fund...”

The government is also seeking funds elsewhere, even if that means losing future investment. Bloomberg News reports that “Venezuela said it is investigating foreign and domestic oil companies on accusations of tax evasion that may total more than the $12.9 billion estimated last week.” Accusing oil companies of failing to pay taxes for years, “Energy and Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez said after the conference of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna that the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, is creating a special tax unit to investigate charges levied last week by the national tax institute. Ramirez said companies would face fines if found guilty of the charges.” One Houston-based consultancy group “said the investigation will hurt foreign investment.” The government is currently seeking investments from foreign oil companies such as ChevronTexaco Corp. and ConocoPhillips for the country's energy resources.

*We are in the process of constructing a website called www.sixthrepublic.com, which will focus on Venezuela’s political, social, and economic future. We will provide articles on transition programs, foreign policy, and other topics. We look forward to your continued support. Have a nice weekend. - AB

Verbatim

"What's intended is to try to discredit us, to break our morale. There's an open, dirty war against human rights organizations."

Liliana Ortega, one of Venezuela's most prominent human rights activists

"No one knew where I was. No one knew I had disappeared. I was afraid no one would find me.”

Carlos Iscaray, a 26-year-old cellist with the Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra, who was detained and tortured by the National Guard

"See how they use the lovely theme of human rights to get money.”

Venezuela’s leftist populist Hugo Chavez

``That money doesn’t belong to the central bank, or even to the government. It belongs to all the people of Venezuela.''

Hugo Chávez, as he tries to access international reserves to cover social programs

``This is not just a money grab, this is a power grab. It gives you power if you can use money to help people who can vote for you. His main goal is to stay in power.”

Orlando Ochoa, a professor of economics at the Catholic University in Caracas.

''I’m convinced that several members of his Cabinet know this is very dangerous, that this is playing with fire.''

Pedro Palma, a professor of economics at Venezuelas IESA business school.

“We don’t distinguish between the military and civilians. They’re all Venezuelans.”

Venezuela’s Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel

“As in any dictatorship, justice in Venezuela is a farce.”

Semanario Búsqueda Montevideo, following a summit in Uruguay between Venezuelan ambassadors



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