Inter Press ServiceHumberto Márquez – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 14 Dec 2018 18:49:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 Venezuela’s Surname Is Diasporahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/venezuelas-surname-diaspora/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=venezuelas-surname-diaspora http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/venezuelas-surname-diaspora/#respond Fri, 28 Sep 2018 21:49:10 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157885 They sell their houses, cars, motorcycles, household goods, clothes and ornaments – if they have any – even at derisory prices, save up a few dollars, take a bus and, in many cases, for the first time ever travel outside their country: they are the migrants who are fleeing Venezuela by the hundreds of thousands. […]

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Journalism for Democracy, Caught Between Bullets and Censorship in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/journalism-democracy-caught-bullets-censorship-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-democracy-caught-bullets-censorship-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/journalism-democracy-caught-bullets-censorship-latin-america/#respond Sun, 23 Sep 2018 01:27:30 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157723 The murder of journalists and changing forms of censorship show that freedom of expression and information are still under siege in Latin America, particularly in the countries with the greatest social upheaval and political polarisation. Journalism “maintains a central role in the work for democracy in the region, although it suffers persecution of the media, […]

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Digital Media Take the Lead in Reporting in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/digital-media-take-lead-reporting-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-media-take-lead-reporting-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/digital-media-take-lead-reporting-venezuela/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 22:35:46 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155072 On-line media have taken the lead, ahead of the conventional media, in reporting in the tense political and economic climate in Venezuela, where freedom of speech and of information are under siege. In Venezuela, “the closure of traditional media, the purchase of others and the coercion exercised over companies and journalists have given a boost […]

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Venezuela’s Oil Industry Is Falling Aparthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/venezuelas-oil-industry-falling-apart/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=venezuelas-oil-industry-falling-apart http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/venezuelas-oil-industry-falling-apart/#comments Tue, 19 Dec 2017 03:06:25 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153611 Corruption in the Venezuelan state oil industry, denounced by the government itself, and with former ministers and senior managers behind bars, is the latest evidence that, in the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet, the industry on which the economy depends is falling apart. There was a drop “in the production of […]

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The Paraguaná oil refinery complex in northwestern Venezuela, one of the world’s largest, can process a million barrels a day, and is working at just a third of its installed capacity. Credit: Pdvsa

The Paraguaná oil refinery complex in northwestern Venezuela, one of the world’s largest, can process a million barrels a day, and is working at just a third of its installed capacity. Credit: Pdvsa

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Dec 19 2017 (IPS)

Corruption in the Venezuelan state oil industry, denounced by the government itself, and with former ministers and senior managers behind bars, is the latest evidence that, in the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet, the industry on which the economy depends is falling apart.

There was a drop “in the production of crude oil, of a million barrels per day,” economist Luis Oliveros, who teaches at the Metropolitan University, told IPS. In December 2013 output stood at 2,894,000 barrels per day compared to 1,837,000 in November 2017, according to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

By 2018 production could drop another 250,000 barrels per day at the current rate, and Venezuela, co-founder of OPEC in 1960 when it was the world’s largest crude oil exporter, is becoming an almost irrelevant player in the global market, Oliveros said.

This despite the fact that it has the largest known deposit of liquid fossil fuels, the 55,000- sq-km southeastern Orinoco oil belt, with an estimated 1.4 trillion barrels of crude, mainly extra-heavy, including proven reserves of 270 billion barrels, according to Venezuelan estimates.

Oil is virtually Venezuela’s only export product, the source of 95 percent of foreign exchange earnings, and by the middle of this decade it represented more than 20 percent of GDP. Most of the business is in the hands of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which has a few partnerships with transnational corporations.

President Nicolás Maduro started a purge on Nov. 28 within PDVSA, in the midst of the hail of corruption allegations and investigations, and asked the new management, led by a general new to the industry, Manuel Quevedo, to make an effort to raise production by one million barrels per day.

The immediate target was to meet the quota assigned by OPEC for 2017-2018, of 1,970,000 barrels per day, said presidential adviser Alí Rodríguez.

“Merely to sustain the current production of 1.85 million barrels per day – let alone increase it – we need to inject between four to five billion dollars into the industry, and the evidence is that this money is not there,” said Alberto Cisneros, CEO of the oil consulting firm Global Business Consultants.

With the economy in shambles, a four-digit inflation rate, different simultaneous exchange-rate systems for a currency that depreciates daily, shortages of food, medicines and essential supplies, and a foreign debt of more than 100 billion dollars, Venezuela does not have the resources that the industry needs, he told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the oil business “also suffers from management problems since PDVSA in 2003, after a strike against the government, dismissed 18,000 employees, half of its workforce,” former deputy energy minister Víctor Poleo (1999-2002) told IPS.

And corruption was dramatically exposed this December, when the Attorney General’s Office sent 67 PDVSA executives and managers to prison for crimes ranging from falsification of production figures to embezzlement and undermining the country’s sovereignty,.

Among these were two former oil ministers of President Nicolás Maduro, in power since 2013, Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martínez, who were also presidents of PDVSA and its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, which they allegedly damaged when re-negotiating debts.

Moreover, the Public Prosecutor´s Office is investigating Rafael Ramírez, a former oil minister and president of PDVSA between 2002 and 2014, and until last November Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, for his possible involvement in money laundering operations through the Banca Privada d’Andorra bank.

Petromonagas, a joint venture between state oil company PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft, extracts crude oil from the Orinoco Oil Belt, in southeastern Venezuela, considered the largest oil deposit on the planet. Credit: Pdvsa

Petromonagas, a joint venture between state oil company PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft, extracts crude oil from the Orinoco Oil Belt, in southeastern Venezuela, considered the largest oil deposit on the planet. Credit: Pdvsa

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, which claims access to reports on which Andorran Judge Canòlic Mingorance is working, people close to Ramírez received at least two billion euros (2.36 billion dollars) in illegal commissions between 1999 and 2013.

PDVSA, a company born from the nationalisation of the industry in 1975, and which for years boasted of being one of the top five oil companies in the world, is thus languishing under a cloud of accusations of corruption, incompetence and fraudulent management.

Production “is declining due to a lack of investment and maintenance, starting with the obsolete installations of Lake Maracaibo in the northwest, which produces no more than 450,000 barrels per day,” said Cisneros. Since 1914, more than 13,000 oil wells have been drilled there, and up to the 21st century, the lake basin produced more than one million barrels a day.

The relatively new fields of the east provide the rest of the output, but the figure of 1.3 million barrels per day extracted in the Orinoco Belt, announced by del Pino in the middle of the year, has been questioned by the criminal investigation.

Venezuelan expert Francisco Monaldi, at Rice University in the U.S. state of Texas, pointed out that exports are already below 1.4 million barrels per day (they stood at over 2.5 million at the beginning of the century), and less than 500,000 barrels per day were exported to the United States in November

For a century, the United States was the biggest importer of Venezuelan oil, purchasing 1.5 million barrels per day. And it is still the main source of revenue, as exports to China, which exceed 600,000 barrels per day, are used to pay off debts.

In oil refining, “it is perhaps even worse” according to Cisneros, since the Venezuelan refineries, installed to process 1.3 million barrels per day, “worked a few years ago at 90 or 95 percent of their capacity and now are only working at a third, 30 or 35 percent. We do not even supply our fuel needs,” which in part have to be imported, he pointed out.
To the decrease in the production of gasoline, lubricants and other derivatives are added distribution problems in the 1,650 service stations in this country of almost one million square kilometers, 31 million people and four million vehicles.

One of the problems is the absurdly low price of fuel in the country, the cheapest in the world. One litre costs just one bolívar, which at the official exchange rate is equivalent to about 10 cents, but at the black market rate is equivalent to one-thousandth of a cent: with one dollar you could buy 100,000 litres.

The cost of selling half a million barrels of fuel each day at this low price is a loss of between 12 and 15 billion dollars a year for PDVSA.

In addition, there is a problem of smuggling to Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean, which Venezuela partially curbs with controls and rationing that cause shortages and huge queues of vehicles at gas stations along the border.

PDVSA has paid back interest in arrears this year for its debt bonds, while a US subsidiary of Chinese company Sinopec -a partner that has contributed more than 50 billion dollars in loans to Caracas – sued the Venezuelan state-owned company before a US court, for 21.5 million dollars over unpaid bills.

The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela that make it difficult to renegotiate the country’s and PDVSA’s debts.

“Sanctions and default make it more difficult for partners to invest in joint ventures. The Venezuelan oil industry seems to have entered a spiral of death,” said Monaldi.

Cisneros believes that a recovery of the industry “is possible with a different organisational scheme, such as Argentina’s, which has a ‘front company’, Enarsa, and an operator, YPF (51 percent state-owned, 49 percent listed on the stock market).”

To achieve that “there are two possibilities; one is that the current regime reacts with respect to the economy and oil, and another is that there is a political change and the country starts to take advantage of its human, economic and oil resources,” he argued.

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New ‘Anti-Hate Law’ Threatens Freedoms in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 20:51:47 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153371 Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC). “A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion […]

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By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Dec 6 2017 (IPS)

Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

“A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion and is aimed at controlling content and freedom of expression,” Marianela Balbi, executive director of the Venezuelan chapter of the Lima-based Press and Society Institute (IPyS), told IPS.

The “Constitutional Law against hatred, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance” was approved by the ANC, which is made up exclusively of supporters of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The ANC was elected on Jul. 30, in elections boycotted by the opposition. It is not recognised by many governments, while the single-chamber National Assembly, where the opposition is in the majority, rejects it as unconstitutional.

“We do not call it a law because laws, in accordance with domestic and international human rights law, are made by parliaments – in this country, the National Assembly – to allow debate and participation, which in this case did not happen,” Carlos Correa, of the non-governmental organisation Espacio Público, dedicated to freedom of expression and information, told IPS.

It was President Maduro, in power since 2013 and political heir of the late leader of the Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), who requested the approval of the law against hatred.

“The time has come, through a broad political process of awareness-raising, to punish the crimes of hate and intolerance, in all their forms of expression, and to put an end to them definitively,” Maduro said when presenting the bill in August.

Tips for context
* Before the law was passed, 14 people were imprisoned in the last three years, some for several months under ongoing judicial proceedings, for sending messages via Twitter, investigated as accessories to crimes committed in the context of opposition demonstrations, human rights organisations point out.

* The Press Workers’ Union reports that in 2010, 49 media outlets were closed in the country, including 46 radio stations. Espacio Público counts 148 closures of media outlets during the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

* Espacio Público registers a record number of 887 violations of freedom of expression in the period Jan.-Sept. 2017, 259 percent more than in 2016. The list covers hundreds of intimidations, attacks and threats to press workers, especially in the context of demonstrations, as well as 83 administrative restrictions on media and 157 cases of censorship.

* The Internet connection speed in Venezuela is 1.9 megabytes per second, comparted to a regional average of 4.7, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

* The International Telecommunications Union records a decrease in the population's access to Internet, from 61.9 to 60 percent between 2015 and 2016, and a decrease in mobile phone coverage from 102 to 87 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Former minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the ANC, Delcy Rodríguez, said that a comparative study was carried out with similar laws in Germany and Ecuador, and that in addition to establishing penalties, the Venezuelan law incorporated provisions to promote education in favour of tolerance.

In July, Germany passed a law that orders service providers such as YouTube or Twitter to remove content considered criminal within 24 hours.

In Ecuador, former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) proposed a “law that regulates acts of hatred and discrimination in social networks,” with possible sanctions against service providers, but the legislature shelved the bill after Lenin Moreno became president in May.

The 25-article law passed by the ANC does not define what it means by “hate”. According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language hatred is “antipathy and aversion to something or a person to whom one wishes ill.”

“It is serious that this law puts in the hands of a few officials the assessment of what is or is not a hate crime, because the legal instrument lacks a definition,” Alberto Arteaga, former dean of the Central University of Venezuela’s law school, told IPS.

The rapporteur for freedom of expression in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Uruguayan Edison Lanza, warned that “the law against hatred in Venezuela could severely hinder the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and generate a strong intimidation effect incompatible with a democratic society.”

Lanza lamented the establishment of “exorbitant criminal sanctions and powers to censor traditional media and the Internet, that run counter to international standards on freedom of expression.” In his opinion, “the last free space in Venezuela, the social networks, will be censored.”

The law aims to prevent and repress all expressions that “promote war or incite hatred of national, racial, ethnic, religious, political, social, ideological, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and any other nature that constitutes incitement to discrimination, intolerance or violence. ”

Political organisations will have to reform their statutes to expel any members who spread expressions of hatred. The penalty for not following this rule will be the cancellation of the registration of the party considered to have infringed the law.

Any print or audiovisual media outlets that emit messages punishable by law will be subject to fines, closure or termination of their concession, independently of the penalties that may fall individually on those responsible.

Administrators of social networks and online media outlets must withdraw messages that contravene the law within a maximum period of six hours, or they will be sanctioned.

The penalty for spreading messages that instigate hatred, war, discrimination or intolerance can range from 10 to 20 years in prison.

The sanctions will be imposed by courts and by the state National Telecommunications Commission.

In addition, the law creates a Commission for the Promotion and Guarantee of Peaceful Coexistence, which will dictate the measures that the authorities and official agencies and citizens must follow to fulfill the objectives of the law and avoid impunity.

The new 15-member Commission, appointed by the ANC itself, will be made up of representatives of that body, the executive branch, the other branches of government, excluding parliament, and three social organisations that promote coexistence.

Balbi argued that the new law “establishes a very dangerous discretionality, which is unnecessary to protect aspects such as security or the good repute of people, because they already are covered by the Constitution, other laws and international treaties that Venezuela has signed.”

The National Assembly rejected “the supposed law”, because it was produced by a body that it sees as not having the authority to create laws, and because “it constitutes a gross attempt to criminalise and sanction political dissidence, putting at risk plurality, freedom of expression and the right to information.”

But the decisions by the parliament elected in December 2015 are systematically blocked and ignored by the Supreme Court of Justice, the executive branch and other Venezuelan authorities.

Correa said the new law “is aimed towards building a logic of fear. It seeks censorship and self-censorship. It tries to get into people’s feelings, something characteristic of not only authoritarian but of totalitarian regimes.”
The new law, which entered into force on Nov. 8, has not yet been applied to any institution or person.

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Parliamentary Elections with Gender Parity in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela/#respond Thu, 09 Jul 2015 14:26:15 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141507 More women could be elected to the Venezuelan legislature, but the new rule on gender parity for the upcoming parliamentary elections has been caught up in the political polarisation that has had this country in its grip for years. “This rule was long in coming, and is the product of decades of struggle and sacrifice […]

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A Venezuelan woman gets ready to cast her ballot at a voting station in Caracas mainly made up of women in the last presidential elections, on Apr. 14, 2013. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

A Venezuelan woman gets ready to cast her ballot at a voting station in Caracas mainly made up of women in the last presidential elections, on Apr. 14, 2013. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

More women could be elected to the Venezuelan legislature, but the new rule on gender parity for the upcoming parliamentary elections has been caught up in the political polarisation that has had this country in its grip for years.

“This rule was long in coming, and is the product of decades of struggle and sacrifice by hundreds of women,” Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), said at the presentation of the new regulation on gender parity. “We are moving towards the construction of a better democracy,” she added.

The single-chamber National Assembly for the 2016-2020 period will be elected on Dec. 6, after years of severe political polarisation fuelled, since Nicolás Maduro became president in 2013, by falling oil prices, devaluation, inflation and shortages of basic goods.

The new gender parity regulation adopted by the CNE was quickly caught up in the clash, although women from both sides of the political spectrum celebrated the fact that Venezuela had joined the “club” of Latin American nations with gender quotas in parliamentary elections.

“Women’s rights are already a matter of state in Venezuela, thanks to our struggles and to the comprehension of (late) President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), the driving force behind the 1999 constitution,” a member of the Latin American Parliament, Marelis Pérez Marcano of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), told IPS.

This oil-producing nation first adopted a gender quota – reserving at least 30 percent of candidacies for women – in the 1997 parliamentary elections. But the rule was revoked by the 2000 electoral law and replaced by CNE calls for gender parity.

As a result, the current 165-seat legislature consists of 137 men and 28 women (17 percent) – a proportion that puts Venezuela in 18th place in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

In top place in this region is Bolivia, where women comprise 53 percent of the lower house of parliament and 47 percent of the upper house. At least 10 other Latin American countries have gender quotas for parliamentary elections. And one of them, Argentina, was the first country in the world to adopt such a law. Colombia also has a 30 percent quota for high-level public posts.

Venezuela’s new rule stipulates that political parties must present an equal number of male and female candidates and must alternate them on their lists, both for members of parliament and alternates.

When a precise 50/50 parity is impossible in one of the 24 electoral regions, then at least 40 percent of the candidates must be women.

Elsa Solórzano of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a catch-all coalition of 27 opposition groups and parties, complained about the timing of the new regulation and argued that it violated several constitutional clauses.

She said the regulation, officially implemented on Jun. 29, came a month after the MUD held primary elections supervised by the CNE itself. The coalition is now holding debates on how to rearrange the lists of candidates.

Furthermore, she noted, Article 298 of the constitution establishes that the electoral law “cannot be modified in any way” in the six months prior to elections.

Supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela outside of the legislature in Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of Raúl Límaco

Supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela outside of the legislature in Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of Raúl Límaco

“The trick was the political maneuvering, not the substance of the rule: parity. And it’s obvious that it was the doing of the CNE, not of we women who were ignored when we demanded in a timely fashion the right to be elected,” activist Evangelina García Prince, minister of women’s affairs in the 1990s and a member of the Venezuelan Observatory of the Human Rights of Women, told IPS.

Virginia Olivo, president of the non-governmental Observatory, said that in this country there is “a low level of political representation for women, with a parliament that is below the regional and global averages.”

Statistics provided by the IPU indicate that women represent 24.5 percent of lawmakers in Latin America and 20 percent globally.

According to the 2011 census, 39 percent of the seven million mothers in this country of 30 million people are heads of households. And of the mothers who are on their own, 10 percent are adolescents.

Olivo pointed out that, although no precise statistics are available, most of the nine million people living in poverty in Venezuela live in these female-headed households. As another illustration of the inequality faced by women, she noted that women earn 82 percent of what men earn for the same work.

Defending the new gender quota, Lucena said that since February she has been talking with female opposition leaders about the gender parity rule that was being drawn up.

But “these individual conversations don’t mean the MUD was formally informed,” said Vicente Bello, one of the coalition’s electoral affairs officials.

But another opposition leader, Isabel Carmona, president of the Democratic Action party, which governed the country several times in the 20th century, supported the regulation, arguing that “the rights protected by the justice system are not subject to political bargaining.”

“This measure affects the cultural roots of power, because culture in Latin America has made machismo a symbol of power. We are starting to dismantle that, because no one who has a privilege has the generosity to give it up,” Carmona said.

Margarita López Maya, a historian and political scientist, said “the unexpected decision to require gender parity for the candidates in the 2015 parliamentary elections reveals, once again, the governing party’s interest in generating an atmosphere of uncertainty and uneasiness to disrupt the important elections that will take place on Dec. 6.”

Her warning is based on the fact that the five members of the CNE – four of whom are women – are pro-government, and only one, the only man, is considered a supporter of the opposition. The rule was approved with the votes of the four female members.

Leaders from across the political spectrum say that if the opposition, which for now is ahead in the polls according to the main polling companies, wins a majority in the legislature, it would launch a transition process that could push the PSUV and President Maduro, Chávez’s political heir, out of power.

But, said Lucena, the electoral authority’s new rule “refers to the candidates that the political parties will offer, but it will clearly be the voters who will decide, with their votes.”

During much of Chávez’s time in office, women headed up the rest of the branches of government: the legislature, the judiciary, the electoral authority, the attorney general’s office, the comptroller-general’s office and the ombudsperson’s office.

Women are also a majority in the judiciary and have been cabinet ministers since 1967. In 1979 the country had its first women’s affairs minister, and in 2013 a woman admiral was defence minister.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Shale Oil Threatens the High Prices Enjoyed by OPEChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/shale-oil-threatens-the-high-prices-enjoyed-by-opec/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shale-oil-threatens-the-high-prices-enjoyed-by-opec http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/shale-oil-threatens-the-high-prices-enjoyed-by-opec/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 21:10:05 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137983 Shale fever and the political chess among major oil producers and consumers have put OPEC in one of the most difficult junctures in its 54 years of history. “OPEC was spoiled for several years by high prices of around 100 dollars a barrel,” Elie Habalián, a former Venezuelan OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) […]

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Ranking of recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, which have revolutionised the global map of fossil fuels. Credit: ProfesionalMovil

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Shale fever and the political chess among major oil producers and consumers have put OPEC in one of the most difficult junctures in its 54 years of history.

“OPEC was spoiled for several years by high prices of around 100 dollars a barrel,” Elie Habalián, a former Venezuelan OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) governor, told IPS. “If it had had the foresight to keep prices down to around 70 dollars a barrel, shale oil would not have begun to pose such stiff competition.”

The 12-member group – made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela – may agree to cut output, which would entail sacrificing markets, during its Nov. 27 ministerial meeting in Vienna – the 166th held since the organisation was founded in September 1960.

Oil prices, which climbed after 2003 to over 140 dollars a barrel in 2008, plunged as a result of the global financial crisis that broke out that year, but recovered this decade and have remained at around 100 dollars a barrel.

In the meantime, the production of unconventional oil and gas began to expand in the United States. Shale, a common type of sedimentary rock made up largely of compacted silt and clay, is an unconventional source of natural gas and oil, which is trapped in shale formations and recovered by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.

“Fracking” involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock to release the natural gas and oil on a massive scale.

With the technology and capital available in the 20th century, these unconventional resources were not recoverable.

Habalián pointed out that after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, “the West and Japan adopted a strategy to achieve a stable market under their control rather than under that of the exporting countries.”

That strategy has run into surprises. For example, 40 years ago no one foresaw that China, along with India and other emerging powers, would become a fast-growing economy with a voracious appetite for fossil fuels, which gave a boost to producers of oil and gas.

“But with the high prices, while the exporters financed geopolitical campaigns, like the conflicts in the Middle East or the influence of Venezuela in Latin America under the presidency of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), the big corporations were investing in technology and new areas of business,” said Habalián.

The shale boom “has merely accelerated the results of that permanent strategy by the West. Shale oil is here to stay, the price will drop as the technology advances, and that will bring down the prices of, and set a cap on, OPEC’s oil,” the expert said.

Map of proven global reserves of conventional oil, where new actors have also reduced OPEC’s grip. Credit: Fastcompany.com

Map of proven global reserves of conventional oil, where new actors have also reduced OPEC’s grip. Credit: Fastcompany.com

Fracking is a costly procedure that requires high crude prices to make it profitable. It is also criticised for its environmental effects, as it involves consumption of enormous amounts of water and the creation of cracks in the rocks deep below the surface, with consequences that have yet to be determined.

Shale oil is already a major actor in the global energy market, with daily output of 3.5 million barrels, mainly in the United States, which recently overtook Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil producer, with more than nine million barrels a day.

For decades Saudi Arabia was the biggest producer and the de facto leader of OPEC, because to its production of nearly 10 million barrels a day is added a spare production capacity of two million barrels which has enabled it to increase or reduce output in periods of market scarcity or abundance.

The market, of some 91 million barrels consumed daily, of which OPEC contributes one-third, is showing signs of being oversupplied because of the rising offer of shale oil, Europe’s fragile economic recovery, and the slowdown of emerging economies, from China to Brazil.

Crude oil is about 30 percent cheaper than one year ago. The European benchmark North Sea Brent stands at 80 dollars a barrel, compared to 110 dollars a barrel at the close of 2013. The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate is trading at 75 dollars a barrel, and Venezuela’s dense cocktail at less than 70 dollars a barrel, down from a high of more than 100 dollars a barrel.

Saudi Arabia “appears determined to respond aggressively in defence of its market share, even if that means lower prices for a few years,” Kenneth Ramírez, a professor of geopolitics and oil at the Central University of Venezuela, told IPS.

The Saudis are thus apparently facing off with Iran, their rival in the Islamic world – and which, like Venezuela, Russia or Nigeria, needs the biggest possible influx of revenue in the short term – and would discourage, with flows of low-cost conventional oil, the development of its big future rival: shale oil.

In addition, according to analyses like those of Habalián and Ramírez, low prices and a market with a greater supply of crude would “punish” nations like Syria or its big supporter, Russia, which is clashing with the West over the conflict centred in Ukraine.

In the immediate future, OPEC could opt for the Saudi proposal of maintaining the status quo and letting oil prices slide to 70 dollars a barrel or lower, with the aim of slowing down the development of shale oil while waiting for a recovery of Europe or China and other emerging economies.

Venezuela has tried to push another option, with an intense tour by Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez to the capitals of oil producing countries, from Mexico City to Moscow through Tehran, but conspicuously avoiding Riyadh. The idea is to cut production to shore up prices, betting that the capacity to extract shale oil will decline in a few years.

One component that contributes to a move in that direction, said Habalián, is the pressure from environmentalists, especially in the United States and Canada, who oppose the extraction of shale oil and gas because of its impact on water sources, the injection of chemicals and the fracturing of rock deep underground.

A third option, said Ramírez, would be to ratify OPEC’s production ceiling of 30 million barrels a day, which would remove a small portion of the partners’ current excess supply “and although it would have a small impact on prices, it would send a signal that the organisation is not on the ropes.”

But in the medium to long term, Habalián observed, a new energy architecture in line with the market stability sought by the West continues to be bolstered, in the face of an OPEC strained by political and budgetary urgencies.

Editedo by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Closes Ranks in Solidarity with the People of Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza/#respond Thu, 07 Aug 2014 23:57:37 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135992 Latin America is the region whose governments have taken the firmest stance in support of Gaza in face of the battering from Israel, withdrawing a number of ambassadors from Tel Aviv and issuing harsh statements from several presidents against the attacks on the Palestinian people. But some experts say that paradoxically, this solidarity has kept […]

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A Jul. 2 march in Caracas in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Similar protests, with signs reading “We are all Palestine”, have been held in other Latin American capitals since Jul. 8. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is the region whose governments have taken the firmest stance in support of Gaza in face of the battering from Israel, withdrawing a number of ambassadors from Tel Aviv and issuing harsh statements from several presidents against the attacks on the Palestinian people.

But some experts say that paradoxically, this solidarity has kept this region from playing a decisive role in the international attempt to curtail or resolve the conflict.

“It would be good to take advantage of the geographical distance and the relations with the people of the Middle East to curb the confrontation,” Elsa Cardozo, former director of the Central University of Venezuela’s School of International Studies, told IPS.

Latin America “also has the authority of being a region free of religious conflicts or conflicts revolving around the existence of nations, which puts it in a position to pronounce itself, for example, with respect to Israel’s horrendous attacks on civilian Palestinian targets,” Cardozo said.

But “its militant a priori side-taking undermines the region’s authority to pressure the two sides, because that authority isn’t gained by being biased but by condemning every action of each actor that violates basic rights,” she added.

Since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on Jul. 8, bombing the Gaza Strip, the governments of Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay have issued statements condemning the bombing, and the Foreign Ministries of Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations.

As far back as Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in late 2008, the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela broke off ties with Tel Aviv, while Cuba severed relations in 1973 and Havana has been at diplomatic loggerheads with Israel and has offered open support to the Palestinian liberation movements.

On Jul. 29, four of the five presidents of the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) released a statement during a summit in Caracas “vigorously condemn[ing] the disproportionate use of force on the part of the Israeli armed forces in the Gaza Strip, force which has almost exclusively affected civilians, including many women and children.”

The declaration also included a condemnation against any attacks on Israeli civilians, and was signed by presidents Cristina Fernández (Argentina), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), José Mujica (Uruguay) and Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela). President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay, another member of the bloc, abstained.

Map of Latin America with few countries coloured white (indicating that their governments have not openly expressed solidarity with Palestine). Credit: Telesur

Map of Latin America with few countries coloured white (indicating that their governments have not openly expressed solidarity with Palestine). Credit: Telesur

During the first four weeks of the war on Gaza, at least 1,830 Palestinians, three-quarters of them civilians, and 67 Israelis, including 64 soldiers and three civilians, have been killed, according to statistics gathered on the ground.

In this region, marches and protests in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestine cause have been held in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela and other countries.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa cancelled a trip to Israel and Palestine scheduled for later this year, saying that his country “has to continue to denounce this genocide that is being committed in the Gaza Strip.”

On Jul. 29, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that his country was putting Israel on its list of “terrorist states” because of the “genocide” and inhumane attacks on the civilian population in Gaza.

On Aug. 4, Mujica, the president of Uruguay, also described the offensive against the people of Gaza as “genocide”, while his foreign minister, Luis Almagro, said the government was reassessing “our diplomatic relations with Israel.”

“Everyone has the right to defend themselves, but there are defences that have a limit, that you can’t do, such as bombing hospitals, children and the elderly,” Mujica said.

Maduro also spoke out harshly against the Israeli offensive, describing it as a “horrible massacre. Those who compare it to the genocide experienced by the Jewish people themselves at the hands of the intolerant right whose maximum leader was [Adolph] Hitler are right.”

In addition, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announced Aug. 6 in Cairo that Venezuela would ship 16 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza via Egypt, and send funds for the purchase of 15 ambulances, as well as 240,000 barrels of fuel for the rest of the year, based on agreements that will be managed by PetroPalestine.

The minister’s trip to Cairo had the aim of coordinating the aid, reiterating Venezuela’s commitment to the Palestinian population, visiting refugees who have fled the bombings into Egypt, and reasserting his country’s offer to take in Palestinian children orphaned in the last month.

Kenneth Ramírez, president of the private Venezuelan Council of International Relations, told IPS that Venezuela, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, “can contribute to the development of the fossil fuels in Palestine and to transforming them into opportunities for development of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, in the United Nations, where it is a candidate to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the 2015-2016 period, Venezuela “can contribute to international efforts that could bring about a change in the current dynamic, but to do that it should avoid taking biased stances in this conflict,” Ramírez said.

Milos Alcalay, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N., pointed out to IPS that “in the global organisation, Latin America has always supported the establishment of two states, since 1947, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, unlike Arab countries, which wanted only one state to be formed.

“Unfortunately that balanced position is being pushed aside, and the opportunity for an understanding with all of the parties in the conflict is being lost,” said Alcalay, who is also a former deputy foreign minister.

Latin America “should send a message that it mourns all of the dead, that it condemns Israel’s military actions and the provocations by extremists opposed to it, always with the aim of achieving and bringing about a ceasefire and a path to peace,” he added.

“There aren’t any valid state interlocutors left to mediate, in large part because they are actors who failed in their attempts at mediation and who have taken polarised positions with respect to the conflict in Gaza,” Andrés Serbin, president of the Buenos Aires-based Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research (CRIES), told IPS.

Given the failed mediation by the states and the U.N., “the alternative is that of civil society actions. The first efforts focus on early warning systems and prevention, and given the escalation of violence like what we are now seeing in Gaza, initiatives of citizen diplomacy and campaigns aimed at reopening the dialogue,” Serbin said.

Summing up, Ramírez said “Israel cannot continue the war with Hamas without eroding its international legitimacy; and Hamas can’t keep playing with fire, because the permanent division of the Palestinian factions will not help bring about a Palestinian state.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez /Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bill to Fight Discrimination Against HIV-Positive Venezuelanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/bill-to-fight-discrimination-against-hiv-positive-venezuelans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bill-to-fight-discrimination-against-hiv-positive-venezuelans http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/bill-to-fight-discrimination-against-hiv-positive-venezuelans/#respond Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:39:43 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135832 Venezuela is gearing up to pass a new law to combat discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, in a country where the epidemic claims nearly 4,000 lives and infects 11,000 mainly young people every year, including increasing numbers of women. In the first debate in the single-chamber legislature, where the bill was introduced by ombudswoman […]

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“Preventing It Is in Your Hands…World AIDS Day” – image from one of the government campaigns to prevent AIDS in Venezuela. Credit: Venezolana de Televisión

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Venezuela is gearing up to pass a new law to combat discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, in a country where the epidemic claims nearly 4,000 lives and infects 11,000 mainly young people every year, including increasing numbers of women.

In the first debate in the single-chamber legislature, where the bill was introduced by ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez, it received unanimous backing from both the governing majority and the opposition – not a common occurrence in this severely polarised country.

When she presented the “law for the promotion and protection of the right to equality for people with HIV or AIDS and their family members” on Jul. 8, Ramírez said it “gives parliament an opportunity to promote equality and reduce the vulnerability of a segment of the population that has suffered discrimination.”

“HIV-related stigma and discrimination are the main barrier in the fight against this epidemic all around the world,” Alejandra Corao, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) official in Venezuela, told IPS.

“The most important thing is that 30 years after the arrival of the epidemic here, the state recognises that discrimination is a serious problem,” Alberto Nieves, director of the non-governmental organisation Citizen Action Against AIDS (ACCSI), told IPS.“The most important thing is that 30 years after the arrival of the epidemic here, the state recognises that discrimination is a serious problem.” -- Alberto Nieves

Ombudswoman Ramírez pointed out that between 1982 and 2013 there were 31,512 officially documented cases of HIV/AIDS in this country. But Nieves believes the current number of cases is as high as the highest UNAIDS estímate – 160,000 cases.

The bill guarantees HIV-positive people equal conditions in terms of the right to work and hold public office, to education, healthcare, culture and sports, the benefits of social programmes, bank loans, confidentiality about their health status and respect for their prívate lives.

It also states that having AIDS cannot be grounds for the suspension of paternity rights, while establishing that families are responsable for caring for and protecting people living with HIV.

The law guarantees equality for young people, because 40 percent of new cases are in the 15-24 age group. It also does so in the case of women, for whom it orders that special care be provided during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, as well as for people with disabilities and prisoners.

The bill establishes penalties, disciplinary measures and fines for those found guilty of discrimination.

The idea is to prevent a repeat of situations such as one faced by a schoolteacher in a city in western Venezuela, who remains anonymous at her request. She was fired after a campaign against her was mounted by parents who discovered that she had gone to the AIDS unit in a hospital to undergo exams.

However, the miliary and the police are exempt from the protective provisions against discrimination.

“We do not agree with that exception,” Estevan Colina, an activist with the Venezuelan Network of Positive People, told IPS. “No one should be excluded and we hope for progress on that point when parliament’s Social Development Commission studies it and it goes to the plenary for the second debate,” which will be article by article.

Nieves is confident that the second reading will overturn the military-police exception. But more important, said the head of ACCSI, “is the positive aspect of the law, starting with the unanimous acceptance of a human rights issue by political groups that are so much at loggerheads in Venezuela’s polarised society.”

The law, which NGOs and activists expect to pass this year, will give a boost to anti-AIDS campaigns. The support will be similar in importance to that given by a July 1998 Supreme Court ruling that ordered public health institutions to provide free antiretrovial treatment to all people living with HIV.

In this country of 30 million a total of 43,000 people currently receive free antiretrovirals, equivalent to 73 percent of those requiring treatment, Corao said. The global average is 37 percent and the Latin American average 45 percent, UNAIDS reports.

Venezuela’s public expenditure on HIV/AIDS amounts to 100 million dollar a year, approximately half of which is spent on medication. But NGOs complain that the government effort is undermined by red tape and organisational problems.

“In some regions trained personnel is sometimes lacking to run the HIV/AIDS programme; coordination and transportation between the capital and the regions is deficient; and the pharmaceutical industry declines to take part in public tenders,” Nieves said.

Shortages of antiretrovirals trigger periodic protests by patients, in a country where “scarcity of medicine can range from 35 to 50 percent,” infectious disease specialist Julio Castro, with the local NGO Doctors for Health, told IPS.

Prevention and educational campaigns must also be stepped up, to judge by the rise in new cases: 4,553 in 2004 compared to 11,181 in 2012, according to the Health Ministry. Among women there were 1,408 new cases in 2004 and 2,236 in 2012.

“There is a feminisation of the epidemic, a phenomenon that is not exclusive to Venezuela, because in 2003 one in five HIV-positive people were women, compared to one in three in 2007,” Corao said.

“Women who are increasingly affected are not only sex workers but homemakers, employees and workers, professionals and students. And one of the main problems associated with this is domestic violence,” the UNAIDS representative added.

Another area where the disease is expanding is among adolescents and young people, the age group between 15 and 24 years, “because throughout Latin America there is a perception that the risk has gone down, and kids who did not live through the boom of the epidemic in the 1980s behave as if it were a problem of the past that has already been overcome,” the expert remarked.

In 2013 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related causes worldwide – 35 percent less than the 2.4 million of 2005. But in a report published Jul. 16, UNAIDS stated that of the 35 million people living with HIV around the world, an estimated 19 million are unaware of their HIV-positive status.

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Venezuelans Thirsty in a Land of Abundant Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/venezuelans-thirsty-in-a-land-of-abundant-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=venezuelans-thirsty-in-a-land-of-abundant-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/venezuelans-thirsty-in-a-land-of-abundant-water/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 09:22:11 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134760 Although Venezuela has 520 long rivers, taps often run dry, many poor neighbourhoods depend on tanker trucks, water rationing remains a reality, and in some areas water quality is very poor. One of the rivers, described by Jules Verne as The Mighty Orinoco, is the world’s third-largest in terms of water volume, after the Amazon […]

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The Cuao river, one of the fast-flowing tributaries of the Orinoco river. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jun 4 2014 (IPS)

Although Venezuela has 520 long rivers, taps often run dry, many poor neighbourhoods depend on tanker trucks, water rationing remains a reality, and in some areas water quality is very poor.

One of the rivers, described by Jules Verne as The Mighty Orinoco, is the world’s third-largest in terms of water volume, after the Amazon and Congo rivers, with hundreds of tributaries in a basin of nearly one million square kilometres that empties into the Atlantic ocean.

But the distribution of water in the national territory is another story: 90 percent of the population is urban and 80 percent lives in the north and west of the country, where only five percent of the freshwater is located.

“Since 2011, the taps almost always run dry. Families here pay 1,000 bolivars each [20 dollars, one-quarter of the minimum monthly wage] to pay the tanker trucks that bring us water,” street vendor Dulce Hernández from Carayaca, a town on the Caribbean coast northwest of Caracas, told Tierramérica.

Luis Mejía, a mechanic who lives in Maca, a poor neighbourhood in east Caracas, also complained: “We get by thanks to tanker trucks that the city governments send us, but we have a two-pronged problem: while we suffer from thirst, if it starts raining we can be flooded by the Guaire river [which crosses Caracas and on whose banks the slum was built].”

Similar stories abound in the capital and other cities: schools that send children home early because there is no water in the toilets and sinks; restaurants that do not provide beverages, or simply close their doors when the water stops running; small gardens that dry up; roads that are blocked by protesters after days without running water.

And it’s not only a problem in lower-income areas: in the middle-class neighbourhood of Chacao, lawyer Nuria García, after bathing with a small bucket of water for four days, came home early to see if the water was running, and found “water in the shower; it was like a celebration.”

In the upscale neighbourhood of Altamira, this journalist went to an interview in the embassy of a European country, and was offered a cup of coffee. But a few minutes later, the offer was cancelled: there was no water in the tap.

Since 2008 Venezuela has boasted that it met the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water, reporting that clean water now reaches 96 percent of the population of 30 million.

But in 2003, 2009 and now 2014, with the changes in rainfall patterns caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena, large segments of the urban and rural populations have found that the taps are dry, or running only sporadically, or the water is brown because of the mud, or green due to organic material.

In the north-central part of the country, where lake Valencia (344 square kilometres) and the industrial city of the same name are located, local residents who block roads to protest the lack of clean water agree with those who mount roadblocks to complain about poor water quality.

“We are grateful to the government for giving us these houses, but we are living with an enemy: the green water from the tanks. We boil it for cooking, but it’s not safe, and we worry when we bathe our children,” Hilda Rosales, who lives in a “petrocasa” – prefabricated houses built with panels made of PVC – in Guacara, near Valencia, told Tierramérica.

In this area, “water scarcity coincides with poor quality. Government institutions just wait for the rain to fill the tanks, but the rain washes down minerals and organic residue which obstruct the pipes,” sanitary engineer Manuel Pérez Rodríguez, with the Movement for Water Quality, which is active in the region, told Tierramérica.

A tanker truck loads water in the El Paraíso neighbourhood on the south side of Caracas, to sell it in poor neighbourhoods or middle-class apartment buildings where the pipes often run dry. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

A tanker truck loads water in the El Paraíso neighbourhood on the south side of Caracas, to sell it in poor neighbourhoods or middle-class apartment buildings where the pipes often run dry. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The water level in lake Valencia rose five metres in just a few years, flooding 10,000 hectares of land and affecting neighbourhoods in the lakeside city of Maracay. Given the risk of even worse flooding, the Environment Ministry and state water companies decided to divert some of the lake’s water to the Pao-Cachinche regional reservoir.

The reservoir supplies three million people in Valencia and other cities and towns. But Pérez Rodríguez said “the organic substances that are abundant in the lake, where waste water is dumped, reach the reservoir, whose obsolete treatment plants are unable to treat the water and make it potable, while they also plug up the pipes.”

The Pao-Cachinche reservoir is on the route of waste water collectors from an area of intense urban residential, industrial and agricultural activity. “The filters from the water treatment plants are back flushed with this residue-laden water, they plug up faster, and poor water quality replaces the problem of scarcity,” said Pérez Rodríguez.

“Drinking water treatment plants haven’t been built in Venezuela for 15 years,” María Eugenia Gil, with the non-governmental Agua Clara Foundation, told Tierramérica. “They aren’t being replaced or maintained. The existing plants aren’t prepared to deal with the increase in quantity and diversity of pollutants, and they collapse, causing water shortages.”

The government plans to develop 18 new systems for collecting and purifying drinking water, build 180 rural aqueducts, rehabilitate more than 500 supply networks and drill new wells, to expand coverage in order to reach 98 percent of the population in four years, Environment Minister Miguel Rodríguez said.

Venezuela is among the 20 countries in the world with the largest freshwater renewable resources available for supply: 41,886 cubic metres of water a year per capita, similar to its neighbours Colombia and Brazil, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

But most of the rivers, especially the longest and fastest-flowing, are in the south. And the water supply for most of the inhabitants, who live in the north, depends on costly treatment and transport of water across the country.

In the 1960s, an industrial zone in the southeast began to be developed, bathed by the
Orinoco and Carona rivers, but the plans were suspended.

And this century, late former president Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), who died last year, proposed developing an Orinoco-Apure (its largest tributary) river route, but the plan never made it past the design stage.

The problem is not new. In 1958, when Colombian Nobel Literature Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was working as a journalist in Venezuela, he wrote a series of reports that were later published in one volume, titled ‘When I was Happy and Undocumented’.

The main character in one of the stories, ‘Caracas Without Water’, was a fictitious German tourist who described how his stay in the Venezuelan capital was affected by the drought. The story describes a reality that has not changed much in the city nearly six decades later.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Government, Opposition in Televised Group Therapy in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela-2/#respond Sat, 12 Apr 2014 11:08:55 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133679 Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests. The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested […]

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By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests.

The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested – with 100 still behind bars – and 70 reports of torture.

Foreign ministers Luiz Figueiredo of Brazil, María Ángela Holguín of Colombia, and Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, and the Vatican apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, brokered the six-hour talks hosted by President Nicolás Maduro Thursday night.

The president issued a call “to acknowledge each other and reject the pressure from those who want to impose extreme ways, of violence.” He also called on his adversaries “not for a pact or negotiations, but for a willingness for peace. We want a model of coexistence, of tolerance.”

The leaders of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD – Roundtable of Democratic Unity), a multicolour coalition of opposition parties ranking from the right wing to former leftist guerrillas, met with Maduro and his closest associates in the Miraflores presidential palace.

The main political instigators of the protests, including the jailed Leopoldo López, boycotted the talks.

The university students who started the protests in the capital and dozens of cities around the country did not take part in the meeting. Their main leader, Juan Requesens of the Central University in Caracas, warned that “we will continue our peaceful protests, because there are many reasons to protest.”

“The uncertainty and scepticism surrounding this first meeting will continue while people wait for the government, above all, to send out concrete signals of change in its measures and policies,” Carlos Romero, a graduate studies professor of political science, told IPS.

The protests broke out on Feb. 4 in the southwest city of San Cristóbal and spread to Caracas on Feb. 12, driven by university students who complained about crime on their campus.

The demonstrations grew as the hardline opposition began to demand an end to Maduro’s government, and marches and roadblocks often turned into violent clashes with the military and police and government supporters.

The protests, in which mainly middle-class demonstrators are backing the students, are happening against a backdrop of economic difficulties such as a nearly 60 percent annual inflation rate, scarcity of some food and other basic items, and long, exhausting queues of people waiting to buy products sold under a rationing system.

The high crime rates – more than 24,000 homicides were committed in 2013 – and the poor functioning of services like electricity, water and public hospitals, especially outside of Caracas, are also fuelling the protests.

On Thursday Apr. 10, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a preliminary report that Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world, with 53.7 homicides per 100,000 population.

Maduro, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and leaders of the armed forces say they managed to block a plan backed by Washington to subvert the constitutional order and overthrow the government, with the help of the protests.

The president won the Apr. 14, 2013 elections after Hugo Chávez, who governed the country since 1999, died of cancer on Mar. 5.

Like a snowball effect, the initial reasons for the protests gave way to others, such as the demand that the deaths of people killed – mainly shot – at the roadblocks be investigated, that those responsible for human rights violations be held to account, and that the detainees be released.

The people still in jail include López and two opposition mayors, from San Cristóbal and from a city in the central state of Carabobo, who the Supreme Court removed from office in what was described by some as a summary trial. They were sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring orders to remove the roadblocks set up by protesters in their municipalities.

The release and restitution of the mayors was another demand set forth by the opposition in the meeting that ended in the early hours of Friday morning. The opposition is also demanding that armed irregular civilian groups de disarmed.

In the talks, the government and MUD leaders outlined their conflicting visions of the country, the economy and democracy, with each side sounding a litany of complaints about the conduct of the other over the past 15 years.

“The prospects for reaching an agreement on the underlying questions are still remote, because of the conflicting visions, at the end of a first meeting which seemed more like group therapy than a dialogue or negotiations,” political science professor José Vicente Carrasquero commented to IPS.

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Government, Opposition in Televised Group Therapy in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/#respond Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:22:26 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133623 Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests. The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested […]

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By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests.

The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested – with 100 still behind bars – and 70 reports of torture.

Foreign ministers Luiz Figueiredo of Brazil, María Ángela Holguín of Colombia, and Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, and the Vatican apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, brokered the six-hour talks hosted by President Nicolás Maduro Thursday night.

The president issued a call “to acknowledge each other and reject the pressure from those who want to impose extreme ways, of violence.” He also called on his adversaries “not for a pact or negotiations, but for a willingness for peace. We want a model of coexistence, of tolerance.”

The leaders of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD – Roundtable of Democratic Unity), a multicolour coalition of opposition parties ranking from the right wing to former leftist guerrillas, met with Maduro and his closest associates in the Miraflores presidential palace.

The main political instigators of the protests, including the jailed Leopoldo López, boycotted the talks.

The university students who started the protests in the capital and dozens of cities around the country did not take part in the meeting. Their main leader, Juan Requesens of the Central University in Caracas, warned that “we will continue our peaceful protests, because there are many reasons to protest.”

“The uncertainty and scepticism surrounding this first meeting will continue while people wait for the government, above all, to send out concrete signals of change in its measures and policies,” Carlos Romero, a graduate studies professor of political science, told IPS.

The protests broke out on Feb. 4 in the southwest city of San Cristóbal and spread to Caracas on Feb. 12, driven by university students who complained about crime on their campus.

The demonstrations grew as the hardline opposition began to demand an end to Maduro’s government, and marches and roadblocks often turned into violent clashes with the military and police and government supporters.

The protests, in which mainly middle-class demonstrators are backing the students, are happening against a backdrop of economic difficulties such as a nearly 60 percent annual inflation rate, scarcity of some food and other basic items, and long, exhausting queues of people waiting to buy products sold under a rationing system.

The high crime rates – more than 24,000 homicides were committed in 2013 – and the poor functioning of services like electricity, water and public hospitals, especially outside of Caracas, are also fuelling the protests.

On Thursday Apr. 10, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a preliminary report that Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world, with 53.7 homicides per 100,000 population.

Maduro, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and leaders of the armed forces say they managed to block a plan backed by Washington to subvert the constitutional order and overthrow the government, with the help of the protests.

The president won the Apr. 14, 2013 elections after Hugo Chávez, who governed the country since 1999, died of cancer on Mar. 5.

Like a snowball effect, the initial reasons for the protests gave way to others, such as the demand that the deaths of people killed – mainly shot – at the roadblocks be investigated, that those responsible for human rights violations be held to account, and that the detainees be released.

The people still in jail include López and two opposition mayors, from San Cristóbal and from a city in the central state of Carabobo, who the Supreme Court removed from office in what was described by some as a summary trial. They were sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring orders to remove the roadblocks set up by protesters in their municipalities.

The release and restitution of the mayors was another demand set forth by the opposition in the meeting that ended in the early hours of Friday morning.

The opposition is also demanding that armed irregular civilian groups de disarmed.

In the talks, the government and MUD leaders outlined their conflicting visions of the country, the economy and democracy, with each side sounding a litany of complaints about the conduct of the other over the past 15 years.

“The prospects for reaching an agreement on the underlying questions are still remote, because of the conflicting visions, at the end of a first meeting which seemed more like group therapy than a dialogue or negotiations,” political science professor José Vicente Carrasquero commented to IPS.

The foreign minister of Ecuador, Patiño, said that “despite the difficulties, the meeting was positive; a catharsis was necessary; they needed to meet face to face.”

MUD coordinator Ramón Aveledo, a Christian Democratic politician, proposed dates for further talks, starting with a meeting between the government and the students.

MUD called again for respect for the 1999 constitution, the separation of powers, measures against crime, and an amnesty law.

The opposition’s proposed amnesty would involve the release of those in prison for the current protests and others serving lengthy terms for involvement in the violent demonstrations that led to a short-lived coup that toppled Chávez for 48 hours. Thursday was the 12th anniversary of the coup.

Maduro designated a government commission to evaluate the issues and the next meetings. One of the members, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, said “the president has the mandate of the people and can’t just do what MUD wants.”

The governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the leader of the moderate opposition who was Maduro’s rival in last year’s elections, also took part in the debate. “Things have to change, or this will burst,” he said at the end of his address in the meeting.

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Gun Violence Darkens Political Unrest in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/guns-darken-political-unrest-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guns-darken-political-unrest-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/guns-darken-political-unrest-venezuela/#respond Fri, 07 Mar 2014 23:00:19 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132558 Seven of the 20 people killed in the street protests that have shaken Venezuela since the second week of February were shot in the head, a testimony to the role being played by firearms in the political struggle in this oil-rich country. The armed forces and the police, and a few thousand licensed civilians, carry […]

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Pro-government “colectivos” on motorbikes follow behind National Police in central Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of an anonymous Twitter user

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Seven of the 20 people killed in the street protests that have shaken Venezuela since the second week of February were shot in the head, a testimony to the role being played by firearms in the political struggle in this oil-rich country.

The armed forces and the police, and a few thousand licensed civilians, carry legal firearms, but there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of illegal weapons, according to Amnesty International.“They are parapolice groups that control everything from security to the micro-trafficking of drugs and other crimes in their territories." -- Luis Cedeño

The 1999 constitution “expressly forbids the use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations,” activist Marino Alvarado, of the human rights organisations Provea, told IPS.

Who owns and fires the weapons, when some urban areas are shrouded every evening in the smoke of tear gas grenades mingled with that of the burning barricades, and shots ring out, fired by unknown persons from vehicles, mostly motorcycles?

The first person to be shot to death, on Feb. 12, was carpenter Bassil Dacosta, at the end of an opposition march in the centre of Caracas. Agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN, the political police) were present – in defiance of an order confining them to barracks, according to President Nicolás Maduro – and so were pro-government members of the so-called “colectivos” (collectives).

The second victim, at the same demonstration, was Juan Montoya, the leader of one of the colectivos, who was carrying an identity document issued by the Caracas police.

A young model on her first demonstration, a neighbour who was closing the gate of his housing complex as hostile bikers approached, and a sergeant of the National Guard who was clearing rubble from a barricade, were the next victims, in the central states of Carabobo and Aragua.

A female student died from pellets fired at point-blank range. Dozens of people were injured by metal or plastic pellets.

Policing the protests in more than 50 cities is mainly the job of the Bolivarian National Guard, which is a domestic security corps similar to Chile’s carabineros (militarised police) or the Spanish Guardia Civil, and a component of the armed forces along with the army, navy and air force.

The combined armed forces total some 135,000 troops in this country of nearly 28 million people.

Within the National Guard, the People’s Guard, created in 2011 by then president Hugo Chávez (1954-2013) for the purposes of surveillance and citizen security, has been very active against the protests.

The Bolivarian National Police, created in 2009, is also involved, while by law regional and municipal police corps must refrain from action. Some of these are under the jurisdiction of opposition mayors.

But the novelty, found in Caracas and half a dozen cities in the interior of the country, is the colectivos, civilian groups of government supporters whose members, mounted on motorbikes and carrying firearms, have attacked demonstrators, shops, homes and vehicles in opposition neighbourhoods.

“The behaviour pattern of these groups supports the theory that they are very probably coordinated with the People’s Guard to act on the margins of the constitution, with their display and use of war weapons,” Rocío San Miguel, the head of the NGO Citizen Watch for Security, Defense and National Armed Forces, told IPS.

Some of these groups arose in the 23 de Enero public housing estate in the west of Caracas, from the remnants of urban guerrilla groups active prior to Chávez’s taking office in 1999, and they each control small territories.

“They are parapolice groups that control everything from security to the micro-trafficking of drugs and other crimes in their territories, on the margins of state authority, and they shield themselves behind their supposed loyalty to the government,” Luis Cedeño, the head of the NGO Paz Activa, told IPS.

After Juan Montoya was killed, some of his comrades in the Leonardo Pirela colectivo in the 23 de Enero housing estate held a vigil over his coffin, wearing camouflage fatigues and balaclavas and carrying fake small arms in their bags.

When the funeral procession passed the territory of La Piedrita, another colectivo, it received a one-minute gun salute, with a display of rifles and profuse firing of ammunition into the air.

“We don’t have any weapons at this time. But if Venezuelan democracy is threatened by a coup, as it was in 2002, we will bring out our weapons and our hoods. We have the weapons put away. They are in the hands of other revolutionary organisations on the continent,” said activist Alberto Carías.

Carías is the president of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a splinter group from the Tupamaro Revolutionary Movement, which has spread from 23 de Enero throughout the country as a legal leftwing party giving electoral support to Chávez and Maduro.

Opposition groups call the civilian groups that oppose them and dismantle their barricades “tupamaros” or “colectivos” without distinction, and this language has spread through the cities where the protests have multiplied.

But the vast majority of colectivos are peaceful neighbourhood groups that support the government, carrying out the government’s social work programmes or developing their own projects, according to research by NGOs and the media.

When the protests began, Maduro warned against “demonising the colectivos.” Later, on Mar. 5, he called on them specifically to help combat opposition protests in a speech commemorating the anniversary of Chávez’s death.

“I call on the UBCH (Chávez Battle Units, cells of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela), on the community councils and on the colectivos: when a candle (of violence) is lit, put it out,” said the president.

In a matter of hours, groups of civilians on motorbikes arrived to dismantle the barricades that opposition protesters had built with trash bags and set on fire, in Caracas and in cities in the southwest.

On Thursday Mar. 6, shots were fired near some of these barricades in the east of Caracas, killing one biker and a National Guardsman, in an example of the violence exercised by the opposition.

Alvarado said that in calling on civilians to control the protests, the president “is violating the constitution, which puts the responsibility for maintaining public order in the hands of the uniformed police force.”

Retired officers belonging to opposition groups allege that Maduro is calling on these civilian groups because his support among the conventional armed forces is waning, especially in the air force, the navy and part of the army.

According to the newspaper El Nacional, two colonels of the National Guard were arrested for protesting against excessive repression.

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Rights Trampled in Venezuelan Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/rights-trampled-venezuelan-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-trampled-venezuelan-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/rights-trampled-venezuelan-protests/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 15:04:38 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132188 Fifteen dead, dozens injured, some 500 arrested and denunciations of torture, illegal repression by security forces and irregular groups and attacks on the press are the fruits of over two weeks of political confrontation in the streets of some 30 Venezuelan cities.  The state “has tossed the United Nations basic principles on the use of […]

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Relatives and students march with a banner naming people killed in the protests, in a mass opposition demonstration in Caracas on Saturday Feb. 22. Credit: Estrella Gutiérrez/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Fifteen dead, dozens injured, some 500 arrested and denunciations of torture, illegal repression by security forces and irregular groups and attacks on the press are the fruits of over two weeks of political confrontation in the streets of some 30 Venezuelan cities. 

The state “has tossed the United Nations basic principles on the use of force and firearms [approved in Havana in 1990] into the waste bin, with regulatory bodies like the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office treating them with contempt,” Marino Alvarado, coordinator of the human rights organisation Provea, told IPS.  "In the absence of the state, parapolice bands control certain urban spaces, call themselves collectives and act as an armed wing of the government..." -- Luis Cedeño of Paz Activa

According to eye-witnesses, press investigations and videos circulating on the social networks, several protesters were shot to death by plain-clothes police, by armed groups that intimidated protesters and initiated violent incidents, or by pellets allegedly fired by members of the militarised Bolivarian National Guard.

One of the fatalities, on the morning of Monday Feb. 24, was 34-year-old Jimmy Vargas, who was allegedly attacked with pellets and tear gas by members of the National Guard. He fell from the second floor of a building in San Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira, in the southwestern Andes mountains on the border with Colombia.

To defuse the crisis, President Nicolás Maduro decreed a holiday from Thursday Feb. 27, the 25th anniversary of the protests that left more than 300 dead in Caracas in 1989, to Mar. 5, the first anniversary of the death of former president Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

This week pro-government and opposition demonstrations continued, and looting and vandalism broke out in cities like Maracay, in the north.

On Sunday Feb. 23 systems engineer Alejandro Márquez was killed, allegedly beaten to death by national guards when he was using his mobile phone to film incidents near a barricade in central Caracas.

Victims of acts of vandalism by demonstrating groups are also among the dead.

On Friday Feb. 21, 29-year-old supermarket worker Elvis Durán died on returning to his home on his motorbike and collided with a wire apparently strung by opposition activists across the street where he lived.

In Valencia, an industrial city west of Caracas, among the denunciations of torture was the story of Juan Carrasco, who was sodomised with a rifle barrel. “My son was brutalised, raped, humiliated by the soldiers in green. They destroyed his life and that of other youngsters,” complained his mother, Rebeca González de Carrasco.

Geraldine Moreno Orozco, a student, died from pellets fired at point-blank range into her face, after she had already fallen to the shots.

In several cities there were reports that young detainees were soaked with gasoline and threatened with being set alight, or were tortured with electric prods. There were also reports of security agents throwing tear gas canisters into homes.

The first protesters to be killed, at the end of a march in Caracas on Feb. 12, died in shooting involving members of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (political police) who were disobeying an order of confinement to barracks, President Maduro said.

Maduro claimed that 30 people have died because the “guarimbas” (barricade shelters) have prevented them from receiving timely medical care.

The Foro Penal Venezolano and the Fundación para los Derechos y la Equidad, two associations of human rights lawyers, are keeping track of complaints of rights violations to present to international bodies. “Government officials responsible could be accused of crimes against humanity,” lawyer Elenis Rodríguez told IPS.

The wave of demonstrations began on Feb. 6 in the capital of Táchira province with a student protest against crime, after the attempted rape of a university student on campus.

The protests expanded when the initial demonstration was harshly put down. In the subsequent demonstrations against the repression, some hotheads threw stones at the residence of Táchima Governor José Vielma, a retired soldier and member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Three young men were apprehended, prosecuted and sent to a prison in the northwestern city of Coro. As a result, student protests demanding their freedom spread like wildfire to other cities, and in the Andes region local people turned out in their thousands in solidarity.

On Feb. 12, Youth Day in Venezuela and the bicentennial of a battle in the war of independence, student movements organised marches all over the country, and a sector of the opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable), led by Leopoldo López, called for “The Exit” of Maduro’s government.

There were huge rallies led by young people and the middle classes, which political analysts say are motivated by discontent with the government’s erratic policies in the face of the shortage of basic products, inflation and surging crime.

Although the vast majority of demonstrations are peaceful, some are accompanied with stone-throwing, setting fire to improvised barricades built of trash set up in the streets, and other acts of vandalism.

The government issued an arrest warrant for López, of the small centre-right opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), accusing him of inciting unrest and street violence by calling for “The Exit”. He gave himself up in front of crowds at a rally in Caracas.

Meanwhile, combat planes and military helicopters were sent to Táchira where they overflew the street demonstrations. A parachute battalion was dispatched to clear access roads to San Cristóbal.

A novel element that has emerged is the armed “collectives,” irregular groups usually on motorbikes, who clash with protesters and create trouble in opposition residential areas in cities like Caracas and Mérida (in the southwest), shooting at or destroying vehicles and windows.

In Alvarado’s view, they are “leftwing paramilitaries” who hide behind the cloak of social work in the shanty towns of Caracas and other cities but exercise violence in favour of the government. Maduro has warned against “demonising the collectives” and has praised them in a number of his speeches.

Not all Chavista (supporters of the president Hugo Chávez, 1999-2013) or revolutionary (pro-government) collectives are armed and violent.

Luis Cedeño of Paz Activa, an NGO which works on security issues, told IPS that “in the absence of the state, parapolice bands control certain urban spaces, call themselves collectives and act as an armed wing of the government, in order to benefit from a certain amount of legitimacy and impunity.”

Disarming and dissolving these collectives has become a rallying cry of the opposition.

Alvarado criticised “the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, which should act ex officio, but have turned a deaf ear, improperly issuing opinions ahead of time in favour of the government and blaming opposition leaders, and also remaining silent when evidence was contaminated by executive branch officials.”

Rodríguez and Alvarado deplore the violations by security forces and other public powers of the Law to Prevent and Punish Torture, approved unanimously by parliament less than a year ago.

“There is no torture in Venezuela,” Maduro said at a press conference on Saturday Feb. 22.

The media have also taken some punches. Journalists’ organisations have denounced 62 cases of aggression during the protests this month. Colombian cable news channel NTN24 was pulled off the air and the same threat hangs over CNN en Español.

In Alvarado’s view, the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “could make a contribution as mediators, based on the clauses in favour of democracy, human rights and political dialogue in their founding documents.”

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Political Violence in Venezuela, a Game With No Clear Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/political-violence-venezuela-game-clear-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=political-violence-venezuela-game-clear-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/political-violence-venezuela-game-clear-end/#respond Mon, 17 Feb 2014 21:11:00 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131709 Violence on the streets of Venezuela, with anti-government protests in the capital and 12 other cities, is a sign of hardening stances by both the government and its opponents as President Nicolás Maduro takes a trial-and-error approach to the economy in crisis. Opposition student protests continued over the weekend in Caracas and other cities, while […]

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Youth rally in Plaza Venezuela, Caracas. Credit: FCU-UCV

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Feb 17 2014 (IPS)

Violence on the streets of Venezuela, with anti-government protests in the capital and 12 other cities, is a sign of hardening stances by both the government and its opponents as President Nicolás Maduro takes a trial-and-error approach to the economy in crisis.

Opposition student protests continued over the weekend in Caracas and other cities, while on Saturday some 15,000 pro-government supporters turned out for a peace demonstration called by the president.“We are living in the turbulence produced by the discontent and unmet demands of Venezuelan society." -- Margarita López Maya

Opposition leader Leopoldo López has an arrest warrant out against him, but he called on government opponents to join him in another march on Tuesday, Feb. 18, to the interior ministry, saying he would be available to the authorities and had nothing to fear.

Three people, two students and a member of a pro-government militia (known as “colectivos”), were shot dead at the end of marches in Caracas on Wednesday Feb. 12. There were dozens injured and some 100 arrests, with complaints that detainees were being held incommunicado, tortured and treated inhumanely.

The protests, paradoxically, began with students complaining that insecurity and violent crime on the streets were invading their schools and universities.

“We are facing a coup d’etat against democracy and the government I preside over,” said Maduro, who was elected in April to succeed the late Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), in his first speech after hearing that unknown persons had fired on dispersing protesters in central Caracas.

The president accused “ultra-rightwing fascist groups” that he said were following “the same script as in April 2002,” when a huge opposition march in Caracas ended with shootings that left 19 civilians dead and sparked a brief coup against Chávez.

On Sunday Feb. 16, Maduro announced the expulsion of three United States consular officials, accused of conspiring against his government, and criticised Washington harshly after Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “deep concern” over the situation in Venezuela and asked for the release of the arrested students.

“The circumstances now are different, and the government either does not know where it stands, which is hard to believe, or is using the outbreak of the crisis to justify the suspension of constitutional rights and govern under a state of emergency,” sociologist Carlos Raúl Hernández, who teaches a doctorate in political science at the Central University of Venezuela, told IPS.

In Hernández’s view, the massive support for the student protests is due to the “enormous discontent growing even in Chavist [pro-government] sectors because of the economic mega-crisis and its appalling mismanagement.”

Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, at 56 percent, and over 70 percent in food prices, as well as a severe shortage of basic products, ranging from milk and flour to toilet paper and newspapers, and including medicines, air fares, industrial inputs and car parts.

State controls are increasingly tightened on access to foreign exchange earned by oil exports, and inspections are made and fines levied on commercial and industrial firms. For its part, the business community is demanding payment of millions of dollars in debts acquired under the exchange control regime.

According to historian Margarita López Maya of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), “once the spells woven by the words and presence of the charismatic Chávez were lost, reality has become undeniably stark and unpromising.”

“We are living in the turbulence produced by the discontent and unmet demands of Venezuelan society, which have been gathering force in recent months as a result of long term economic and social upsets,” said López Maya.

With the backdrop of this discontent, the students received support from other citizens when they began their protests in early February in the southwestern Andes.

Three young men, accused of attacking the regional governor’s residence, were sent to a prison in Coro, in the extreme northwest of the country, pending trial.

The protests then intensified.

Leaders of a sector belonging to the opposition coalition, the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable), called for mass protests on Wednesday Feb. 12, the bicentennial of a battle in the war of independence against Spain in which young students joined the patriot army and achieved victory.

The date is celebrated as Youth Day, charging the demonstrations and their violent end with emotional and political overtones.

On Friday Feb. 14, while street protests continued in Caracas and other cities in defiance of Maduro’s announcement that demonstrations would have to have prior authorisation, it was reported that the young people imprisoned in Coro had been released.

This may be a first step towards taking the pressure off the protests, and it coincides with many calls from the international community supporting dialogue and respect for the human rights of all involved in the Venezuelan political conflict.

In Venezuela, human rights organisations like Provea and the Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz (Justice and Peace Support Network) emphasised the need to investigate and punish those responsible for the deaths and injuries that followed the protests on Feb. 12.

Journalists on the ground documented with eyewitnesses, photographs and videos how allegedly pro-government “colectivos” burst in, stirred up violence and used firearms in areas where people were shot.

In dispensing blame, Maduro accused international media of instigating violence through their reporting and opinion on events.

He suspended the Bogotá-based news channel NTN24 from cable TV and delivered a harsh warning to the French news agency AFP.

In spite of the vividness of the images, Hernández does not believe that the protests will lead to significant political change. Instead they may only stiffen the positions and cohesiveness of the parties in conflict.

“Mass movements only achieve major political change when they are combined with powers that can bring about a military uprising, and this is not about to happen in Venezuela,” Hernández said. “From this point of view, they are street games without a clear end in sight,” he concluded.

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The Other Rearguard of Colombia’s FARC Rebelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/rearguard-colombias-farc-rebels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rearguard-colombias-farc-rebels http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/rearguard-colombias-farc-rebels/#respond Tue, 26 Nov 2013 09:32:50 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129064 The presence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is evident in Venezuela’s Amazon region, where the guerrillas can be seen on speed boats, in camps, or interacting with local indigenous communities. “We see them once in a while passing by in a boat in the evening, dressed in green, armed, carrying supplies,” a […]

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The Autana tepuy or mesa – a national park and the “tree of life” for the Uwottyja Indians, seen from the river. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
PUERTO AYACUCHO, Venezuela , Nov 26 2013 (IPS)

The presence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is evident in Venezuela’s Amazon region, where the guerrillas can be seen on speed boats, in camps, or interacting with local indigenous communities.

“We see them once in a while passing by in a boat in the evening, dressed in green, armed, carrying supplies,” a veteran boatman, Antonio, told IPS standing next to the dark waters of the Cuao river, which runs into the Orinoco river in the southern Venezuelan state of Amazonas on the Colombian border.

Some 100 km to the south, in Maroa, a town of 2,000 people on the banks of the
Guainía river, which forms part of the border, “when the food for the Mercal [the government chain of stores selling food at heavily subsidised prices] arrives, part of it goes to the guys in the FARC,” a local told Catholic Bishop José Ángel Divassón, vicar apostolic in Amazonas.

And in Atabapo, another border town, “the FARC keep order and prevent theft,” while in indigenous communities “they try to set up camps and recruit young guys, who they offer work for three years,” he added.

Amazonas is a mineral-rich rainforest state with abundant rivers in southernmost Venezuela. Its huge 184,000-sq-km territory is home to just 180,000 people, 54 percent of whom belong to 20 different indigenous groups according to the 2011 census.

The presence of armed groups from Colombia is the latest affliction for this region which already suffers from isolation, a dearth of basic public services, and a lack of interest in its voters at election time, due to the sparse population and high poverty level.

The local environment and traditional indigenous ways of life have long been vulnerable to the impacts of activities such as illegal gold mining, which is only the most visible.

Amazonas governor Liborio Guarulla, an indigenous man who is a veteran left-wing leader opposed to the country’s leftist central government, estimates that there may be up to 4,000 Colombian guerrillas in this vast state.

In Puerto Ayacucho, the state capital, Guarulla told reporters that “five kilometres from here, they have held meetings with local shopkeepers to demand payment of a ‘vacuna’ [‘vaccine’ or war tax].”

The governor, who belongs to the Progressive Movement of Venezuela, believes the arrival of the FARC to Amazonas “is a result of the offensive unleashed by the army in their country in the last seven years, against the columns that they had as a rearguard in eastern Colombia, which have now spilt across the border.”

The FARC, which took up arms in 1964, is the oldest left-wing insurgent group in Latin America. Since November 2012 it has been involved in peace talks with the Colombian government in Cuba.

In May, FARC rebels under the command of Antonio Medina made contact with leaders of the Uwottyja or Piaroa indigenous community, who live along the middle stretch of the Orinoco – Venezuela’s biggest river – and its tributaries, to establish a cooperative relationship, José Carmona, the shaman of the Caño de Uña community, told IPS.

“We told them no, that both their presence and that of the miners offend our traditions because we are peoples who want to live without weapons – we only have machetes for our crops and shotguns for hunting,” Carmona said.

After the meetings, Uwottyja organisations issued a public letter addressed to the FARC in which they expressed “our total disagreement with your presence and movements in our territory.”

The Uwottyja also said they rejected trading with the FARC “or the hiring of indigenous persons” by the guerrillas, and urged the insurgents “to find a way to return to your country”.

César Sanguinetti, a lawmaker with the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela and a member of the Curripaco indigenous community, who live in the south of Amazonas and the southeast of Colombia, told IPS that “we are a sovereign country that should not permit incursions by any kind of armed force, and as a nation and a government, we demand respect.”

Other local indigenous people such as Uwottyja schooteacher Juan Pablo Arana and Yanomami health worker Luis Shatiwe say the guerrillas are aggravating the problems faced by native communities in obtaining supplies, because in order to acquire food, fuel and other goods indigenous people have to compete with those who smuggle contraband across the border.

“We travel hours to get flour, sugar, oil, rice or coffee, sometimes going all the way to Puerto Ayacucho,” Arana told IPS in the Raudal de Seguera community at the foot of the Autana tepuy – a mountain with vertical sides and a flat top – which is sacred to his people.

“And it’s expensive because of the cost of gasoline and oil [for the boat or canoe engines], and sometimes we get there and the products have run out in the Mercal shops.”

Venezuela’s gasoline is the cheapest in the world at 1.5 cents of a dollar per litre. But prices here suffer from other kinds of distortions.

A 200-litre barrel, which costs 20 bolivars in Puerto Ayacucho – as much as a can of soda – “costs thousands of bolivars on the upper stretch of the Orinoco, up to 8,000 or 10,000. Indigenous people’s canoes are closely inspected by the military, but apparently they let the boats of the miners or smugglers go by,” Shatiwe said.

Hundreds of small-scale miners pan for gold in Amazonas, even though mining is banned in this state.

And Guarulla remarked that “A shipment of 100,000 litres of gasoline that reaches the town of Maroa, which has only one power plant, runs out in just three days. Who is it being sold to?”

Divassón said “The big problems that we have identified are illegal mining, which destroys the habitat of the communities, the presence of irregular armed forces from Colombia, and sensitive issues like the lack of electricity, problems with other services, and scarcity of goods, and insecurity.”

What does reach Amazonas is the sharp political polarisation seen in the rest of the country. The sheet metal roofing for homes in indigenous communities is red if it was donated by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, or blue if it came from Governor Guarulla.

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Demarcation of Native Territories Essential for Venezuela’s Amazon Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/demarcation-of-native-territories-essential-for-venezuelas-amazon-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=demarcation-of-native-territories-essential-for-venezuelas-amazon-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/demarcation-of-native-territories-essential-for-venezuelas-amazon-region/#comments Tue, 19 Nov 2013 10:20:56 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128925 Indigenous people in southern Venezuela are demanding faster progress in the demarcation of their territory, greater attention from the state to their needs, and protection from incursions by gold panners and armed groups across the border from Colombia.

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Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CAÑO DE UÑA, Amazonas, Venezuela , Nov 19 2013 (IPS)

“All of the countries of the Amazon basin say they want to protect the environment, but they all have agreements with transnational corporations for the construction of roads or for mining and exploitation of forests,” Curripaco indigenous leader Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, from the south of Venezuela, told Tierramérica.*

“In Venezuela there are more than 50 laws and provisions that favour the rights of indigenous people, but it is hard to enforce them, and decisions about our affairs are principally consulted with indigenous leaders who hold positions in the government,” added Díaz Mirabal, coordinator of the Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples from Amazonas (ORPIA), which groups 17 of the 20 native groups from this southern state.

“That is the case of the concession granted to the Chinese company Citic to carry out a mining survey of Venezuela,” he added. “We don’t want mines, and we don’t want to be treated as criminals, as destabilisers or agents of the CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency), or as if we were defending other foreign interests.”

Since June, 11 native organisations from Amazonas have been asking for a meeting with President Nicolás Maduro to call for a moratorium on Citic’s mining exploration activity, and for an acceleration of the demarcation of indigenous land.

“The only way for us to survive is to defend the environment, our habitat; as guardians of the Amazon we are helping to save the planet,” Guillermo Arana, a leader of the Uwottyja or Piaroa people, told Tierramérica.

He lives in the community of Caño de Uña, which is set against the backdrop of the Autana tepuy – a mountain with vertical sides and a flat top.

After a several-hour journey by boat from Puerto Ayacucho – the regional capital located 400 km south of Caracas – heading upstream on the Orinoco, Cuao and Autana rivers, the tepuy that is also known as Wahari-Kuawai or “tree of life” in the language of the Uwottyja Indians comes into view.

The communities live in clearings in the jungle, near the rivers, which are raging during the current rainy season. On the granite bedrock, the layer of soil and vegetation in this area is thin and fragile.“We have found indigenous people with numbers branded on their arms by miners who use them as property." --Yanomami activist Luis Shatiwe

In Amazonas, a state of 184,000 sq km, 54 percent of the 180,000 inhabitants are indigenous people. Mining has been banned by law here since 1989 and most of the territory enjoys some form of environmental protection.

The demarcation of indigenous territories was established in the 1999 constitution, to be carried out by a national commission under the Environment Ministry.

According to the commission’s last report, from 2009, 40 collective property titles were granted to 73 communities of 10 different native ethnic groups, making up a total of 15,000 people.

No property title has been issued to an entire ethnic group, of the 40 indigenous peoples in Venezuela. Instead they have been granted to certain communities, none of which are in Amazonas.

“It is a complex process due to the multi-ethnicity – several native groups coexisting in the same territory – and because there are specific legal statutes in force in indigenous areas with respect to the environment, security, development and the borders,” said César Sanguinetti, a member of the Curripaco ethnic group and a national legislator representing Amazonas state for the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Sanguinetti told Tierramérica that “the state intends to make progress soon towards the demarcation of the territories, hopefully by the end of the year.”

Another indigenous lawmaker from the ruling party, José Luis González, said “we could serve as a liaison for a meeting with President Maduro if necessary.

“Now, the title that comes out of the demarcation process will enable the communities to strengthen their collective property ownership and step up their demands for their rights, but that won’t put an end to illegal mining,” said González, chairman of the parliamentary Indigenous Peoples Commission and a member of the Pemón community, in the southeast of the country.

Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

While Citic staff are studying Venezuela’s mining resources in different regions of the country, small-scale gold-panning operations are mushrooming across the intricate topography of Amazonas, almost always run by gold panners from Brazil, Colombia or other countries in the region.

Anecdotal evidence gathered by Tierramérica indicates that there are dozens of artisanal gold mines and hundreds of migrant gold panners deforesting entire sections of rain forest, polluting rivers with the mercury used to separate the gold, and exploiting the local population.

“We have found indigenous people with numbers branded on their arms by miners who use them as property, making them work in exchange for almost nothing: a bit of food, rum, a machete. They use them as beasts of burden, and they use the women to service them,” Yanomami activist Luis Shatiwe told Tierramérica at a spot along the upper stretch of the Orinoco river which borders Brazil.

And José Ángel Divassón, apostolic vicar of Amazonas, said “These people have not been consulted, as the constitution requires, about the agreement with Citic, which aggravates the existing situation: for more than 30 years there has been illegal mining here, especially on the upper stretch of the Orinoco.”

For 690 km a river separates the western flank of Amazonas state from Colombia. In this border region, essential goods are scarce – food, gasoline for the boats used for transportation, basic utensils and materials – and they are smuggled across the border, due to the differences in prices between the two countries.

In Venezuela gasoline costs 1.5 cents of a dollar per litre – compared to 100 times that across the border in Colombia.

The local indigenous people also complain that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) make incursions across the border, set up camp, stock up on supplies, and even impose their own laws in their territories.

“The gold and the guerrillas are wreaking havoc,” the governor of Amazonas, Liborio Guarulla, a left-wing indigenous leader who is opposed to the Maduro administration, told foreign correspondents. “The guerrillas behave as the vanguard that protects the business of illegal mining, violating indigenous areas and damaging the environment.”

The Uwottyja communities met in May with representatives of the FARC and asked them to withdraw from their territory.

“The guerrillas have come here to tell us they are revolutionaries fighting against the empire,” shaman José Carmona, the leader of the Caño de Uña Council of Elders, told Tierramérica. “But we are peaceful people, we don’t want weapons – we want to live peacefully in the territories that belong to us.”

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Excerpt:

Indigenous people in southern Venezuela are demanding faster progress in the demarcation of their territory, greater attention from the state to their needs, and protection from incursions by gold panners and armed groups across the border from Colombia.

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Cold War Logic Takes Root in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/cold-war-logic-takes-root-in-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cold-war-logic-takes-root-in-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/cold-war-logic-takes-root-in-venezuela/#respond Fri, 18 Oct 2013 22:12:48 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128268 A Venezuelan government decree to control information and “internal and external enemy activity” appeals to concepts of the national security doctrine, which various right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America invoked in the 1970s and 1980s. Through the decree, left-wing President Nicolás Maduro established the Strategic Centre for Security and Protection of the Fatherland (CESPPA), which […]

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Military parade in Caracas. Credit: Venezuelan Ministry of Defense

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Oct 18 2013 (IPS)

A Venezuelan government decree to control information and “internal and external enemy activity” appeals to concepts of the national security doctrine, which various right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America invoked in the 1970s and 1980s.

Through the decree, left-wing President Nicolás Maduro established the Strategic Centre for Security and Protection of the Fatherland (CESPPA), which “will request, organise, integrate and evaluate information of interest to the nation at a strategic level, related to internal and external enemy activity, coming from all of the state’s security and intelligence bodies and other public and private entities.”

These actions will be carried out “as required by the political-military leadership of the Bolivarian Revolution” – which does not exist either in the constitution or in the country’s laws – and public and private institutions “will be under the obligation to provide all of the information required by CESPPA in the exercise of its functions,” the decree says.

The new office will also have the authority “to declare as reserved, classified or of limited dissemination any information, development or circumstance that CESPPA learns about in compliance with its functions or that is processed by CESPPA.”

Maduro designated, as the first head of CESPPA, Major General Gustavo González López, a former commander of the Bolivarian Militia, a force created by the late Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) to support the army, navy, air force and national guard in interior defence tasks.

CESPPA “brings echoes – both because of its character as a potential censorship body and, even more serious, of an intelligence body oriented towards controlling supposed internal enemies – of the national security doctrine that prevailed in the region in the 1970s and 1980s,” Argentine political scientist Andrés Serbin told IPS.

“It is also highly worrisome that no kind of oversight by the public or by civil institutions, including parliament, is contemplated, and that its first director will be a member of the military,” said Serbin, president of the Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research, founded in Managua in 1982 and based today in Buenos Aires.

Fransisco Leal, a political science professor at the University of Los Andes in Colombia, has written that the national security doctrine “maintained the idea that, by guaranteeing the security of the state, the security of society is ensured. One of its main innovations was to consider that in order to achieve that objective, the military control of the state was necessary. Another was substituting the external enemy with the internal enemy.”

The doctrine was part of the U.S. strategy to prevent the spread of communism in the Americas after World War II, according to historian Edgar Velásquez, of the University of Cauca in Colombia.

Through this doctrine, Washington “consolidated its domination over the countries of Latin America, engaged in the Cold War, set specific tasks for the armed forces and stimulated a right-wing current of political thought in countries in the region,” Velásquez wrote in the article “History of the National Security Doctrine” published in 2004 in the magazine Estudios Latinoamericanos of the University of Nariño, Colombia.

One of its characteristics was the training in repression received by members of the military and police from different Latin American countries in the U.S. School of the Americas in Panama.

The wave of democratisation that began to sweep the region in the second half of the 1980s threw the doctrine into question. But there have been no profound reforms of the armed forces.

And once again under the influence of Washington, the armed forces have begun taking on internal security and policing tasks in several countries – this time against the ever-present enemies of drug trafficking and crime.

Going down that path poses “the risk that, in a below-the-surface and not visible manner, the national security doctrine could reemerge on the Latin American scene,” states an essay on the impact on penal law in the region, written by legal expert Mario Zamora, currently minister of public security in Costa Rica.

Under the umbrella of that doctrine, the armed forces heading right-wing dictatorships repressed their political opponents as “internal enemies,” leaving tens of thousands dead, forcibly disappeared and tortured in a number of countries.

Venezuela did not follow that same path. And since 1999, it has had left-wing governments purusing “21st century socialism”, first under Chávez and now under his successor, Maduro.

CESPPA has been created against a backdrop of reiterated denunciations by the authorities of supposed acts of sabotage in the electric system and the economy. On Sept. 30, Maduro ordered the expulsion of three U.S. diplomats who he linked to these developments and the far-right in Venezuela.

Spokespersons for the government and the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have kept silent about CESPPA since the decree was published on Oct. 7.

IPS sought, without success, comments from several PSUV legislators, including two members of the People’s Power and Media commissions, who declined to comment on the decree until they had “studied it in greater depth.”

CESPPA is described as a body that will coordinate “the working policies of the institutions responsible for security, defence, intelligence and internal order, foreign relations and others that have an impact on the security of the fatherland, in order to provide timely, quality information to the president of the republic.”

Rocío San Miguel, director of the non-governmental organisation Control Ciudadano para la Seguridad, la Defensa y la Fuerza Armada, has said that “the objectives of this body include turning some citizens into vigilantes and informers [who report on] the rest.”

“All bodies and people will be obliged to supply information that CESPPA requires on practically anything,” she told IPS. “And the decree has not taken into account constitutional provisions, such as the one that establishes that only a law can create regulations for the classification and secrecy of official documents,” San Miguel added.

The Alianza por la Libertad de Expresión (Alliance for Freedom of Expression), which brings together organisations of journalists and civil rights activists, called for “the immediate repeal of the decree….because it runs counter to constitutional guarantees of the right to information and the prohibition of censorship.”

Carlos Correa, coordinator of the Espacio Público organisation, said “the most serious thing is the notion of ‘internal enemy’, because any Venezuelan critical of the government, or any opponent of the government, would fall under that label.”

That definition “used to be used as a rhetorical expression under a logic of war,” he commented. “But now it appears to be a presidential decree, based on regulations.”

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Music as Social Inclusion Shines in Salzburghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/music-as-social-inclusion-shines-in-salzburg/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=music-as-social-inclusion-shines-in-salzburg http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/music-as-social-inclusion-shines-in-salzburg/#respond Fri, 09 Aug 2013 22:44:25 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126398 A sea of white-gloved hands swaying gracefully to the rhythm of tropical music shows the audience in the hallowed Mozarteum concert hall in this Austrian city how Venezuela is combining musical education and social inclusion. The White Hands Choir made its international debut Thursday as one of dozens of ensembles, eight of them from Venezuela, […]

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With swift movements of white-gloved hands, the choir interprets the concert music. Credit: Courtesy of Nohely Oliveros/Fundamusical Bolívar

By Humberto Márquez
SALZBURG, Austria , Aug 9 2013 (IPS)

A sea of white-gloved hands swaying gracefully to the rhythm of tropical music shows the audience in the hallowed Mozarteum concert hall in this Austrian city how Venezuela is combining musical education and social inclusion.

The White Hands Choir made its international debut Thursday as one of dozens of ensembles, eight of them from Venezuela, at the Salzburg Festival, the music and theatre fest held every summer in this city in honour of its most famous son, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

It is made up of 120 children and young people, some of whom raise their voices in song while others execute an imaginative choreography of flowing hand movements, accentuated by their white gloves.

The distinctive feature of this choir is that dozens of its members are youngsters with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities, and it has been organised by the Venezuelan National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras, widely known as “El Sistema”, to include them in its project to combat poverty and exclusion.

“For us, participating in the festival marks a before and after,” Jessica Montes de Oca, in the front row of the white-gloved section of the choir, said in sign language. “It’s exciting to perform in the city where Mozart was born and to show that deaf people can make music. We are breaking down barriers.”

With their dark uniforms providing contrast for their gloved hands, the choir was loudly applauded from the start of their programme, which began with sacred music like British composer John Rutter’s “Ave Maria” and Argentine musician Athos Palma’s “Gloria”.

The ovations were louder still when they presented Venezuelan pieces like “Canto a Caracas” (Song for Caracas) composed by Billo Frómeta, “Los dos gavilanes” (The Two Sparrowhawks) and “Las cosas bellas de Lara” (The Beauties of Lara) by Adelis Freites, and “Alma Llanera” (Soul of the Plains) by Pedro Elías Gutiérrez, usually their final number.

Members of the audience, who paid up to 65 euros (86 dollars) for tickets, cheered, clapped, called for encores and were visibly moved to tears.

In the orchestra section, giving a rapturous standing ovation and waving his hands in imitation of the children in the choir, was Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, seated beside the creator and conductor of El Sistema, the musician and economist José Antonio Abreu.

“Congratulations. I am astonished by what began with nothing but a teacher’s great love and lifelong dedication,” Domingo told the press.

El Sistema got its start in Caracas in 1975, in a basement parking garage where Abreu began to rehearse with a dozen teenagers. He described the social goals of his movement, which now involves some 400,000 children and young people in nearly 400 orchestras and choirs in 280 free music schools throughout Venezuela.

“This is not just an artistic endeavour, but basically a social programme aimed at fighting poverty and marginalisation. A total of 400,000 families are involved in this programme to combat poverty, because poverty is not only material but spiritual, and the most terrible poverty is the lack of an identity,” Abreu said in a recent interview with IPS.

Naybeth García, the White Hands Choir director, said on the eve of its Salzburg performance that “there are now exactly 2,004 children and young people with disabilities participating in El Sistema choirs, the result of educational work begun 20 years ago to educate and integrate people with and without disabilities.

“It is not about integrating with normalcy, but about making integration normal. We have people with disabilities who can teach us about music and life, and offer food for reflection to those of us who do not have those disabilities,” said García.

John Jairto Rojas, who has limited motor and language skills, said “I enjoy it all, but if we had not worked hard we would not have been able to come here, and show that a wheelchair is not a barrier.”

Alfredo Briceño, a young man who does not share the disabilities of some of his fellow choir members, joined the programme because of his musical interests and also out of friendship: as a child he studied with Gustavo Flores, a blind engineer who is married and has two children, who fills multiple roles in the group as a tenor, keyboard player and enthusiastic supporter.

Salzburg has brought El Sistema new recognition: the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, the organisation’s flagship band, conducted by vibrant young music director Gustavo Dudamel, who also conducts the Los Angeles Philarmonic in the United States, opened the festival on Jul. 24.

The Venezuelan National Youth Choir, String Quartet, Brass Ensemble, Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, Caracas Youth Orchestra and National Children’s Orchestra also performed in Salzburg, which is festooned with posters of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra and even some Venezuelan flags.

Experiences like this week’s, which brought 1,400 musicians on tour from Venezuela, are an ideal opportunity for Venezuelans to showcase the orchestras of El Sistema as a means of perfecting and renewing music, but also of seeking new pathways for social integration.

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Environmentalists Alarmed at Tourism Plans for Small Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/environmentalists-alarmed-at-tourism-plans-for-small-islands-in-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmentalists-alarmed-at-tourism-plans-for-small-islands-in-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/environmentalists-alarmed-at-tourism-plans-for-small-islands-in-venezuela/#respond Wed, 07 Aug 2013 15:49:45 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126328 The Venezuelan government’s plans to develop tourism infrastructure on virtually uninhabited highly biodiverse small islands in the southern Caribbean have triggered warnings from environmentalists. “Venezuelan island territories have great untapped tourism potential, and that is why, on the instructions of President Nicolás Maduro, we are planning intensive development of these spaces, but with care for […]

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Pelicans off Venezuela’s Los Roques archipelago. Credit: Marcio Cabral de Moura/CC BY 2.0

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Aug 7 2013 (IPS)

The Venezuelan government’s plans to develop tourism infrastructure on virtually uninhabited highly biodiverse small islands in the southern Caribbean have triggered warnings from environmentalists.

“Venezuelan island territories have great untapped tourism potential, and that is why, on the instructions of President Nicolás Maduro, we are planning intensive development of these spaces, but with care for the environment, specifically the islands of La Orchila, La Tortuga and La Blanquilla,” said Tourism Minister Andrés Izarra.

Meanwhile, Luigi Ricardo, president of the government Tourism Corporation in the northeast state of Anzoátegui, announced that a five-star 150-room hotel complex will be built on the small island of La Borracha, part of the coastal Mochima National Park.

The hotel complex will offer 300 beds, “a swimming pool for adults and another for children, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, parks, a professional golf course and an indoor gym,” Ricardo said.

There will also be “a shopping centre, restaurants, nightclubs, clothing and shoes stores, a café, a pharmacy, a cinema, and exhibition space for artists from the entire eastern region,” he said.

La Tortuga, with an area of 156 square km, La Blanquilla of 64 square km and La Orchila of 40 square km, are islands ringed with beaches of fine white sand, at a distance of 70 to 200 km from the mainland, while La Borracha, only 4.5 km long and three km wide, is basically a rocky outcrop situated 10 km from the northeastern coast.

The Venezuelan Network of Environmental NGOs (Red ARA), made up of 24 organisations, declared its “concern about and staunch repudiation of the project to build a major tourist complex on La Borracha.”

The proposed works “contravene the legal framework in force for constitutional protection of national parks and the decrees” creating and regulating activity in the Mochima National Park, Red ARA said.

The network was referring to article 127 of the constitution, which says: “The state shall protect the environment, biological and genetic diversity, ecological processes, national parks and natural monuments, and other areas of particular ecological importance.”
The decree they mentioned is number 276 of 1989, on national parks, which expressly forbids urbanisations and tourist clubs, public or private, and holiday complexes.

Juan Carlos Fernández, an activist with Fundación Caribe Sur, told IPS that “a study of this type must include data on the area affected, the materials to be used in the developments and the potential degradation they cause, and how their impacts will be mitigated and reversed.”

On La Tortuga and La Blanquilla there are temporary shelters and small jetties, while on La Orchila there has been a small naval base for the last 60 years.

Fernández challenged the idea of launching a tourism offensive on these islands “with their rich yet fragile biodiversity, their corals and breeding grounds, instead of first developing beaches on the mainland, where there is a greater need for job creation.”

He also criticised the authorities’ refusal to countenance proposals from scientific and environmental forums to establish a binational “ecological corridor” on islands off the continental shelf – La Orchila, the Las Aves and Los Roques archipelagos of Venezuela, and Bonaire and Curaçao of the Netherlands – to take advantage of the genetic, species and oceanographic connections between these islands that emerge from a submerged mountain range.

This area of 17,800 square km of sea and islands is also of archaeological and historical interest. In May 1678 the fleet of French Marshal and naval commander Jean d’Estrées was shipwrecked in Las Aves on its way to Curaçao, where it was planning to attack the Dutch.

Alberto Boscari, head of the environmental organisation Fundación La Tortuga, said it was not possible “to discuss a tourism project on this island when the area that was environmentally destroyed by the attempt to create a large development there in 2007 has not even been restored yet.”

The Venezuelan Environment Ministry has kept mum about the tourism projects for the islands. But governing party congressman Manuel Briceño, chair of the legislative Environment Committee, told IPS that “these projects must be assessed in environmental, rather than economic, terms.”

Venezuela “has a sufficient heritage of territorial assets for tourism activities, as long as they follow proper guidelines and are ecological. In the National Assembly (legislature) we should look not only at what is done, but at how it is done,” Briceño said.

“Tourism involving cruise ships, sun and sand is not the only option. There is an alternative, involving study, observation, research and the education of young people who need to get to know their country. Low-impact infrastructure could be developed, instead of enormous steel and cement structures,” he said.

Izarra, the tourism minister, said that Venezuela can offer “a tourism that is not about visiting museums, but based on natural beauty, and the only way it can be sustainable is by means of ecosocialism, that is, respect for the environment and communities, while having the lowest possible impact.”

The aim of this kind of tourism is “to become a major economic activity in Venezuela, and a real alternative to oil revenues,” he said.

Venezuela takes in some 100 billion dollars a year in oil income, while in 2012 a total of 783,000 foreign tourists brought revenues of 1.04 billion dollars, the Tourism Ministry informed the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias news agency in January.

María Eugenia Gil, of Fundación Aguaclara, asked: “When there is so much to be done, why don’t we improve what little we have, rather than risk repeating our mistakes in extremely fragile areas?”

The activist said the beaches in question were nesting sites for endangered species, like sea turtles, and a haven for migratory birds, which makes biological studies of the areas important.

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