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Media Distortions about Venezuela Not Just a Problem in the U.S. Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Friday, 28 March 2014 14:57

I sometimes complain about U.S. media coverage of Venezuela, which is mostly one-sided and sometimes terribly inaccurate. But compared to most of the Latin American media, U.S. reporting is practically “fair and balanced.” Check out this amazing front page banner headline of Peru’s biggest newspaper, El Comercio, on Sunday, March 16 (photo below). Translation: “94 percent of Peruvians reject the Chavista model”; sub-headline: “82 percent of those interviewed consider the government of Venezuela to be a dictatorship.”

Imagine the New York Times running a headline like this. How ridiculous would they look? People would wonder: is this news in the U.S.? What percentage of the U.S. population knows or cares what the “Chavista model” is, or has an informed opinion on whether Venezuela’s democratically-elected government is actually a “dictatorship?” Not to mention that you would be hard-pressed to find a political scientist who specializes in Latin America who would accept the label 'dictatorship' for Venezuela.

Now I know what you are thinking. Peru is a bit closer to Venezuela and is part of South America. Peruvians speak the same language as Venezuelans. So, maybe there is some kind of buzz about “the Chavista model” in Peru or some great concern among the masses about the state of constitutional democracy in Venezuela.

Well, no. Peruvians are no more likely than residents of the United States to know anything about “the Chavista model” or about Venezuela in general. This “journalism” looks pretty much as irrelevant and strange in Peru as it would be if the New York Times had run the same headlines. The only qualifier I would add is that, since the media and right-wing politicians scream about Venezuela as in this headline, they are able to create a certain McCarthyist fear among some sectors. Sometimes they use this fear – without necessarily any real connection -- against political opponents (e.g. as they did successfully in defeating the current President Ollanta Humala’s first presidential bid in 2006). But that is not much different from what the Florida Cuban-American U.S. Representatives and their neocon allies are doing in the U.S. Congress right now.

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The Bolivian Transportation Sector, Regional Integration and the Environment Print
Written by Nate Singham   
Thursday, 27 March 2014 08:35

Bolivia will most likely join Brazil and Argentina (Bolivia’s largest trading partners) by becoming the sixth member of the MERCOSUR group. Since 2006, Bolivian trade with MERCOSUR has grown by 17 percent. A recent study published by Desarrollo de Negocios Internacionales found that over the last 10 years Bolivia has experienced the second highest export growth rate in South America. This is remarkable considering that on average landlocked developing countries (LLDC) trade 30 percent less [PDF] than coastal countries [1]. As a result, for most landlocked countries transportation infrastructure plays a crucial part in facilitating intraregional trade. Since 2005, industrialization has become a key aspect of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ economic policy, particularly in the area of transportation, which in 2013, accounted for 30 percent of total [PDF] public investment [2]. The chart below shows levels of public investment in transportation as a percentage of total GDP since 2005:

nate-bolivia-blog-figure

Source: International Monetary Fund and Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas Pública Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia

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The “Cubanization” of U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:49

Venezuelan opposition politicians and their allies in the U.S. frequently decry Cuba’s alleged influence on the Venezuelan government. Ironically however, there seems to be an important and growing nexus between the Venezuelan opposition and the anti-Cuba lobby in the U.S. Cuban-American lawmakers recently introduced sanctions legislation targeting Venezuelan officials that appears to be designed to push U.S. policy toward Venezuela in the same direction as policy toward Cuba.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Venezuelan opposition’s ire for Cuba and the role it has played in the ongoing protests in Venezuela:

Enraged as they are by their nation’s leaders, many of the protesters who have spilled onto Venezuela’s streets have their eyes fixed on another government altogether, one they resent perhaps just as bitterly as their own: Cuba’s.

Their rancor is echoed by the Cuban opposition, which has thrown itself behind the Venezuelan protesters’ cause with gusto, sharing photos and videos of protests and police abuse on Twitter, urging Venezuelans to resist and even rapping an apology for what they call Cuba’s meddling.

The Venezuela protests have “energized” members of Cuba’s opposition, reports the Times. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, an anti-Castro blogger in the U.S., told the Times, “The fate of Castro-ism may be at play in Venezuela…What we were not able to topple in Cuba, we may be able to topple there.”

Yet despite near constant claims from the Venezuelan opposition that Cuba is in control of their country (for instance, when it was announced that Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado would be investigated and possibly stripped of her position, she responded that “It’s clear to me that it was the Castro brothers who gave the order”), the Times notes that:

Such convictions are held by critics in both countries, although they offer little hard evidence to back their suspicions. And while some former Venezuelan military officers say that Cubans are involved in decision-making in the armed forces, some protesters go further, professing to see what they call “the hairy hand” of Cuba everywhere: saying they have detected Cuban “infiltrators” at street protests; seeing a Cuban hallmark in the tactics of Venezuela’s armed forces; and circulating unsubstantiated Internet reports that Cuban special forces, or Black Wasps, are operating in Venezuela.

The Times report follows a number of pieces from the Tampa Bay Tribune, which discuss the relations between anti-Castro exiles, specifically in South Florida, and the opposition in Venezuela. In early March, Paul Guzzo wrote:

From Tampa to the Senate floor in Washington, and throughout the United States, Cuban Americans who defend continued isolation of the Communist island nation are throwing their support behind Venezuelan Americans in their efforts to bring order to the South American country.

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Venezuela: When Some of the Most Important News Comes in the Form of Corrections Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 13:39

It says something about overall media coverage of a subject when some of the most important news appears in the form of corrections.  On February 26, the New York Times corrected a false statement in a news report that had incorrectly referred to Globovision as “[t]he only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government.” This was false, and it was easy to show that other major television stations regularly broadcast opposition views.

Today the Times corrected an even more important false statement that appeared in an op-ed by jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López.  López had written that “more than 30” protesters had been killed in Venezuela in the recent protests. In fact the “more than 30” number cited by López includes all protest-related deaths, a fraction of whom appear to be protesters.  Although it has not been mentioned in major media coverage, a compilation of press reports indicates that the protesters themselves – not security forces – are responsible for about half of the deaths.  These include six national guardsmen who were shot, five additional people apparently shot while trying to remove barriers erected by protesters, and seven people who were killed apparently from crashing into protesters’ barriers (including two motorcyclists beheaded by wire strung across the road).

This correction is extremely important because most people who see the daily death toll from protests in Venezuela understandably assume that these are people killed by state agents.  Although the reporters are not intending to mislead, we can see the effect of this reporting in that López himself, and whoever edited, placed, or provided other assistance with the op-ed for him also were very much mistaken.  The net result of this widespread false impression is to greatly strengthen the opposition strategy, supported by many politicians and pundits in the U.S., to portray Venezuela as a violent, repressive, and illegitimate government. 

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Venezuela’s Black Market Dollar Plummets on News of New Exchange Rate Mechanism Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Monday, 24 March 2014 12:49

While most of the news from Venezuela has been focused on protests, something that is probably more important for the future of the country has taken place. The black market value of the dollar has plummeted by one-third in the past three weeks, on news that the government is introducing a new, market-based exchange rate. According to the plan, known as SICAD 2 (Sistema Cambiario Alternativo de Divisas), Venezuelans will be able to purchase dollars legally from various vendors including private brokers and banks.

In November of last year I wrote a short piece for Folha de Sao Paulo arguing that the black market dollar price was a bubble, comparable to the real estate bubble in the U.S. in 2006 (or stock market in 1999), and that the government could burst it at any time. Some people were buying dollars because they needed them for various purposes; but also some were making what they thought was a one-way bet. They thought that the dollar was a good store of value because it would continue to rise indefinitely against the domestic currency. Much of the media promoted the idea that Venezuela was headed for hyperinflation (some even erroneously call it that), and so the domestic currency (bolivar fuerte) would continue to lose value until it collapsed.

At the time I wrote about the bubble the dollar was at about 60 bolivares fuertes, but it was already well into bubble territory; it continued to rise to 88 and has now fallen to 58.3. It’s likely to fall further as the SICAD 2 system supplies dollars that were previously being sold on the black market. And if the black market dollar falls, it will bring down inflation, since this has been the main cause (see graph below) of the sharp increase in inflation since October of 2012. There should also be some relief of shortages, since it will be easier for importers to get dollars. Since PDVSA (the state oil company) can sell dollars on this market as well, this should also reduce the government budget deficit.

Of course there are other economic problems, including the pilfering of billions of dollars in foreign exchange at the official rate through the setting up of fake companies, and smuggling subsidized food and gasoline across the Colombian border. But the exchange rate system has been the central economic imbalance, and if SICAD 2 functions as planned it could go a long way towards resolving Venezuela’s current economic problems.

vz erandbop1

 
Should the Media Report on Who is Killing Whom In Venezuela, When Death Tolls are Reported? Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Sunday, 23 March 2014 19:53

Reading the daily reports on Venezuela’s protests, we find that “At least 31 people have died” (CNN) or the headline “Venezuela death toll rises to 33” (Reuters) and dozens of similar statements in television and radio reports. There is nothing inaccurate about this on its face, and no one can accuse the journalists involved of having exaggerated anything.

But let’s look at this for a moment from the perspective of the reader or listener, who is generally not an expert on Venezuela. What do they think when they read or hear these statements? If you want to find out, just ask anyone who happens to be near you when you are reading this right now: “Who is responsible for most of these deaths?” Unless they have done their own research, they will tell you that the government and/or security forces are responsible.

In fact, it appears that the majority of the deaths described in the headline “Venezuela death rises to 33” appear to have been caused by protesters. The average reader, of course, has plenty of reason to think the opposite; that it was the state security forces that were responsible for most of the deaths. In most countries where street protests take place and there is violence, the vast majority of the violence is indeed caused by police or armed forces. Even in places where protesters engage in violent acts, they will generally provoke greater violence from the state.  

So because this situation is so contrary to what people are understanding from the reports, perhaps reporters should include a simple statement that he majority of deaths appear to have been caused by protesters, not security forces. Otherwise, although it is not intentional, these reports continually reinforce the widespread belief, which is promoted by U.S. politicians and pundits who want Americans to believe it, that the government of Venezuela is violently “cracking down” on “peaceful protesters.”

 
OAS Votes Not to “Turn Itself Into a Circus” Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Friday, 21 March 2014 17:36

Earlier this week, in a highly irregular move, Panama offered its seat at the regular meeting of the OAS Permanent Council today to Venezuelan opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado. Machado, along with Leopoldo López, are the leaders of the “La Salida” -- “The Exit” -- campaign, which calls for street protests to oust the current government.

At the beginning of the meeting, the OAS representative from Nicaragua called for a vote on whether the meeting should be public or private. After much debate, 22 countries voted to make the meeting private, while 11 countries voted in favor of it being public. It should be noted that this is far from the first time the OAS Permanent Council has held a meeting that was closed to the media. Many of the meetings that occurred after the Honduras coup, for example, were also closed to the media.

Many within the Venezuela opposition and the media were quick to cast the vote as a move to censor Machado and prevent her message from being heard. Others have presented the vote as a barometer of support for the Venezuelan government and opposition. Brazil, which voted to make the meeting private, has quite a different explanation:

The objective of this meeting is not to turn itself into a circus for an outside audience as some representatives have shown they want to do.

 
Venezuela: Who You Gonna Believe, the New York Times or Your Lying Eyes? Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Saturday, 15 March 2014 19:25

Today’s report from the New York Times trashes the government for “combative tactics” and “cracking down” on protesters, but if you watch the accompanying video, all you see are protesters attacking police, and the police – without venturing forward, defending themselves with water cannon and tear gas.

One can criticize the decision of the government to block the march from going to hostile territory, but given the continuous presence of violent elements among the protestors, and that Venezuela is a country with a very high homicide rate and many armed civilians, it could have been the prudent thing to do. The government also believes, with some justification, that these protests seek to provoke violence in order to de-legitimize the government. Their stated goal is to overthrow the democratically elected government, and given that the vast majority of the country is against the protests, this really is their only chance of getting anywhere. And the government also knows that the media (both national private and international) will generally blame them for any violence.

In the United States, and especially here in Washington DC, you have to get a permit for marches like this, and they are often denied or re-routed; and if you try to defy this the police will generally beat you and throw you in jail. And these are actually peaceful protests here.

As for the violence so far associated with the protests since they started on Feburary 12, the statistics show that more people have died at the hands of protesters than security forces:

Of the 29 people killed (full details here),

-- 3 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by security forces; 1 other was killed by security forces but it's not clear if he was a protester.

-- 5 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by civilians (the opposition always alleges that these civilians are somehow taking orders from the government, but there has not been any evidence linking the government to any killings by armed civilians; and in a country where there are on average more than 65 homicides per day, it is most likely that these armed civilians are acting on their own).

-- 11 civilians appear to have died at the hands of protestors: four of them shot, and the rest killed by various barricades or other obstructions (e.g. motorcyclist beheaded by wire allegedly strung by protesters).

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Lula Sends Letter of Support to Maduro Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Saturday, 15 March 2014 14:49

Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, released a statement in support of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez. In the letter, Lula discusses Chávez’s legacy in the region, saying that he fought for “a more just and sovereign Latin America,” and expresses his confidence in Maduro as a leader who is defending the principles of Venezuelan democracy. Of course, Lula’s message comes at a time when tensions are high in Venezuela as segments of the opposition wrestle for power after having lost two major elections in 2013.

Below is a translation, you can read the original in Spanish here.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Ex President of the Federative Republic of Brazil to His Excellency

President Nicolás Maduro Moros

Sao Paulo, 5 March 2014

To my friend President Nicolás Maduro:

I am writing to you on this sad date for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to offer my vows of respect and sorrow over the death, one year ago, of the unforgettable and beloved friend, Hugo Chávez Frías.

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Venezuela: Who Are They and How Did They Die? [New] Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 16:58

Since February 23, CEPR has been keeping track of those who have died during the last month of protests in Venezuela. Below is the most recent available information on the location, causes and status of investigations into the deaths. This list will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. As of March 24, the list contains 37 individuals; however in some cases press reports indicate that the death was not directly associated with the protests. Never the less, as they have often been reported as such, they are included below.

There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum. In some cases, members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement. Over 10 individuals have reportedly been killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades. Six members of the National Guard have been killed.

-         Bassil Alejandro Da Costa, an opposition demonstrator was shot, reportedly in the head, and killed in Caracas during the opposition protest that took place on February 12.

-         Juan Montoya, a pro-government community activist, was reportedly shot in both the head and chest and died. Montoya’s body was found a short distance from the body of Da Costa. On February 26, the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, announced that 8 officers from SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, had been arrested for their role in the killing of Da Costa and Montoya. As of March 11, 6 SEBIN officers remain in jail. President Maduro has also removed the head of SEBIN.

-         On February 12, Roberto Redman, another opposition demonstrator was also shot, reportedly in the head, and killed. The killing took place in a neighborhood in eastern Caracas. Witnesses attributed his death to armed civilians. There has been no update on the status of any investigation.

-         On February 18 José Ernesto Méndez, a 17-year-old student who was participating in a demonstration in the Sucre department, was hit by a truck and later died. The Attorney General stated that the driver of the truck has been apprehended and charged with homicide.

-         On the same day Genesis Carmona, a student and beauty queen was shot and killed in the state of Carabobo. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the she was shot from behind, potentially from within the group she was protesting with, though others contest that version of events. The government has pledged a full investigation. There have been no further updates on the status of the investigation.

-         On February 19, Julio Gonzalez, a member of the public ministry in Carabobo reportedly died after crashing his vehicle while attempting to avoid a roadblock put up by protesters.  

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