Friday, February 20, 2009

After the referendum: What’s next for Venezuela?

After the referendum: What’s next for Venezuela?
By Nicole M. Ferrand.*

Unfortunately, last Sunday’s February 15th Venezuelan referendum passed 54% to 46%, ending term limits for President Hugo Chávez and other elected officials. Even though the results are not surprising since the polls predicted this outcome, the response of the international community and the electoral observers was shocking; they unanimously said that even though some irregularities did occur, the referendum was ‘fully democratic,’ basically legitimizing Chavez’s outrageous power grab.

Not by any means were these regular elections. Venezuelans were subjected to a brutal campaign as the government threw all the power of the State behind Chavez. There was open political activity in public buildings and state employees had to donate one day’s paycheck to the campaign and attend electoral activities during working hours. The entire Venezuelan nation was blackmailed by Chavez as he threatened civil unrest if he didn’t win the referendum.

Opposing journalists and media outlets, that have been targets throughout Chavez’s presidency, were viciously attacked prior to February 15th and the few international observers who dared to question the regime’s methods were expelled from Venezuela. The news outlets that reported irregularities were threatened as Chavez himself sent the army to destroy opposition media buildings and physically attack newsmen and women. Some independents were even kidnapped and there were assassination attempts against anyone who became a threat to Chavez.

The opposition did all it could but in the end the vast amount of resources Chavez had at his disposal were impossible to counteract. In addition, they could not unite and stand behind a figure who could challenge Chavez directly. This remains a problem for the opposition. The students who spearheaded the opposition and had mobilized since the referendum was announced were constantly intimidated and harassed and its leaders assaulted. Chavez went as far as demanding that police “throw tear gas, and of the strong kind” at any student demonstration.

The referendum was never free and fair. The media covered Chavez 100 to 1 and overall the process was the most outrageously unequal and abusive ever. Venezuela is not democratic and has not been since Chavez decided to turn it into a dictatorship. He has used the state’s resources to stay in power and has worked to build an apparatus that ensures his victory in whatever election if he should decide to hold.

Chavez rushed the vote on the referendum because he was well aware that with falling oil prices he could not longer continue funding the ‘social programs” and governmental handouts that made him so popular. He knew that sooner rather than later he would lose support because he would have to make unpopular decisions due to Venezuela’s financial crisis. To silence any current or future critics his repressive methods will increase. In order to increase state revenues a takeover of the private sector will most likely accelerate, irreversibly damaging Venezuela’s economy for decades to come.

Analysts have been extremely worried about freedom of expression in Venezuela and after Sunday’s elections, things will definitely worsen. The opposition media which has been targeted all along will face huge obstacles and the opinions and news information will have to toe the government’s line if they want to continue operating.

During the period prior to the referendum, the tactics of fear, lies and blackmail were used openly and widely. Sadly, they worked. It is likely that many Venezuelans who have the means will now go into exile and those who don’t have that option will continue to live in tyranny. What is worse, Chavez’s victory means that Iran will continue to expand its operations in the region, thereby creating a very dangerous and ominous situation.

We have to do everything we can to continue informing and spreading the word on what’s happening inside Venezuela because this is not only about the future of that country; it is also about the future of Latin America and the national security of the United States.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of "The Americas Report" of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Menges Hemispheric Security Project

Venezuela News Brief: VENEZUELA SPEAK OUT I

Two weeks prior to the December 2nd, 2007 Referendum, the staff at the Americas Report published English/Spanish news briefs covering the events inside Venezuela. We will do the same prior to the February 15th Referendum as a way of showing our respect for and support of the Venezuelan opposition. It is hoped that once again the Venezuelan people will vote to contain Mr. Chavez’s ambitions and defeat an ever growing tyranny.

The Venezuelan people are being called upon once again to vote to perpetuate Mr. Chavez in power, indefinitely. The Venezuelan president has scheduled his referendum for February 15th, a little less than two weeks from today. Since Chavez didn’t obtain the desired results in the December 2, 2007 referendum, he is imposing another electoral exercise on his people, hoping this time they will give him the answer he wants. But conditions have worsened inside Venezuela, both economically, in terms of inflation and scarcity of consumer goods and socially in terms of an increase in crime and a decrease in civil liberties. If anything, Chavez is losing popularity even among his core constituency. So what reasons would Venezuelans have now to give Mr. Chavez even more power over the government and thus over their lives?

Hopefully all eligible Venezuelans will vote in spite of intimidation tactics being used by Mr. Chavez and his gangs and hopefully he will be prevented from “cooking” the results. This election could be a turning point for the Venezuelan people whose lives could be made much more difficult if Chavez wins and further consolidates his power. Mr. Chavez’s actions over the last ten years are indicative of a leader whose intense hatred of the United States overrides whatever considerations he might otherwise have had for the well being of the Venezuelan people. In this regard the Venezuelan people are only a tool to be used in his efforts to damage and undermine the “enemy.”

In order to assist in accomplishing his goals, the Venezuelan President has formed and strengthened his alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran whose operatives he will use to further his revolution and to impose his will. If Chavez is victorious on February 15th, it is likely he will tighten his grip on power by squashing all dissent, imprisoning members of the opposition, further limiting private enterprise and creating more effectives ways of spying on his people. The Venezuelan people must muster the courage and once again speak out and save themselves from an ever more bleak future and must do this themselves because there is no one else to rely on.

January 2, 2009

Hundreds rally opposite Venezuelan consulate – JTA.
Hundreds rallied in front of the Venezuelan consulate in New York following the vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue. The rally, organized on short notice Monday afternoon, expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan Jewish community and accused the country's president, Hugo Chavez, of fomenting an anti-Jewish atmosphere in which such anti-Semitic violence was inevitable. Demonstrators called on the Chavez government to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. Chavez has condemned the attack.
“We hold you accountable,” veteran activist Rabbi Avi Weiss told the crowd as footage of Chavez delivering a speech played behind him on a video screen behind the consulate window. The rally was responding to an attack over the weekend on the Mariperez Synagogue in the Venezuelan capital. According to reports, 15 armed men overpowered a security guard before desecrating religious objects, painting threatening messages on the walls and stealing community information. At the rally, local political figures and Jewish communal officials led the crowd in chanting “Never Again” and its Spanish translation, “Nunca Jamás.” Manuel Kohn, a Venezuelan Jew who has lived in the United States for nearly 50 years, addressed the protesters, describing his native country's history of hospitality to Jews and other minorities. “God bless you all, God bless Venezuela, and never again,” Kohn said. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, sounded an ominous warning in noting the theft of administrative information about the local Jewish community. “Historically,” Harris told JTA, “that has never ended well.”

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Venezuela Habla I

Dos semanas antes del referéndum del 2 de Diciembre del 2007, el equipo del “Americas Report” publicó en Ingles y en castellano, noticias diarias acerca de los últimos acontecimientos en Venezuela. Ya que el Sr. Hugo Chávez sigue empeñado en ser Presidente de por vida y ha elegido el 15 de Febrero para el referéndum, decidimos hacer lo mismo en muestra de apoyo a la oposición Venezolana. Esperamos, una vez más, que el pueblo de Venezuela logre frenar las ambiciones de Chávez.

Los venezolanos han sido una vez mas llamados a las urnas a votar y así ayudar a perpetuar a Chávez en el poder indefinidamente. Como no salió victorioso en el 2007, ahora vuelve a llamar a la población a ver si esta vez le dan el resultado que él quiere. Pero las condiciones en Venezuela han empeorado. La inflación ha aumentado, hay escasez de productos alimenticios, una alta criminalidad y menos libertades. Es más, las cosas están tan mal que Chávez está perdiendo popularidad dentro de su propio partido. ¿Qué razones podrían tener los venezolanos para darle más poder a Chávez sobre el gobierno y sobre sus propias vidas?

Ojalá que los electores acudan a las urnas, voten a pesar de ser intimidados por Chávez y su pandilla y así impidan que ocurra un masivo fraude. Esta elección puede ser el punto de quiebre para el pueblo venezolano cuyas vidas podrían ser aún mas difíciles si Chávez gana y se queda en el poder. Las acciones del presidente venezolano en el transcurso de diez años han demostrado que su odio hacia los Estados Unidos está por encima de cualquier consideración que pueda tener acerca del bienestar de su pueblo. En este sentido, los votantes son sólo herramientas a ser utilizadas por él en sus esfuerzos por dañar y destruir al “enemigo.”

Para lograr sus objetivos, el Presidente Venezolano ha fortalecido su alianza con la elite de la República Islámica de Irán a quien utilizará para promover su revolución e imponer su voluntad. Si Chávez gana el 15 de Febrero, lo más probable es que intensifique su poder, silenciando completamente a la oposición y hasta encarcelando a miembros de la oposición. El pueblo venezolano debe armarse de valor, una vez más expresar su rechazo y lograr salvar su futuro y lo deben hacer ellos mismos ya que no hay nadie que lo pueda hacer por ellos.

2 de Enero del 2009

Protestan frente al consulado de Venezuela en Nueva York por ataque a sinagoga – El Universal.
Más de 250 judíos, venezolanos y estadounidenses, preocupados por los derechos civiles se congregaron frente al Consulado de Venezuela este lunes protestar pacíficamente contra los ataques a la sinagoga el Maripérez, así como contra lo que consideran una campaña de antisemitismo en el país, instigados por el discurso violento en sectores oficiales. El evento fue organizado por voluntarios, y fue apoyado por diversas organizaciones, incluyendo el Anti-Defamation League, la junta de Relaciones Comunitarias Judías, el Comité Judío Americano, y el Centro Simón Wiesenthal. La protesta incluyó discursos de representantes de éstas organizaciones, y de otros oradores incluyendo a David Weprin, Presidente del Comité de Finanzas de la Ciudad de Nueva York, y Ross M. Wallenstein, Asistente del Gobernador Para Asuntos Comunitarios, Gobierno del Estado de Nueva York. La protesta, organizada en las últimas 48 horas, se realizó en respuesta a una agresión el viernes pasado en contra de la sinagoga más antigua de Venezuela. En un ataque bien orquestado, 15 hombres armados sometieron a dos guardias de seguridad y profanaron el templo, dañando objetos religiosos y pintando consignas en las paredes cargadas de epítetos raciales como "Muerte a Los Judíos", y "Judíos Fuera". "Los judíos han vivido en Venezuela por más de un siglo en el clima de paz, hermandad y tolerancia que Venezuela siempre ha exhibido, y durante las últimas semanas han sido víctimas de la politización del anti-semitismo. Esto no puede ser tolerado," dijo Daniel Benhayon, uno de los organizadores de la protesta. Como resultado de los eventos en Gaza, el gobierno Venezolano ha adoptado un tono agresivo y peligroso, incitando el odio y -con o sin intención- induciendo a sus seguidores a pintar swásticas en sinagogas, en plazas públicas y en universidades a través del país. El ataque del viernes no fue un incidente aislado. Varios líderes religiosos han sido amenazados y el colegio judío de Caracas fue allanado por el gobierno en el 2007 en busca de armas. Ninguna fue encontrada, informa la nota enviada por los organizadores del evento. En medios televisivos, radiales y de prensa escrita pertenecientes al gobierno se han emitido durante meses mensajes que explotan los estereotipos más denigrantes de vertientes antisemitas. Los oficiales gubernamentales no han hecho esfuerzo para detener la depredación, amansar el tono, o garantizar la seguridad de aquellos en peligro. "El gobierno venezolano tiene una oportunidad única en sus manos. Venezuela siempre ha sido un país de hermandad y tolerancia. Llevar a esos 15 hombres armados que no sólo profanaron una sinagoga, sino el nombre de todos los venezolanos sentará un precedente único de respeto a los derechos de todos los ciudadanos venezolanos, sin importar que credo profesen. Los judíos deben ser protegidos, como todos los ciudadanos," dijo Rubén Daniel Kliksberg, otro de los organizadores del Evento.

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