Mr. President, welcome, thank you for taking the time to talk to teleSUR.
Welcome to you too, to the house of the Venezuelan people, Miraflores Palace, with the liberators Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre, who perfectly set the spirit for this conversation.
I want to begin this interview with a current issue in Venezuela: the political dispute that exists over the Essequibo region. Why has this issue emerged? Why this change in Guyana’s position?
It is a topic that has spanned Venezuela’s history over three centuries: the 19th, 20th and now 21st. I gave a comprehensive explanation in the National Assembly of the key elements of this theme, which can be split into four stages.
During the first stage, from 1777 to 1840, Venezuela went from being the colonial Captaincy General of Venezuela, to becoming a republic in 1810, to merging with Colombia to become the so-called Gran Colombia. At this time Venezuela covered a huge area, including the Essequibo region, which was rich in mineral resources.
Venezuela had controlled everything to the west of the Essequibo river, which crosses this beautiful area of South America, since colonial times: from the Captaincy General to the early stages of independence to Bolivar’s founding of Gran Colombia. To the east of the river, the land was always disputed by those European empires that dug their claws into America with their so-called “discovery” and barbaric genocide against the continent’s native peoples and those of African descent. There was always a dispute in British Guiana about the land to the east of the Essequibo, which carried over into what is now the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, what was then Dutch Guiana today is the Republic of Suriname and French Guiana — an enclave in the heart of our continent — was always disputed. That was the first stage … While I’m still on that stage, here are some maps to illustrate…
In 1810, when the region’s independence (from Spain) was recognized by all the powers in the so-called Captaincy General of Venezuela, it included the Essequibo region, the region bordered in the north by the River Orinoco (delta) … On July 5, 1819, when Venezuela was Gran Colombia, which was founded by the Liberator (Simon Bolivar), the Liberator left the Orinoco (delta) to go to the lowlands to meet (Jose Antonio) Paez’s army, they went via the Pisba moors and defeated the Spanish army, liberating Bogota of then-New Granada; and later went on to Carabobo in 1821 and built a vast geoeconomic, geopolitical region … the Essequibo was always ours.
So the Orinoco is a key part of the territory?
Of course, the Orinco was instrumental in the construction of this region. It allows our republic access to the Atlantic.
… Were there any signs at that time that Guayana (Esequiba) would not always be Venezuelan territory?
Yes, the attack had begun much earlier. Here, on the map from 1830 (below), before the separation of Gran Colombia, the First Republic, and in this other map from 1840, Venezuela, the border along the Essequibo River, which at that time belonged to Gran Colombia, had weakened … over this union of republics a war between regional leaders began to seize the wealth and land, which fatally wounded the strength of what was born as a power (our America).
It is important to mention the year 1840, because it was then, given the weakness of the emerging republics thanks to the infighting between oligarchic leaders … that other empires, especially the British — which was the most powerful at the time — set their sights on the Orinoco for several reasons. The Essequibo and the Orinoco were part of the mythology of El Dorado, which became reality when important gold mines were discovered there. This area was identified by British surveyors, military, geologists, geographers as a major base to advance into the continent (via Venezuela, the Orinoco and its tributary, the Meta).
There is a brutal campaign against Venezuela of lies, funded by Exxon Mobil, a U.S.-based oil transnational linked to the gun lobby in Washington, which has great influence within the Pentagon. While Obama is the president of the United States, his empire’s influence goes far beyond him. Exxon Mobil has funded TV, radio and press campaigns, as well as political factions in the Caribbean, specifically Guyana.
Is Exxon Mobil’s campaign only about economics?
This campaign is about economics, energy, geopolitics, land. It forms part of a campaign to put together an operation to “squeeze” Venezuela, which was exposed in Parliament.
It is trying to provoke a conflict to undermine the union of Caribbean and Latin America and undermine vital projects like PetroCaribe and overturn the policy of peace (Venezuela’s socialist government) has maintained, as well as the fraternity we’ve forged with the people of the Caribbean.
It has several objectives, when Obama issued the decree of March 9 (calling Venezuela a threat to national security), I explained the reasons behind it and, simultaneously on the day the decree was issued, and our people began the battle (against it), they were strategizing in Guyana to provoke this moment of tension. (Essequibo) is indisputably Venezuela’s by historical right (…) plundered by the British Empire in the 19th century.
In 1824, the British Empire recognized that the eastern border of what was (Gran) Colombia (was) the Essequibo River, which marks out the area definitively, and recognized the existence of the entire Essequibo territory as Venezuelan. The British were by that time arguing (borders) with the Dutch, but had a domain known as British Guiana, which is today our sister Cooperative Republic of Guyana, where the population of what British Guiana lived … they did not live in the occupied Esequiba region, because it was sparsely populated jungle. Although, more recently, the area has been populated with mercenaries, paramilitary groups to control mineral reserves the area contains.
In 1835, the looting operation began (in Essequibo), with the so-called Schomburgk line, when the British Empire sent German botanist David Schomburgk to the region as a spy, who raised awareness of the area’s wealth in a report in which he explains the importance of the Orinoco, and the need to get a part of it, to (the Crown). Thanks to the weakness of Venezuela and New Granada (Colombia), they swept into the heart of the country.
The (new border) line appeared on a map in London, and, as it was the capital of the empire, the world believed it.
So they created the strategy and then took action?
Correct. First the botanist, the geographer, the rigged map and the threats of occupation, war and more. Then, with the second Schomburgk line in 1840, they entered the Essequibo territory and deprived us of 141,000 square kilometers of land, ranging from Mount Roraima to Punta Beach. The modus operandi was to publish a map in London and declare the Essequibo part of the overseas territories of the Queen. There was opposition to the plan; in 1850 there was an exchange of documents between Caracas and London, which I understand was a mistake due to the lax position of the oligarchy that ruled Venezuela. It practically voided the right to territorial sovereignty within the framework of a future agreement, when it was and is indisputably ours.
Then the third Schomburgk line (in 1850) went further into Venezuelan territory, (along the Yuruami River), the banks of the Guri dam, and around the city of Puerto Ordaz at the time. It was followed by a process of legalization, of dispossession, of threats to invade Venezuela.
Then, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the United States established the Monroe Doctrine (“leave America for the Americans”) and some (Latin American) governments said: what a great document, the U.S. will protect us from the empires of the world. It was quite the opposite.
In 1897, the U.S. Congress decided to create a commission to establish the limits of Guyana and force the weak governments run by the oligarchy to accept arbitration. An arbitration commission was created on the basis of a treaty written by five people. Two U.S. arbitrators represented Venezuela, because the British said they would not talk with Venezuelans. With the U.S. umpiring, Washington and London conspired to take Guayana Esequiba from Venezuela to reach the Orinoco. One arbiter was part of the Queen’s court, taught at the University of Cambridge and was more British than Russian. That committee met in 1899 in Paris.
So there was no Venezuelan representative?
Just one Venezuelan took part in the arbitration council, a lawyer, who, in October 1899, delivered a null and void judgment, which devastated the territories that historically belonged to Venezuela.
Our English news network reported at the recent Caribbean Community summit, Guyanese President David Granger said the borders between Guyana and Venezuela were fixed 116 years ago, before (the arbitration commission). What does Venezuela say to that?
We regret that a president has arrived in Guyana, David Granger, whose sole intention is to provoke Venezuela, in his mission to divide the Caribbean. I do not believe he is in favor of Latin American unity, he simply came to ignore international law and conflict resolution mechanisms through diplomatic channels and dialogue. He is trying to impose a point of view regardless of history.
The plundering of Venezuela, as I have described, was carried out via a flawed treaty, which Venezuela considers invalid and does not recognize. After this, Venezuela underwent a naval blockade from the European powers in 1902, 1903, on the alleged basis of old debts, but with the real intention of “pinning to the ground” a nation that always represented the fight for freedom.
This blockade had a second motive: that the country accept the arbitration awarded in Paris in 1899 and cede not only its Guayana Esequiba, but it was proposed that part of the Orinoco shoule be thrown in as part payment for those alleged debts.
We know what (then President) Cipriano Castro did to reject the aggression of foreign powers, Venezuela has always had to react very strongly.
Diplomatic mechanisms were activated at that time, what happened internationally?
With the 20th century came the third stage: the Treaty of Paris was denounced as invalid. Between 1944 and 1949, one of the arbiters of the committee, Severo Mallet Prevost, made the cutting complaint: “Even though the court gave Venezuela the mouth of the Orinoco, a strategically important disputed sector, its decision was unfair and stripped it of an important territory, over which Great Britain had not, in my opinion, even the slightest right to.”
This provoked a national and international controversy, involving several governments. In 1962, Venezuela made its complaint, presenting evidence accumulated from years of arbitration, to the U.N. This prompted a process that coincided with Guyana’s independence process from the imperial metropolis (London), which was granting autonomous status some of its Caribbean colonies.
The whole process concluded with the signing of the Geneva Agreement in 1966, which ends with a Venezuela’s complaint on its right to the Essequibo region.
…President Granger, if you see this video, read the story of the signing of the Geneva Accord, the British Empire recognizes that the (Essequibo dispute) has not been resolved, with negotiations and definitions pending. That agreement was signed by the Venezuelan foreign affairs minister, Ignacio Iribarren Borges, and the foreign minister for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Michael Stewart, and Forbes Burnham, who was a leader in Guyana and prime minister of British Guiana.
This document establishes mechanisms, through international law, the U.N. Charter and other international mechanisms and laws to resolve this outstanding issue, which the current president of Guyana, who despises us and has a very clear plan to challenge us, is doing everything he can to ignore.
This campaign, suggesting Venezuela is the aggressor, is a campaign that was created in the Caribbean. How do you respond to this, and what message to you send to the people of Guyana?
I said it in the National Assembly. If you look at the DNA of our mixed blood, you’ll find the blood of Bolivar, Guacaipuro, Negro Primero and Sucre — who (went to great lengths to) free the people, who gave their lives and wealth. Liberator Simon Bolivar was born in one of the wealthiest families of the time, but, when he died in Santa Martha (Colombia), he died in a second hand shirt. He didn’t have a home to die in. We are his children, the children of (former President Hugo) Chavez, who led a new stage (of struggle). Are they going to ignore the role of PetroCaribe as a project of solidarity, integration, brotherhood?
So let them say Exxon Mobil, which financed President David Granger’s campaign, has given a little bit of petroleum to the people of Guyana, or the people of the Caribbean. But there is a campaign to show a back-to-front world, as great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said. Now Venezuela is the imperialist country, the aggressor. So I tell the people of Guyana: We are the country that was deprived and this land, the Essequibo, wasn’t given to us by British or Spanish imperialism. Our grandfathers won that sacred land fighting in battles.
And speaking of Venezuelanism, it is interesting how members of the opposition have folded to your call to save this patriotic territory.
Yes, I want to note the national support comes from diverse sectors, mainly the people, workers, women, students, campesinos, the armed forces — the most important support one can have, a military-civic union.
Parliament is going to debate an interesting proposal of support. There have also been leaders of political sectors, such as Governor Henry Falcon, some legislators from Democratic Action, a New Time, and First Justice, who have given me support — not without some criticism that I consider unfair — circumstances oblige us Venezuelans to unite to achieve the most important thing, through international law and peace diplomacy: Venezuela’s rights. And furthermore, to dispel this provocation, neutralize it and defeat it, morally and politically.
Some right-wing sectors are not nationalist ones, despite being originally form here … one person out there, who was a presidential candidate, represents international interests, and has come out now to praise Exxon Mobil’s maneuvers. There’s another far-right legislator. Its nothing new, in 1961 people with the same surnames — Lopez, Machado, Mendoza, Zuloaga — wrote a letter to the queen that she should come here, claim Essequibo, and save them from the armies of Zamora.
What other international mechanisms will you involve? You’ve mentioned the U.N.?
I’ve talked to the president of CELAC, Rafael Correa, to put in place an initiative at a foreign minister level or a presidential level. Taking advantage of the moment, I congratulate him for the success that he has hand with the visit of Pope Francis in Ecuador.
I’m going to talk to the secretary of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, and give him a letter requesting someone be appointed as mediator, as established in the Geneva Convention, a person accepted by Guyana and Venezuela, so that the issue can be looked at, and President Granger accepts the decision.
I think that among the key groups are CELAC, because it includes the Caribbean, ALBA, which was led by Chavez, Fidel and Raul … for many years there was a lack of trust, and our brothers in the Caribbean didn’t view the rest of Latin American in a positive light, and vice-versa. So CELAC is one group, and another would be the secretary-general of the U.N.
teleSUR: We invite you to talk about other issues that the teleSUR audience would be interested in hearing your thoughts on. Greece comes to mind.
I was talking to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras two days ago. The courage of this young 40-year-old is admirable. He seems to me a man who is trying to improve things for his country. He became leader thanks to his own efforts. He’s not tied to any transnationals. The campaign they waged for the referendum was huge. They won with 62 percent of the vote, and many of those who voted Yes did it out of fear.
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There was also a strong media campaign.
They affected banks. People couldn’t withdraw more than a certain amount. I saw on teleSUR and Russia Today and other channels how they affected product supply, just like the type of war we are facing – it affected the gas stations – a fear campaign. That’s why it was surprising when the booths were opened. In Europe, no-one in the last 50 years has won by such a huge percentage.
It wasn’t expected because the polls didn’t predict it. You mentioned a phone conversation, what was that about?
I told him that I gave him all my political and moral support, and the support of the people of Venezuela and ALBA. I told him how important the battle was that they were waging for humanity, beyond Greece and Europe. And furthermore, that if they keep advancing, humanity will benefit from the hope. Also we talked about a visit one day, we are still deciding on a date. We have various agreements on energy, tourism, trade, culture, and education that we are going to deepen with Greece at the highest level.
It’s wrong that Europe is chasing its pensioners, lowering wages, privatizing education, health, culture, and everything that is public, that can’t be the right path.
Tsipras reminded me of the recall referendum held against Chavez in 2006 – he reminded me about the impact that this had in the world, above all on the Venezuelan process. And I reflected on a few things about this process, the processes that have come up in the world, alternative processes, those that are seeking new societal processes based on a broader awareness of the people, a stronger popular will, sovereignty in practice. The Venezuelan process and now the Greek process.
So we ask God to bless the Greek people, their leader Alexis Tsipras, and we can see how Europe and the people of Europe are going to be freed of the yoke of the IMF and neoliberalism. Its incredible.
Europe, which felt proud of its social wellbeing, something that came out of competition with socialist countries at the time. It’s wrong that Europe is chasing its pensioners, lowering wages, privatizing education, health, culture, and everything that is public, that can’t be the right path.
On alternative ways, there are increasingly more solid steps being taken towards consolidating the BRICS Development Bank … an alternative to what the IMF has been imposing, for example.
The world has many centers and each of those is a motor and each motor generates results. We have produced some results on the continent, but we lack much more. The Bank of the South hasn’t been able to move forward because of bureaucracy, the lack of political will of the government’s. It’s regrettable, but it has to be said. Eight years after signing into reality the Bank of the South, it is frozen and overwhelmed by bureaucracy. We are going to take the initiative, together with our brother governments, to activate it, because everything is ready, but nothing’s being done.
The bureaucracies are fighting each other for positions, which it still hasn’t kicked off. Behind all this is the technocrat vision of who should have responsibility for important projects like this. That needs to be said as self criticism. We have to get the Bank of the South up and running.
The BRICS Bank is a big brother to the Bank of the South. The whole idea of the BRICS and its reserve fund was debated in Latin America in 2006, 2007 and 2008. I still remember Chavez, Rafael Correa, Lula da Silva, and Nestor Kirchner saying it was urgent for our continent to create a reserve fund for the South, that we should bring together all the resources necessary to create mechanisms for our development, and that these two instruments adjust to each other – the strategic reserve fund and the Bank of the South. Seeing this experience of the BRICS, we should be more motivated.
I told the foreign minister (Delcy Rodriguez) that she should do all the necessary paperwork so that we can join BRICS. As soon as its possible, we’re going to propose to the ALBA (bloc of Latin America and Caribbean nations) to join through the BRICS Bank alliance. Build a new (world) order, a world financial structure.
…a structure that is an alternative to the IMF, the Central European Bank, and the European Commission. But the question is, how much muscle can these alternative financial entities have in ending the popularity that the U.S. has through, for example, the IMF?
The time has come for new things. The difficulties we are seeing in the Bank of the South with bureaucracy, the lack of political initiative. I think that there is an acceleration taking place in the BRICS. There’s a big decision by Chinese president Xi Jinping, President Putin of Russia, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, and the leaders of India and South Africa. One can see they are advancing rapidly, with solid steps. We are optimists when we see this because substituting the old financial scheme will be costly, as it was for Greece and Europe.
Unemployment at 25 percent, evictions. Why have the Spanish people had to suffer evictions of 500,000 families? Why have they seen their pensions reduced and a decline in public health? They have had to suffer neoliberal packages because those dinosaurs of the financial oligarchy think they can impose the dictatorship of capital — that says it is worth more than work, effort, the right to life, and people’s happiness.
The international media wants the world to believe that what the Greek people have suffered can be expected in Venezuela. How does Venezuela see the future, in terms of the situation its economy is facing, especially in an election year?
We are dealing with a sustained political and economic war. I think in the first semester they have hurt us. They have kept attacking us and we protect the people. I think we are the only country in the world to increase wages three times, and in the last 15 years we have increased it 28 times, in order to protect people’s real income. We broke records with unemployment in the first four months of the year. I prioritized investment in public works, more than 66 billion bolivars. We advanced in building housing, beyond the aim of 400,000 housing units this year.
I prioritized investment in pensions to get 3 million people receiving pensions – 300,000 new people this year. The price of oil went from US$100 to US$50, and just in the last few days it’s gone down by three or four dollars. We are investing a lot nationally, such as in food missions, so that people can get their goods, in the middle of a war in which they have hijacked the economy. The Venezuelan bourgeois have done it so the people will be brought to their knees. They say, we’ll leave you alone if you give us Maduro, the revolution, and your dignity.
But the people have said “no,” and on June 28 the people went out into the streets to vote, more than 3 million voted. I was surprised. I mistakenly underestimated people and they barely opened 20 percent of the booths. If they had opened 50 or 60 percent of them, we’d be counting 6 million votes. We have a dignified people, a people that has grown, because they are (now) aware.
We’re moving ahead with strength in all areas of battle; national and international politics, because we have morale and the truth, because we love this country. Four elites are not going to take away our social project, which we will defend with everything we’ve got, including our lives.
Can this “hijacking of the economy,” this economic war be won?
Its a complex process in which we have to take measures and we are getting to the point of defeating the economic war. Almost 100 percent of the distribution systems of the country are in the hands of the capitalists, the private sector. What is in our hands works, the people have their services and products at fair prices. If you go to the public (distribution) networks, which are being attacked, people obtain the products at the prices they should be. Now, the economic war and the fear campaign will burn out because the people aren’t kowtowing to it.
People can of course be bothered by things, but they know that who the enemies are and why they do what they do. I am going to a lot of effort so that the people have their public education. This year is going to be a big test. The elections on Dec. 6 … we’re ready for them, we’re battle hardened. When the National Electoral Council authorizes it, we’ll see the people in the streets. It will be a blow to the people who are waging this economic war, those who have been supported by international interests, those who haven’t supported the struggle for Essequibo, because the people are clear.
How is the re-establishing of relations with the U.S. going?
The diplomatic channel with the U.S. is a big achievement, it’s an opportunity. I bet that it will work out and get to the point where the government of the U.S. takes the historic step of recognizing Venezuela and its revolution — what it has done with Cuba — recognizing the reality in Cuba. Even though they want to re-conquer the country by other methods, they want to dominate it while they are (still) an empire. Cuba, Fidel, Raul, can say, 56 later, that Cuba’s people have stood up to all the pain caused by the blockade and maintained their culture.
On two occasions I have met here (in Presidential Palace) with Thomas Shannon, and I think the open diplomatic channel will be successful after we shake hands in Panama. In this way we will defeat the decree and will regularize relations (between the two countries) based on respect, which is the most important thing.
Is there an agenda proposed for this?
Yes, there are number of points that are being discussed: the function of our embassies, respecting international law, possibilities of joint work with PetroCaribe projects in the region, support for peace and prosperity in Haiti, among other issues. What is important is that this diplomatic initiative results in a good outcome for governments to come. They can’t ask us to stop being Bolivarian, Chavista, and socialists who are proud of our history.
We don’t want to end without your message to teleSUR on its 10th anniversary, not only to its staff, but also to the audience.
Congratulations to all the workers, to Patricia (Villegas), your president, to the journalists, camera-people, technicians, and all those who make the existence of teleSUR possible. Chavez was right, with teleSUR, Chavez said that we are going to do it, and now it is a communication channel that determines public opinion. It is the voice of truth, and it will continue to be so in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Arabic. What it is going to do in the future is grow. Congratulations to everyone.