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Venezuela and Maduro Today: The Heart of Darkness

Chavismo without Chavez is the title of the latest book just launched in April 2013 by journalist, writer, poet, activist, and Venezuelan residing in Argentina, Modesto Emilio Guerrero. His condition as a revolutionary and honest analyst who came out of the Venezuelan people’s conflicts makes him an obligatory source to consult for those who see Latin America as a boat which, with its movement, will throw capitalism over the cliff.

The program Canto Libre, broadcast by the independent Radio Sur, interviewed Guerrero.

Radio Sur: First, the most urgent issue, what is the recent request by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to join NATO about?

Modesto Guerrero: The announcement that Santos made was a device to test reactions and relationships of different forces in Latin America. Santos could have said from the start, “We can’t go to NATO for statutory reasons, but we want to have a different type of relationship with her”, which would be the status of associated state of NATO, conceded to Argentina in 1991.

If there hadn’t been any observed reaction in Latin America, the test would have been passed and Colombia’s entrance into NATO, with status or without it, would be a reality. The Colombian vice-president – the ex-communist Angelino Garzon – gave an even duller explanation than Santos because he tried to legitimise the move, saying that “this has to do with our national interest”. Later the minister for defence, Juan Carlos Pinzon appeared, declaring more or less the same thing, affirming that “a storm in a teacup is being created”.  For them it might just be a teacup, but for us it’s about very turbulent waters.

What does it mean for Colombia to become an associated state of NATO when its new status is approved?

The condition of associated state corresponds to a special status that was approved in 1989 for countries outside NATO. Argentina was the first associated state, and still hasn’t withdrawn from that. Chile was associated by de facto at the start of the 80s, during the Falklands War. The special status still didn’t exist then, but it was used as a nation-state for the satellite and non-satellite launches in the south.

These associations with Chile and Argentina happened over two or three decades ago...

With Colombia, we’re facing a situation that is more serious than what happened with Chile, and of course a hundred times more serious than Argentina, because it is part of a continent that is different to what it was then. We’re in a different historical time now, with different local and international power relations. That is the secret.

One of the geopolitical elements that has shifted with this new relation [with NATO] is the dialogue in the process for peace, sponsored by Norway and Venezuela, and carried out through Cuban management, with one of the three Colombian guerrilla groups. The first thing that can be concluded is that the fresh link between Colombia and NATO is exploding in UNASUR (Union of South American Nations).


Colombia can’t belong to the defence council of UNASUR at the same time that it is in NATO, which is another defence council. The one in UNASUR is politically and militarily autonomous, and diametrically opposed to NATO.  According to political logic, there should be pressure from Brazil and Argentina towards Colombia, along with valiant responses from Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Actually, Bolivia demanded an urgent meeting of UNASUR to critically consider the Colombian state for what it was doing with NATO. Brazil, which maintains regional hegemony, and Argentina, which is the second country in this articulation of power, have very close links with Colombia. Brazil sends Colombia planes and a large part of its military supplies. All of that is now in play. [Former Brazilian President] Lula, [current President] Dilma or her emissary, should have asked the Colombian government where they were going with this, because if they associate with NATO they will have to leave UNASUR, just like Paraguay and Honduras did.

Maduro is governoing a process of transition

It’s barely been two months since Nicolas Maduro was sworn in as president of Venezuela. At the risk of making hasty evaluations, what do you consider his strengths and weaknesses to be?

We’re talking about a government and president that are being tested. Maduro still isn’t a national leader. He’s a relative leader, and at the same time a legitimate president because of the Chavista people. The small vote [in comparison with Chavez in October 2012] that he received doesn’t mean that he isn’t legitimate for the Chavista population. What he was lacking was translated into abstention, but not into people who want to get rid of him. Rather it’s about a punishment vote.

So we’re talking about a president being tested with very little governability. In political science it’s estimated that a 10 point lead over the next candidate is the optimum amount to define sustainable governability. In this case, Maduro has only 20% of those 10 points. That is, we’re facing a very low rate in electoral terms. That contributes an element of high sensitivity to a transition.

But political-electoral fatigue is daily bread ...

If Chavez or Maduro had got this result in an election for a second term, after having won a first election by 10 points, it wouldn’t mean the same risk. But a government that is going through the loss of its most important leader, one who offered national unity and stopped people in their tracks with his presence, his political initiatives and with the power of his personality...many of the attacks against Venezuela have become somewhat uncovered.

What are you referring to when you talk about a transition government?

Maduro is governing a process of transition from one regime to another. The regime that existed with Hugo Chavez died with him. It was a deeply progressive regime, but extremely personality based. Now, and for a few months, a government based on an association between the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and the armed forces, as well as some of the minor lobbies that are part of the power structures, is being built. That is the new government. Its main characteristic is that it doesn’t contain members of the bourgeoisie, the same as the Chavez one from 2002 until he died. That’s the factor of continuity here. What is the risk? That the new regime that is coming together could sustain a relationship with the bourgeoisie that didn’t exist before, and could even contain some indirect representative of the bourgeoisie in the government. If that happened, we’d be in the presence of a set-back, of institutional regression.

The rentier state and low rate of governability

Imperialism and its native extensions in Venezuela permanently attack the government for the current economic problems. Are all of them caused by the enemies of the people?

It’s a combination. The enemies possess the main levers of the economy and are the “receipt holders” of the greater part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or a large part of it for the last seven years. Between the two sectors of the economy – state and private – it was private that grew most [in that period]. This contradiction, absurd in politic terms, is expressed economically, because they control an important fraction of the import market, investment contracts, the bank sector, and retail trade.

The banking sector?

The Bolivarian government bought and nationalised powerful banks such as Vizcaya and others. But the bourgeoisie continues to hold a relevant amount of competitive financial power. And competitive means that it’s important.

What is the core of the historical formation and the actual economic state of the country?

The bourgeoisie has the ability to compete in a weak economy like Venezuela’s. And it’s not weak because it lacks money – it’s got enough of that! The oil barrel is at USD102, 3,200,000 barrels are produced a day, and there are proven reserves for the next 140 years. But this money isn’t wealth, it’s a structural economic stronghold. The key issue is how the money coming from petroleum has been used over the last 85 years, and how over the 13 years of the Chavez government it hasn’t been possible to change the primary, exporting, and rentier model. The inability to overcome this model impedes the organic development of Venezuela.

For example?

The total number of companies that are under worker control, including those that are social-production companies, are a little more than a thousand. Among these companies there are the largest metal and cement plants, as well as the electricity industry, but they don’t surpass 4.8% of the GDP. These weaknesses become cracks that the enemies take advantage of in order to create inflation, because they create the prices from below. And this permanent inflation is what leads to devaluation, weakening the currency in relation to the international market.  It’s on this that the great Chavista economist, Victor Alvarez, bases his references to a structural fracturing, together with another Chavista, a leftwing one, called Manuel Sutherland. If this isn’t resolved, we simply can’t talk about socialism of the 21st century, because Nicolas Maduro’s government won’t be sustainable. Russia is the number one exporter of petroleum in the world, but it sustains itself on the industry that the Soviet Union left behind, which is value-added to its production. This is the contradiction of the economy and of politics, which is the economy concentrated towards the benefit of others.

How fast is time running out for Maduro?

Time in politics is as valuable as political programs or ministers. The time the Maduro government has to overcome a rentier economy, at least partially, and triumph over his low governability, is very short. Six years. Half way through, in the third year, should the low governability continue, the rightwing, with strong international support, could call a recall referendum. Because if things continue as they are, in three years we will face a scenario of great social discontent, pressure from strikes and other labour demands, and more demands from the sectors who are the latecomers to the sharing out.

What role is Henrique Capriles fulfilling in the middle of this complex Venezuelan reality, considering him as the ex-candidate of imperialism?

He was the candidate of imperialism, but in very relative terms. The true candidates of imperialism are other people. Capriles was the candidate who managed to be, we might say, ‘the ugliest at the party’. They chose him because they didn’t have any way of agreeing on anyone else. Capriles has a policy of winning through elections, and of taking advantage of violence and murdering of Chavistas to weaken the government he wants to beat electorally. That is his strategy – not coups, nor war. If something like that were to come about, he could take advantage of it, but the eventual coup plotters wouldn’t accept him as leader. Capriles, until now, is still alleging the illegitimacy of the Maduro government, exactly as they are doing in the US. However, the three large groups in the Venezuelan economy did legitimise and legalise Maduro as president two weeks ago when they met with him.  That is, they put down the US and Capriles with their behaviour.

Other contradictions that Capriles shows, for example, are with the Democratic Action (AD) party, which despite being small, includes many experienced political cadres, but which at the same time is in opposition to Maduro and is also anti-Capriles. Then he [Capriles] has competition from Maria Corina Machado (ultra-liberal politician) who wants to be head of the opposition. So the enemies of the government are together just because Chavismo is strong. Hate maintains them united transitionally.

Damn bureaucracy

What’s the situation with sectors that support the government, but maintain critical positions and that advocate an acceleration of the revolutionary process, due to which they are not well regarded by the government?

That occurred in 2001, 2003, 2005, and since 2007. The difference in opinions and conduct has always existed between the strong left-wing, which there has been in Venezuela before and during Chavismo, and a bureaucratic layer which installed itself in the state apparatus and has kidnapped it.  As with every privileged fringe, this bureaucratic layer flees from political democracy, from liberty and the debate of ideas. This is because that layer lacks arguments to debate and only counts upon holding power through force.

 How is this difference expressed?

 In January 2011 the Venezuelan government took the Colombian (FARC member) Julian Conrado prisoner, and then deported 11 or 12 [Colombian] insurgents and handed them over to [Colombian president Juan Manuel] Santos. Thus the government showed themselves against the left in that it denied to accept all the terms of the Pact of Santa Maria, and handed over [left-wing] guerrilla fighters to the reactionary government of Colombia. Some [Venezuelan] community media outlets were vetoed [by the Venezuelan government]; publicity was taken down from the webpage (with 2.4 million daily visits) by the Ministry of Communications at that point. These conflicts existed with Chavez and after him. What there is now is a qualitative intensification of this mode of coexistence – not in contradiction, always complementary – where different methodologies and some programmatic differences can be appreciated. It’s true, we all confess to believe in the Plan of the Nation, 2013 – 2019, the Coup at the Helm [a critical speech by Hugo Chavez in October 2012], and other documents. But we don’t all profess belief in the political machinery of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and less in a part of the bureaucratic machinery that functions at the service of corruption.

For example…

What justification is there that a character such as Temir Porras, a corrupt bureaucrat in the foreign policy of the government for the last seven years, is now a key assessor of the foreign policy apparatus? How is it possible that Berruecos – a member of the so-called “Bolivarian bourgeoisie” – begins to have weight? Thus, the bourgeoisie as a class have indirect representation through the enriched bureaucracy, and that includes some military officers and many civilian figures.

Again you refer to the “bureaucratic layer”…

This bureaucratic layer has its own interests. Until the “Temir Porras’” of the Venezuelan government don’t leave the structures of power, there will be a permanent contradiction between those, in and out of the government, who want to deepen the Bolivarian transition toward the socialist path, versus those who want to conserve that’s been conquered as a platform for self-enrichment, privilege and personal security. In this framework many new criticisms have emerged. 

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