Ignacio Ramonet / Le Monde Diplomatique – “The “street government” is a revolution inside the revolution” – After failing in its effort to delegitimise Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro – democratically elected last 14 April – the opposition is already preparing itself for municipal elections next 8 December. In this context, with the help of the international right wing and its usual media allies, the opposition recently launched the rumour that President Maduro was not born in Venezuela, and as a result, as the constitution stipulates, his election wouldn’t be valid.
We spoke with Nicolas Maduro about this new campaign of intoxication and various other current issues while on board the helicopter that took us from Caracas to Taguanes (Guarico state) – on the same day that Maduro completed his first hundred days as President of the Bolivarian Republic.
Ignacio Ramonet: The Venezuelan opposition has launched a campaign which has found echo in some international media outlets, affirming that you weren’t born in Venezuela, but rather in Cucuta, Colombia, and that you possess double nationality; which, according to the constitution, would invalidate you as president. What comments inspire this accusation?
Nicolas Maduro: The objective of that madness, launched by a demented member of the Panamanian right-wing [nb. in reference to ex-Panamanian ambassador to the OAS, Guillermo Cochez], is to create the conditions for political destabilisation. They [the opposition] try to get what they haven’t achieved through elections, state coups or economic sabotage. They’re desperate, and they base themselves on the anti-Colombian ideology that the bourgeoisie and the Venezuelan right wing have always had against the people of Colombia.
In that respect, if I had been born in Cucuta or Bogota, I’d feel happy to be Colombian, because it’s a land founded by [South American independence hero Simon] Bolivar. If I’d been born in Quito or Guayaquil, I’d likewise feel proud of being Ecuadorian because it’s a land liberated by Bolivar; or in Lima, or in Potosi, or in La Paz, or in Cochabamba, I’d feel happy to be Peruvian or Bolivian; and if I’d been born in Panama, land of Omar Torrijos, land of dignity that formed part of Bolivar’s Great Colombia, I’d also feel proud to be Panamanian. However I was born and raised in Caracas, cradle of the Liberator, in that always convulsive, rebel, revolutionary Caracas. And here I am as president. This madness will be remembered as part of the crisis of schizophrenic desperation that the international right sometimes enters, with the aim of ending the beacon of light that is the Bolivarian revolution.
On the other hand, the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, recently declared that conspiracy plans had been discovered, which had the intention of assassinating you.
Nicolas Maduro: Yes, the Minister of the Interior, Rodriguez Torres, the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and I myself have revealed one of the assassination plans that were being prepared for 24 July, anniversary of the birth of Simon Bolivar, and commemoration of 190 years since the naval battle of Maracaibo. They were preparing a set of plans that we managed to neutralise and that always have their origin in the same international right. There appears, for example, the name of Alvaro Uribe [ex-president of Colombia], who has an obsession against Venezuela and the children of Chavez. The old Miami mafia of Posada Carriles also appears, which has the support of important groups of power in the United States. The government of Barack Obama hasn’t wanted to dismantle the mafia of Posada Carriles, a confessed and convicted terrorist, pursued by the laws of our country because he flew on (and was convicted in Venezuela of playing a role in the blowing up of) a Cubana de Aviacion plane in October 1976…
I can assure you that we will continue defending ourselves, neutralising these plans, and being victorious. If they achieved their objective a situation would be created that I wouldn’t even want to think about. The Venezuelan right are those who have the least interest in something like that happening. They would disappear from the political map of our country for 300 years, because the revolution would take on another character, without a doubt: much deeper, much more socialist, much more anti-imperialist. Hopefully these plans are never successful, because it would go very badly for them. And I’d watch it happen from above in that case.
Do you think the failure in the opposition’s destabilisation attempt is due to the policies that you have introduced, or a change in attitude by the opposition itself ahead of the municipal elections next 8 December?
Nicolas Maduro: It’s mainly due to the institutional strength of Venezuelan democracy, and the decision that I took, supported by that strength, to defeat the attempt at insurrection and violence early on; to neutralise it, and not permit that it spread. They tried a kind of insurrection in the main cities, on 15 and 16 April .
What level of violence was reached?
Nicolas Maduro: They [radical opposition activists] assassinated eleven people, among them a girl and a boy. And they caused almost one hundred wounded, of whom little is talked about: people who were very badly wounded, with effects which will last their whole lives.
The opposition showed their true coup-plotting face. The feigned good democratic manners, but when Comandante [Hugo] Chavez died [on 5 March], they decided to refuse to recognise the [April] election results and to try and impose by force – with the supposed international support of the United States and other right wing governments – an operation to destabilise the revolution. We managed to neutralise and defeat them early on. Now they don’t have another choice but to try again, through the electoral path, to occupy mayoral positions. We have obligated them that it be this way. If it wasn’t for our decision to enforce respect for the constitution, they would have taken our country into a situation of civil war.
In recent declarations, you have warned about fissures in the unity of the revolution. Do you fear a division in Chavismo?
Divisive and dissolving forces have always threatened revolutions. The aspiration to power of groups and people are a negation of the project of the Bolivarian revolution itself, which is socialist and demands detachment and sacrifice. Comandante Chavez was president because the circumstances of history put him there, and I am president, not because of personal ambition or because I represent an economic or political group, no. I’m president because Comandante Chavez prepared me, designated me, and the Venezuelan people ratified me in a free and democratic election.
Thus all these dissolving forces are always going to exist. However the revolution has the moral, political and ideological capacity to overcome any attempt at the division of its forces. I said that in the Venezuelan plains, because I was watching with my own eyes, right there before me, a person who called himself Chavista, but underneath is financed by landowners, and he has a Chavista discourse in order to divide. It’s not impossible that when this individual realises that he’s not been designated by the revolution as a mayoral candidate, he stands as an independent. We are in good conditions to achieve united candidates in almost every municipality in the country, and we will need to make a great effort to defeat the divisive sectors that call themselves Chavista but which, ultimately, end up being allies of the counterrevolution.
With respect to previous governing practice, you have introduced various changes: you criticise insecurity, denounce corruption and above all, there is what you call the “street government”. Why did you feel the need to insist on these issues, and what assessment do you make of the “street government”?
Nicolas Maduro: Firstly, the “street government” has established, in this new stage, a method for a collective leadership of the revolution to exist. Secondly, a system o government has been created where there aren’t intermediaries between local grassroots power and the national government. It contributes solutions to concrete problems, but above all it contributes to the construction of socialism, of the communes, of a socialist economy, and the consolidation of a holistic, free and quality public health system and a free and quality public education system…the “street government” is a revolution within the revolution.
Is it also a way of combating bureaucracy?
Nicolas Maduro: Of defeating it, of proposing another system. Because the models of government that we inherited express the form of governing the bourgeois state, itself inherited from the colony in Latin America. President Chavez defeated them with the [social] Missions, which constituted a new model of managing public policies. To the missions we are adding the “street government”, which, we could say, is a direct instruction from Comandante Chavez. He ordered us - to Elias Jaua who was vice president at the time, and to me who was political vice president - that we start constructing a system of regional government – “people’s” he said – and I called it “street government”. All are instructions and guidance within the philosophy of a socialist model in which power is not of elites: not of bourgeois elites nor new elites that become bureaucracies or bourgeois, no! We want power to be democratised, against those who seek to become new bourgeoisie, and furthermore, allowing us to achieve “socialist efficiency”.
If the opposition win the municipal elections on 8 December, it’s probable that they will call a recall referendum in 2015. What is your view of that scenario?
Nicolas Maduro: We are prepared for all scenarios. We are always going to tell the people the truth. If the opposition manages to get a large vote on 8 December, they are going to try and deepen destabilisation to dissolve our homeland, to finish off our independence and end the revolution of Comandante Chavez that recovered the concept of the Bolivarian Republic. Firstly they are going to try to implement violent destabilisation scenarios, and the United States will try to do away with the levels of independence and union that Latin America possesses today.
We have a great responsibility, because we are defending a project that can make another world possible in our region and can contribute to creating a multipolar world without the economic, military or political hegemony of United States imperialism. A good part of the birth of another world where the rights of the peoples of the south are respected – including the peoples of Europe, so that Europe shakes off neoliberalism – depends on that in Latin America the ideas of constituting a bloc of force and balance definitively triumph, to consolidate the idea that we are no longer any “backyard” of the United States. All of that depends, to a large extent, on what happens here.
How do you explain the opposition’s result last 14 April, and how do you plan to win next 8 December?
There is an electorate which has always voted for the opposition no matter what. But on 14 April a large part of those who didn’t vote for them did so because of discontent, things badly done, accumulated problems. However those voters have never accompanied the coup plotting and anti-Bolivarian adventures of the right-wing. To those Venezuelans, we permanently say that we are in the street working to improve things. They know that it hasn’t been easy, and that the greatest trial was to overcome the historic tragedy of the death of Comandante Hugo Chavez, to overcome the collective mourning. When a person enters into mourning they can fall into a state of hopelessness, and the experts in psychological warfare that harass our country took advantage of that moment and that fragility to attack hard…due to that our victory on 14 April was truly heroic.
What we are undertaking: the “street government”, the recovery of the economy, attention to urgent issues such as citizen insecurity and corruption…are going to give us the strength for a great victory on 8 December. This is going to be the guarantee that the path clears once again for the construction of socialism of the 21st century.
How far do you plan to go in your fight against corruption?
Nicolas Maduro: To whatever it takes, we’re going all the way. We’re confronting a very corrupt right-wing, inherited from the decomposed IV Republic and in a stage of decadence. However we are also confronting corruption nestled in the revolutionary camp, and the heart of the state. There won’t be a truce! I’ve formed a secret team of incorruptible investigators that have already uncovered various big cases. We’ve already arrested some people at the highest level and we’re going to continue attacking hard. They’ll be judged and will go where they have to go: to jail.
How do you view the economic situation? Various analysts warn about the high inflation rate.
Nicolas Maduro: The Venezuelan economy is in transition towards a new “21st century socialist” diversified and productive model, in the framework of the construction of a new economic bloc formed by South and Latin American integration. Don’t forget that we are now members of Mercosur [the Market of the South] – we currently exercise the pro-tempore presidency of Mercosur – furthermore we are members of ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America] and we lead Petrocaribe. All of this geographic / demographic / economic mass brings together 24 countries of the continent, which could represent – Mercosur + ALBA + Petrocaribe – almost the fourth economy in the world…We have to transform the Venezuelan economy and connect it with the development of this new economic framework and at the same time integrate ourselves, in a position of advantage, into the world economy. Not one of dependence. Because of that I say we are in transition.
About inflation I would say that we have suffered a very strong speculative attack against our currency, and we are overcoming it. There is also sabotage against the supply of various products. However we’ve begun to control and balance this and I’m sure we’re going to overcome this situation in what remains of the second quarter.
We’re going to stabilise our currency. We’ve already begun to stabilise product supply, but the fundamental key to leaving behind this rentier, dependent model is the diversification of our production. We are making great investments in key sectors of food production, the agricultural industry and heavy industry. We’re attracting international capital that brings foreign currency and technology. We recently undertook a tour through Europe and we’re very optimistic that capital will come from France, Italy and Portugal. We also want capital to come from Brazil, India and China, with their technology to develop and diversify intermediate industry in Venezuela. All of this so that Venezuela has its own varied economic motors and doesn’t just depend on oil that, in an case, constitutes a very powerful motor for the next 50, 80 years. Very powerful. Let’s not forget that Venezuela has the largest available oil reserves on the planet and possesses the fourth largest gas reserves. Venezuela is an economy with a lot of financial and economic power. What we’re going to see, above all from the year 2014, is a recovery in the level of forward thrust and growth in the Venezuelan economy.
How can the problems of [food and product] shortages be explained, that have been strongly criticised by the international media?
Nicolas Maduro: The shortages form part of a strategy of “silent warfare”, where political actors accompanied by national and international economic actors, seeing the grave state of Comandante Chavez between December last year and March of this year, began to attack key points in Venezuelan economic processes. They were also encouraged by some errors that were committed in the [government controlled] foreign exchange system in Venezuela, which we have now corrected. Little by little these anti-Bolivarian forces began to strike against the supply of products that we import. Further, to explain shortages in some products, you must take into account that Venezuelans’ acquisitive power hasn’t stopped increasing. We have 6% unemployment and the urban minimum wage here is the highest in Latin America. Another important point, recognised by the FAO [United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation], is that we are the country which has done most to combat hunger in the world. All this – it’s very important to take into account – has generated the population’s capacity to consume, which has grown by more than 10% each year. Consumption grows at a faster rate than the country’s production capacity and the capacity of the mechanisms that we have to supply it with imports.
The last time that I spoke personally with Comandante Chavez, last 22 February, when we evaluated the economic situation and discussed the shortages, he said to me: “An economic war has been unleashed to take advantage of my illness and the possibility that presidential elections are called. In that case, the bourgeoisie will try to create difficult economic circumstances in order to, with imperial support, give a final blow to the Bolivarian revolution”.
We are now emerging from those circumstances. The Venezuelan people have never wanted for food. Never. Go to any barrio popular [low income neighbourhood, usually of informal housing], of those that I knew in the 1980s, where the children were famished, where the people ate once a day, and sometimes dog food…The most humble barrio that you find in the country, wherever, go there, open the cupboard, and you will find beef, rice, cooking oil, milk…The people have their food guaranteed, and have done in the worst moments of the “economic war” that they’ve inflicted upon us. They’ve never lacked [food].
Due to that we have social and political stability. Now, this [economic] war is very different from the one eleven years go. Then, the leader of the bosses, Carmona Estanga, came out and called for a general strike. The boss of the old union bureaucracy, Carlos Ortega, came out and called for a strike. They showed their faces, assumed the sabotage of the economy and there were great shortages that almost caused a social explosion in 2002 – 2003. Not now. Now is the “silent war”, the “soft war”; “soft diplomacy” according to Washington’s language. In 2002 – 2003 Gorge W. Bush governed, who was brutal and said, “I’m going to invade!” and invaded, “Let’s overthrow such and such government”, and he overthrew it. Now it’s soft, hidden, and the fascist-esque right-wing appears smiling and saying “this government is incompetent because it can’t guarantee the supply of products”: when it’s them who’re behind a plan, with international agents in economic circles, to cause damage to the country. However we’re overcoming it and defending ourselves. In the future it will be impossible for them to attack us with the same mechanisms.
In the economy, what role do you see for the private sector?
Nicolas Maduro: Historically, the private sector in Venezuela has had little development. There was never a national bourgeoisie. Basically the private sector developed when oil emerged, or rather as a factor linked to the appropriation of income from oil sales. Almost all of the great riches of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie are linked to the manipulation of the dollar, whether to import products [the commercial bourgeoisie] or to appropriate oil income and place it in large foreign bank accounts. Thus, in one hundred years, we never had a productive bourgeoisie as did Brazil, for example, or Argentina. It is now that we are seeing private sectors emerge with projects linked to the true production of wealth in this country.
In the Venezuelan socialist model, the private sector has a role to play in the diversification of the economy. Comandante Chavez always favoured relations with the private sector, both in the small, medium and large company, favouring the development of mixed companies and the influx of international private capital. There is an economic theory that has developed in Venezuela which looks to select in what areas foreign investment is necessary: what capital can come and under which conditions. For example, although our oil is nationalised, there exist diverse conditions that permit investment in the Orinoco Belt; from all world capital, there are companies from all over the planet, in mixed companies (40% international capital, 60% Venezuelan). We charge them the due taxes: they used to be charged 1%, now they’re charged 33%. Venezuela offers all the constitutional guarantees to receive international capital.
Will controls on foreign currency exchange be maintained?
Nicolas Maduro: The control of foreign currency exchange is a successful system. Last February, to defend ourselves from a brutal attack against the economy and our currency, we had to adjust, let’s say, the bolivar. Venezuela can be managed with the type of foreign exchange that we have, [by] perfecting it. We must strengthen our currency, protecting it against speculative attacks and perfect the system of managing foreign exchange.
You spoke to me before about “efficiency”. What progress have you seen in matters of “efficiency”, in particular in the economy?
Nicolas Maduro: Firstly, a substantial improvement in the Cadivi system [Foreign Exchange Commission], the body which manages foreign currency exchange in Venezuela. It really has improved a lot in its prior and posterior controls, and the allocation of foreign currency necessary for economic actors. Another important factor has been the creation of Sicad [Complementary System of Foreign Exchange Administration], a mechanism of [foreign currency] auctions that is functioning perfectly, and to which, furthermore, the public in general have access. Anyone can go to the Sicad. Ordinary people can obtain foreign currency for their normal life, without passing through any obstacles. These are concrete advances.
But we’ve also formed the Greater State for the management of the economy, directed by Nelson Merentes, the vice president of finance. All the ministers of the economic sector are there. Each minister has to supervise, support and direct each product that is produced in Venezuela. We’ve selected 58 key products. We have permanent monitoring; it could even be daily, now it’s weekly, of how the production of each of these products is going, what investment is needed, what obstacles exist for its internal sale. That is to say, we are achieving a key mechanism for the governance of the economy. Just as a country is governed politically, the economy must also be governed, especially if we are proposing to construct socialism.
Capitalism is the kingdom of anarchy, and when there is anarchy in the economy, whatever has the most power governs: financial capital. Who really governs Europe today? Financial capital. In Europe, this financial capital is dismantling the welfare state that was constructed after the Second World War. Not so in Venezuela: we are constructing an economic government to erect socialism. For what purpose should the economy serve? To guarantee the citizen healthcare, food, dignified housing, free education. To whom do we owe these universal rights? The French revolution, and the illustration that arrived to our lands by the hand of Simon Rodriguez, translated to the Latin American cultural context, and defended by Bolivar. It is part of humanity’s greatest heritage, but financial capitalism denies all of that.
In these hundred days of government, our impression is that the main foreign policy crisis experienced by Venezuela was with Colombia [nb. when Colombian president Manuel Santos agreed to meet with opposition leader Henrique Capriles]. How are relations with Bogota currently?
Nicolas Maduro: In these hundred days we have managed to consolidate an entire hub of strategic relations, as part of the construction of a new regional geopolitics and a new system of forces to guarantee the continent’s new independence. The differences with Colombia have been treated, evidently, through dialogue. We’ve set out manners of conduct to overcome them. I trust in the word of President Juan Manuel Santos, and I hope that we achieve what we discussed. I trust that we’re going to have a relationship of positive and peaceful coexistence between two models: an egalitarian socialist model of a Christian revolution of the 21st century, of Venezuelan-style grassroots democracy, and another model that I’m not going to describe, but is different to ours. We are obligated to coexist like Siamese brothers. We have demonstrated that it’s possible to coexist, and hopefully the dominant political and economic sectors in Colombia and President Santos at the head of the government understand that coexistence and respect are basic for the development of our two countries.
How are relations with Washington going?
Nicolas Maduro: I would first like to say that Barack Obama is a circumstantial president. In the heart of the elite which governs the United States, why does Obama arrive to the presidency? Because it suited the interests of the industrial – military – financial – communicational complex that directs the United States with an imperial project. S/he who has a deep knowledge of the foundation of the United States and its expansionism will recognise that it is the most powerful empire that has ever existed, with a project of world domination. Its elites chose Obama in line with their interests, and they have in part accomplished the objective that they set out: achieve that an isolated country, discredited as was the United States in the age of George W. Bush, become, thanks to Obama, a power that has a new capacity of influence and domination. If that’s not so, just look at the case of Europe, submitted to the dictates of Washington like never before.
What happened with the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, when four European states denied him access to their air space [due to suspicions that ex-NSA intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board Evo Morales’ presidential plane], was a very grave demonstration of how the governments of Europe are directed from Washington. It’s honestly very disconcerting. I don’t know if the people of Europe know this, because sometimes, with the control over communication that exists, these news stories get trivialised and left to one side. But it’s very serious. Obama has achieved the growth of the empire’s political influence.
The United States is preparing itself for a new stage which is to grow in military and economic domination. Its project for Latin America is to reverse the progressive processes of change in order to turn us back into its backyard. Because of that it’s re-adopting, with another name, the FTAA [Free Trade Agreement of the Americas] project, to economically dominate us and re-employ the same methods of the past. Go figure, under Obama’s leadership: the state coup in Honduras [in 2009]. directed from the Pentagon, the attempted coup against Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa [in 2010], tele-guided by the CIA, the state coup in Paraguay [in 2012], operated by Washington to get rid of President Fernando Lugo…no one should be misled, if the United States saw that there were favourable conditions, it would come again to fill Latin America with darkness and death.
Due to this the Obama government’s relationship with us is schizophrenic. They think that they can mislead us with “soft diplomacy”, that we’re going to allow ourselves to give the “handshake of death”. We have made it very clear: you there with your imperialist project and us here with our project of liberation. The only way for there to be a stable and permanent relationship is for them to respect us. Because of that, I’ve said: “Zero tolerance for gringo disrespect and that of its elites. We’re not going to tolerate it any more”.
If they keep attacking us, we’ll respond to each aggression with greater strength. The time for zero tolerance has arrived.
In the recent ALBA Summit, you proposed cooperation of ALBA – Mercosur – Petrocaribe. Is this a response to the Pacific Alliance [nb. A commercial bloc formed by Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru]?
Nicolas Maduro: No. It’s a historic necessity. We have to consolidate the common spaces we have achieved. Mercosur has been experiencing a very positive transformation and now, with the incorporation of Venezuela, the coming incorporation of Bolivia and the possible incorporation of Ecuador, Mercosur is beginning to occupy a vital space in South America.
Petrocaribe is a marvellous reality that has allowed social, financial, economic and energy stability for 18 Caribbean countries. And the ALBA is a vanguard where there have been economic experiments such as the SUCRE currency [Single System of Regional Compensation], a unit of Latin American exchange; or the ALBA Bank and other experiments such as the “Gran-National companies” that have been acquiring experience and space.
The moment has arrived to bring together all the spaces already conquered in order to define a new economic model. The time has arrived to unite this immense Mercosur – ALBA – Petrocaribe space that would represent, I repeat, almost the fourth economy in the world, in a space that is ours, not of false free trade. Because free trade is false! Do you think the free circulation of the shark and the sardine in the sea is possible, without the shark eating the sardine? Impossible. Free trade is like exchanging nuggets of gold for mirrors, a system with which we were colonised five hundred years ago. We have to consolidate a complementary, diverse, and developed economic zone, with its financial and monetary mechanisms, and convert ourselves into a powerful economic bloc. And, from there, have relations with Russia, India, China, South Africa, and redefine our commercial and economic relations with Europe and the United States, where we’re not going to occupy the role of the colony.
What is your view of relations with the European Union?
Nicolas Maduro: The European Union has lost the opportunity to become a great balancing force in the world. The peoples of the planet hoped that the European Union would be the force of balance in the world. However it appears not. It appears that financial capital and the old colonial complex of the elites that ruled Europe for 300 years are going to impose themselves on the democratic and democratising conscience of the majority of the European peoples. What do we desire of the European Union? That it changes its politics, that it stops kneeling before Washington, that it opens itself up to the world and sees Latin America as a great opportunity to re-establish the welfare state and establish relations with us of equality, prosperity, and growth. In a natural way, we could develop a European Union – Latin American and Caribbean alliance for joint development. We’re prepared for that. We understand Western culture perfectly; we are part of it, although we have our cultural particularities. But the European elites don’t understand us. Hopefully this will be overcome.
President Chavez wanted to make Venezuela a “power” in a “multipolar world”. Is this foreign policy position continuing?
Nicolas Maduro: Of course. In his short life, Chavez didn’t only rescue Bolivar as an idea, inspiration, and symbol, but he also converted him into a strategy. He achieved that two models exist in the world: neoliberal capitalism, and the independent – Chavista – Bolivarian model, of justice and socialism. Throughout the planet today these two models are being debated, that of returning to the unipolar hegemony of United States imperialism, or the model of a multipolar and multcentric world.
Comandante Chavez designed a policy of developing axes of strength, nuclei of strength, rings of strength, to dismantle the world controlled by imperialism, and above all to construct a new system of international relations. Humanity won’t be able to exist if this international politics is not developed. The alternative is to cross your arms and wait for the empire to re-conquer the world: to dominate it again and enslave us sooner rather than later. We’re not going to let that happen.
Interview undertaken on 31 July 2013 by Ignacio Ramonet for Le Monde Diplomatique, Spanish edition. Translated by Ewan Robertson for Venezuelanalysis.com.