“The Opposition Doesn’t Keep Its Word”: Interview with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello

In this interview with private newspaper El Universal, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello discusses the state of chavismo, confesses that he doesn’t believe in political neutrality and assures that he’s never had rift with President Nicolas Maduro.

In this interview with private newspaper El Universal, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello discusses the state of chavismo, confesses that he doesn’t believe in political neutrality and assures that he’s never had rift with President Nicolas Maduro. Translated and abridged by Venezuelanalysis.com.

Diosdado Cabello shows himself confident about Chavismo’s strength facing the 2015 parliamentary elections, and satisfied with the performance of the National Assembly (AN) during his management. From the legislative presidency, an office he has directed since January 2012, the also vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) confesses that he doesn’t believe in political neutrality and assures that he’s never had rift with President Nicolas Maduro.

The person who accompanied the late Hugo Chavez since 1985 assures that he doesn’t have any political aspirations and affirms that he’ll submit himself to the destiny that the party assigns him.

EL: Do you feel satisfied with the work of the AN? What do you say to the criticism that you (pro-government parliamentarians) ceded space by giving the president the enabling law (limited law making powers)?

DC: Not even if it had been the first enabling law in history. There have been enabling laws in every government and they have fulfilled a role, and the AN has continued working. What we haven’t fallen for is the blackmail in which each person advances their agenda. The media agenda of the right-wing is: “We have submitted 200 laws for discussion”. However, when you see what they hand in, there isn’t anything that’s worth reviewing or discussing, because they are just for the media, for show. We feel very satisfied.

The opposition wants to impose a minority over a majority. In the congressional committees where the opposition has a majority they don’t give the revolutionary legislators any opportunity to participate, and then they come here to cry. We’ve acted as in any other parliament: there is a majority and the majority makes decisions. You can’t understand the opposition, they say that the Assembly doesn’t work, but they don’t turn up. The only days that they have come were when the postulation committees (to appoint new members of the Supreme Court and National Electoral Council) were going to be elected, then they did come. We finished electing the last committee and they ejected themselves, they left, and the same people as always remained.

There are those that accuse you of running the parliament like your personal property.

There are parliamentary rules, I don’t scold anyone. I have my way of being, they know me. But you can ask any parliamentary deputy: if s/he wants to speak with me, they come to me. What I’m not going to allow is for them [the opposition] to disrespect the Assembly. Listen to things like the threats that Carlos Berrizbeitia (Carabobo / Proyecto Venezuela) made to us, who is now bravely running away and saying that we are threatening him. If the whole country had seen when he said to us: “You’re time is up”. (Translator: Berrizbeitia made the declaration to pro-government parliamentarians in the AN one day before pro-government lawmaker Robert Serra was murdered. The opposition lawmaker was then threatened with a legal denouncement for his comments, after which Berrizbeitia announced that he himself felt unsafe and would momentarily cease to attend the parliament).

Didn’t Berrizbeitia refer to this in an electoral sense, was there a phrase beforehand?

No, no, no. He was telling his story and afterwards he said, “Listen to me well, you’re time is up”. If he wanted to say otherwise, why didn’t he say, “You only have a year left electorally, because the elections are next year”. They [the opposition] say that we took what Berrizbeitia out of context: no, he threatened us, he threatened all of the [pro-government] deputies, not electorally. I reproached him and when I said to him, “You are threatening us, that our time is up,” he said, “No, that wasn’t what I said,” trying to justify himself. Furthermore someone behind him was almost whispering to him, because he was quiet at first.

Do you aspire to continue your role in the AN?

No, in politics I’ve already been through what I had to go through, I don’t have any ambition. If the party tells me: you’re not going to aspire [to a position], I won’t aspire. Or if it tells me “you’re going to be the candidate to be a parliamentary deputy for Delta Amacuro”, then I’ll be a candidate for Delta Amacuro, or “you’re just going to remain in the party ranks,” then I’ll stay in the party ranks. I personally think that I’ve demonstrated this with actions. There are two things in politics that were lost and Chavez tried to recover. One is detachment. I’ve said that in the right wing all that breathes, aspires, there isn’t detachment from anything. One can see people that are humble, like the case of (Roberto) Enriquez, (president) of COPEI (Christian Democrats), and suddenly things to go his head and he can’t be near a microphone as he launches into talking about anything. And the second thing, trustworthiness. The Venezuelan opposition is untrustworthy, you can spend the day talking to the opposition and nobody stands by a commitment.

For example?

All of them. There are two people that hopefully they allow to do politics: Manuel Pizarro and Stalin Gonzalez. Of those that are [in the Assembly], those are who have coherent discourse, of the rest, no one. The old ones, even less. For example: those that walked away from the dialogue talks (translator: in reference to the government – opposition talks that occurred in April this year in the context of violent opposition unrest, which the opposition leadership later abandoned).We never committed ourselves to doing anything, and they committed themselves with the country to sit down to dialogue. Then one day they gave the order and walked away. What was the reason for this? That [the government] hadn’t released Ivan Simonovis (translator: the former head of the Caracas police convicted for his role in civilian killings during the April 2002 coup attempt). We never committed to that and it didn’t depend on the executive…[in the opposition] there isn’t detachment, they don’t keep their word and if this is absent then what is one doing sitting there [in dialogue], wasting time?

Do you rule out dialogue?

If you sit down to speak with someone who is capable of keeping their word then you sit down with enthusiasm. I receive them all in the Assembly…of the old politicians Edgar Zambrano is the exception, because if he doesn’t agree with something then he says so, the same as those young ones (Pizarro and Gonzalez). Not the others, they conduct politics with hypocrisy. President Maduro won the 14 April [2013 presidential] election and the next day he called for dialogue, despite the violence that took 11 people’s lives. When we won the municipal elections [in December 2013], the president invited [the opposition] to the presidential palace, accepting their request to have cameras present. Show-offs! If you want to work for the country you don’t need a camera.

I insist, is dialogue ruled out for you?

It’s not that I rule it out; it’s that the opposition don’t keep their word and we can’t take them seriously. They don’t even take themselves seriously.

The opposition complains that the congressional committees aren’t formed according to parliamentary rules. What is your response?

Yes they are, what’s happening is that they want the presidency and vice presidency [of the Assembly]…parliamentary rules give authority to the president and say that the parties with the most votes choose. Well, the PSUV has the most votes and chooses the presidency and vice presidency. However I invite anyone to come by the committees and see if these people work. Are you going to give the presidency of a committee to someone just so they can show off? No, we need someone who works. Also, you don’t need to be president of a parliamentary committee to work.

If for the selection of National Electoral Council (CNE) rectors and the Supreme Court (TSJ) you don’t have enough votes, will the scenario of 2003 be repeated, of legislative deadlock?

The procedure is clear. Why has the postulation committee for the CNE not been chosen? Because ten members of civil society are chosen (to sit on the postulation committee), and they [the opposition] waited, their aspiration was that we’d cede five. But the composition of the AN is not like that, we have a majority. Article 336 of the constitution sets out that the Supreme Court intervenes if there is a legislative deadlock.

If there aren’t enough parliamentary votes does chavismo believe that a legislative deadlock will occur?

Of course, I’m almost sure. If they don’t understand that there’s a composition in the Assembly, if they don’t stop fighting: because this fight is among themselves, it doesn’t have anything to do with chavismo. We’re not going to cede anything just so that the opposition is happy within itself. We’re not going to do the job for them. If they don’t contribute and understand what happens in the AN, let the constitution be imposed.

Is it enough to renounce party loyalties to be a Supreme Court judge or an Electoral Council rector?

No one is neutral here. Look at the declarations of the retired judge Blanca Marmol de Leon, and of she who was president of the Supreme Court, Cecilia Sosa Gomez. Since when is she only pro-opposition just after she handed over the Supreme Court? Hypocrite! There was a brave speech here by the judge Deyanira Nieves at the beginning of the judicial year. If a judge is truly impartial, from the point of view of the law, their political affiliation doesn’t matter. In the United States, members of the Supreme Court are proposed by the president. This thing about neutrality, about political virginity is hypocrisy. They want someone called Jesus Maria Casal to be a Supreme Court judge. Is this citizen politically neutral? He’s squalid (a derogatory term for opposition supporter) to the core! Don’t come with this story about neutrality, because it doesn’t exist, no one is politically neutral.

Does chavismo have candidates for the CNE?

I don’t have any candidates. I don’t know anyone on the postulation committees. I met them when we swore them in. It is them (the opposition) that act like this, because they charge tolls [for political support] afterwards.

How do you see chavismo in terms of the parliamentary elections (in 2015)?

We’re very well, very optimistic. We’ve just finished a party conference in which everyone (critical of the PSUV) expected the party was going to implode. Now on 23 November we’re going to choose the heads of the patrols and circles of popular struggle (local party campaigning groups). We’re going to have a vanguard of over a million people…truthfully, we’re very optimistic. They (the opposition) know this, because they are going to have to reach internal agreements. What happens is that the newspapers, including El Universal, try to throw fuel on the fire around differences that there may be within the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP, pro-government coalition of parties), but on the right-wing, where they are killing each other, they don’t write anything. They are literally killing each other, Popular Will and Justice First can’t see each other, but no one writes anything. Who do they damage? The government? No, we’re very calm, soon you will see the fight that they will have over parliamentary candidates.

Do you think that you’ll have a majority in the parliament?

Yes, including even more than now. We came from a very close election on 14 April 2013, when the Comandante had died just one month before…and despite all that we won. Then we picked ourselves up and overwhelmingly won the municipal elections. If you place those results over the parliamentary constituency map…we’d arrive at 126 deputies (of 166).

Maduro promised to give the names of the supposed opposition figures involved in a plot to kill (jailed opposition leader) Leopoldo Lopez. Why hasn’t he done so?

That is the responsibility of the president, but many things are done for peace. Many people have asked me what they were going to do to me (translator: in reference to the reported assassination attempt against Cabello on 4 October 2014), and I asked the president that he didn’t say anything, as serious as it was. We were emerging from the death of [pro-government lawmaker] Robert Serra, and announcing that they tried to do the same to Diosdado could have had consequences for the country.

What was this attempt against you like?

We’re not going to say anything.

How did you feel that Chavez chose Maduro over you?

That didn’t even matter to me. I wanted Chavez to get cured and we never talked about this issue. When the Comandante told us (that Maduro would replace him if he didn’t survive cancer treatment) I felt that he was relieved to leave the situation clear.

Did you know this before 8 December (when Chavez announced his decision to the nation)?

Yes, we had spoken about it.

That same day?

No, beforehand. One day history will tell of the sacrifice that Chavez made for this country.

Do you (Maduro and Cabello) both govern?

No. A high command of the revolution governs here, a collective leadership, with a president who we respect and makes the decisions.

There are those who speak of a governability pact between the two of you.

These are the same idiots that said we were going to fight each other. That is absurd. There has never been a split between Nicolas and I.