President Chavez’s Speech to Venezuelan and U.S. Business Representatives

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's speech to representatives of Venezuelan and U.S. businesses, during which he recalled his visits to the U.S., the early history of U.S.-Venezuela relations, and human rights in both countries.

Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, July 1, 2005

See also:

Thank you.  Believe me, that for some moments I was worried that I would not be able to accompany you, which would have left emptiness in my soul, because we have been working at this business roundtable for a long time. 

Why the worry?  Well, first of all because of the summit – very successful, since you mentioned it, although it was not really a “summit” but a working meeting of state and government leaders of Caribbean countries, from which Petrocaribe came into being yesterday.  First of all because of the commitments of that meeting, the commitments not only of the meeting and the outcome and documents and intense work that these meetings always require, but because a group of heads of state and governments who requested bilateral meetings. I had to stay to attend to different requests, proposals for integration.  A key word for the future – integration, key to changing the face of the world. And later I was overtaken by a sore throat yesterday in the afternoon and was under medical observation in the morning.  After a little rest for a few hours, some pills, a vaporizer, and here I am.  Thanks to God I was able to come.

O.k. I would like to greet everyone, especially Rubén Bonilla. We met there in Corpus Christi.  And Edmée Betancourt, Minister of Basic Industries and Commerce (MILCO).   I want to salute her for this successful gathering.

And all of Milco’s team, they must be here.  There I see a group of young staffers – they are very young, and they sometimes don’t even sleep, right?  Preparing these meetings, these business round tables, the details so that all will come out well.   I congratulate them, because the meeting has been successful as have all the business round tables that we have held with different countries on the continent.

Jorge Giordani had a birthday yesterday. He no longer says how many years – I think it must be 51!  Happy birthday to Minister Giordani. They cut a big cake for him with his wife, his children and grandchildren.

Gustavo Márquez, our State Minister for Integration, has a lot of work. Gustavo, State Minister for Integration, is one of those who have the most work in the cabinet. We all have lots of work.

The Foreign Minister could not be here with you, with us, because he is in Bogotá. We are creating a very active diplomacy, necessary, essential.  Our Energy Minister is on his way here, because he was in a national and international press conference and was at the summit of OPEC a few days ago as well.  Our Ambassador in Washington is here also; we greet Bernardo Álvarez, and Mari Pili, Vice Minister to North America.  Congratulations, you are making great strides at improvement, which is an aspiration of ours.  It is part of the objectives of this government and the Venezuelan State, a goal of ours; you will see how we do it.  I told Mari Pili, see how Hernández Borgo does it, our consul in Miami, and Bernardo as well, there in the United States. They are doing many things to improve relations with the government of the United States.   But you, Rubén and all of the business people who have come, much more important than the sum of dollars, what is important and is a central objective in these business gatherings, is to increase business.

Your presence here, and that of all the United States’ businessmen and businesswomen, motivates us to continue doing all we can in order to bring our positions closer, to deepen relations with the society of the United States, business leaders, workers, universities, intellectuals, writers, politicians, local governments and also the national government of course.  That is a responsibility that we have which is not easy, especially in the last instances I mentioned.  However, as you say, it is possible, it is possible.

Alberto Cudemus, thank you for your words, president of the Venezuelan National Federation of Porcicultura, there is a group of Ministers, the Solicitor General of the Republic, Leonor Osorio, Consul general of Venezuela in New York, is also with us, and Antonio Hernández Borgo, Consul in Miami, famous pitcher. Do you pitch there in Miami?

With what team? They have called you from the Marlins, right?  You hit me with a ball in the mouth once, I still have the scar here, and it wasn’t with a bad intention, right? No, it wasn’t on purpose.

Edgar Hernández Behrens, president of the Bank of Economic and Social Development, and other presidents of State institutes.

And a special greeting, I repeat, to our business friends who are visiting us. 

A greeting to all of the members of the VenAmCham Chamber.  You are   no longer in this Chamber?  Yes, but not as president.   Oh? You are president for life? Antonio Herrera Vaillant, and the VenAmCham Chamber, my greetings, my affection and respect.

But I read somewhere some declarations of…. what is the name of the woman? Imelda Cisneros, she is the current president, and you the lifetime one, is that correct?  Imelda didn’t come.  Give her my greetings please, from here I send her greetings.  I was reading closely her declarations a few days ago in a national newspaper. Well, greetings to all of you.  We already heard the words of those who spoke prior to me, full of commitment, of resolution, of optimism such as the words of Rubén Bonilla, from Corpus Christi.

I will never forget my visit to Corpus Christi, clearly, they were other times, and I would like to return, I swear by my mother that I would like to return.

I have played softball in Washington with military personnel of the United States.  I remember that my friend, a good friend, gave me a book of poetry by Walt Witman. He was a general, I don’t know if he is now retired, at that time he was the director of the School of the Americas. He invited me to give a talk and later I stayed with them, my family was with me, at that time I was married. His wife invited me to their house, to a meal, to a game of softball.  You have to pitch the ball very high, almost as high as the roof in order to get a strike.  But in the end we had a wonderful game of softball with soldiers and officers from the United States.

I visited the refineries in Corpus Christi, and I conversed for some two hours with workers, all of them North American, from that refinery, or a representation of them.  It was a meeting filled with warmth, affection, hugs, photography, we made plans that never were carried out because afterwards things were altered, lamentably.  We wanted to have a sports exchange between Citgo refinery workers PDVSA workers.  Some games,  not just baseball, volleyball, basketball, track and field, but also a vacation program that our government wanted to and still wants to offer these workers of our company Citgo, so that they could Canaima, Margarita, Caracas, to visit Venezuela, that is.  I remember those trips.

I remember my visit to Atlanta, to the Carter Centre, to give a conference, to share with ex-president Carter, and other leaders. I remember my visit to Hickory, North Carolina, to the house of a good friend, a Republican congressman from that state, Cass Ballinger and his wife, a wonderful woman.  Wonderful friends and a guitar and a Mexican singing rancheras in the yard in Hickory, with a full moon. Very beautiful, an occasion of friends.  All of this I remember with great affection, and I would like to return.  There will be better times, I am sure of that, there will be better times and we are going to work so that these better times will come.

Clearly, I remember during the tragedy of Vargas, that horrible drama that we lived.  The President at the time, Bill Clinton, called us by phone, and I attended the call with much affection. They sent Black Hawk helicopters, doctors, medicine, and spent several months alongside the Cubans, the Brazilians, alongside Central Americans, alongside the French.  As I went to live there, I lived with them; I lived with the International Red Cross.   It was all very beautiful; we had a ceremony to honour the United States flag the day that the soldiers and officers left.  We honoured some of them, as we did likewise with the flag of Brazil, Cuba, Spain, France and all of the countries that came to lend us their soul, their hand in that tragic hour of our nation. And Clinton called asking in what other ways they could help.

Later, we talked on three occasions, I will never forget.  I saw with these eyes the moment that Bill Clinton gave his hand to Fidel at the Millennium Summit.  I remember that Fidel said: “I hope that this hand does not cause you damage”.

Clinton said something I didn’t understand, because I don’t understand English well, and he responded in English, but they spoke for some 30 seconds. I went with Fidel and Clinton, as a good host, I was greeting all.  Well, courtesy doesn’t deny valour, a good hand.  I remember Clinton, also, after the group photo in a hall like this.  We were coming down the steps from that photo; I was conversing with some companions and colleagues from the Caribbean, and some Africans.  We were four or five, leaving the hall to return to discussions in the plenary session. And I remember that Clinton had called me, and put me in a bind because with English I understand and speak little.  But I did learn something of English in Sabaneta, and Clinton and Jean Bertrand were with me and he said:

“Chávez, we need to help Haiti”, and I said: “Yes”.

“I want”.   Well, there were no translators there, they only let presidents into the photo hall, and we left walking together the three of us, we took some steps and talked, and I remember that we said that we could send several tons of diesel, donate it to the brotherly nation of Haiti.

I remember that our discussions were always of high quality, always respectful with Clinton and his team, with Madeleine Albright, John Maisto, always high quality.  After Maisto left, he went on to an important position and we continued to talk by phone even in the face of difficulty.  It is the responsibility of governments to dialogue, not to approach the other with stones, with pure stones.  I remember.

You all remember in that opportunity, a tour that we made through the OPEC countries, we organized a summit here.  In spite of difficulties, it took place.  Only Saddam Hussein and Mohammad Khaddafi were missing, they were invited along with all leaders from OPEC. However, they sent their vice presidents with full powers, which I requested both in Baghdad and in Tripoli.  And the others all came. There the OPEC was reborn, because OPEC was practically disintegrating.  However, we had anticipated this, our experts, our technicians.  I remember Alí Rodríguez, who was our first Minister of Energy and Mines and a report that they gave me at the palace, those first weeks, or even before, in La Viñeta.  Before my inauguration we held a meeting about oil and they already anticipated the future crisis of oil that oil was going to run out some day, that this must be understood.  Oil is not a renewable resource.  Planet earth, nature, took billions of years to form these reserves of oil which humanity has spent in one century.  In one hundred years the planet’s reserves of oil have been spent, which the planet took billions of years to form.  You all understand well, that oil is organic matter that has accumulated from the Pleistocene, Miocene Ages, and what is the other Age? Adina, you who know so much about this, Pleistocene, I don’t know.

Well.  We were critical from long ago of the oil policies of previous Venezuelan governments, and we arrived with the determination to change.  As in the political, social, and economic spheres, also in the energy sphere, and we began to approach others, and this worried Clinton’s government. It worried them, and they made this known, but always by way of diplomatic channels.  Mrs. Albright never came forward to say something against the Venezuelan government.  John Maisto never came forward to declare one thing or another.  No, no it was always dialogue, I remember; dialogue, I remember, visits.  Look, the few times when this has occurred it is because it has been impossible for me, practically impossible.

But each time that delegations from the government of the United States come here, or from the Congress of the United States, I always make some time to converse, because I am conscious, well, of the mutual difficulties to understand one another, and only by conversing can we understand one another, or achieve an adequate level of understanding.  Only conversing, not throwing stones, but this is what we have come to, now, not of our own will.  

I remember that this worried the administration of Clinton; the Energy Minister was someone who Alí knows, Bill Richardson. He came here, Bill Richardson, I met him, and he came to represent the president at my inauguration and stayed several days.  And we talked a lot, for many many hours, about oil, about energy, about politics.  I believe that he is governor Bill now, of New Mexico, right? It’s not that I am a democrat, no. I am just making a reference, I don’t have a preference for political parties in the United States, and I have friends in both parties and beyond that. I want to be a friend, a true friend of the people of the United States, of the men, of the women, of the children, of this great society of North America.

So I remember that after an explanation and a kind of debate with Clinton, I explained to President Clinton with a drawing – I like to scrawl on papers – what was our proposal for price bands. As a minimum, 22.   That did not please him, but I told him that on the other hand, the maximum was 28, in order to stabilize the market, to diminish the volatileness in prices, which generates much uncertainty among producers and consumers, especially in large producers and large consumers at the moment of determining budgets.   I remember that Clinton said during a meeting, finally after explanations and debate. “I like bands”. He understood that it was a rational proposal and after that proposal was agreed upon by OPEC, it was a bit difficult for us, but finally it was approved at OPEC and was functioning like Rafael, when, after about three years, until the invasion of Iraq, it shot up, the band disappeared, the band of oil prices of between 22 and 28.

For us, our budget of this year was made using a baseline of 23 dollars per barrel of petroleum.  We are not counting on a price of 50 to 80 a barrel.  It is just that we have entered into a crisis, which hopefully is situational; however it has structural elements as we explained yesterday in the Petrocaribe Summit…

Well, I have shared these reflections remembering those dialogues, those contacts, and those meetings, that analysis. I remember speaking in New York before 400, 500 business people, I remember talking and responding to all sorts of questions in the International Dowlok (I don’t know how I pronounced it).  I remember visiting the newsrooms of newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. I don’t know how many others, speaking and responding to all sorts of questions.  Later, things became a bit more difficult.  With the current government this has not been possible, not even the smallest efforts of dialogue.  From time to time there has been some meeting, some contact, but at the highest level of foreign ministers, for example, to discuss political issues, or among ministers of economy or planning, there has been nothing.

We hope to re-establish this and this is why I said or wanted or want, to emphasize the importance of this meeting. Much beyond the extraordinary economic business achievements they showed me this morning (which left my mouth open in surprise). When they said that they had negotiated everything yesterday, and yesterday afternoon I was still arriving from Puerto de la Cruz, and Edmée told me that she was worried because it was so dynamic, the round table was moving very quickly.   And I told her “Slow down a little”.  She said “Good, come for the closing” because I had asked that they allow me to come today to share some words, because yesterday was impossible, I didn’t have the time. 

Well, they told me that 511.5 million dollars have been negotiated in only 24 hours, and more perspectives remain, as well as contacts for thousands and thousands of business deals which open up a much greater perspective for commercial exchange and for economic cooperation. 

And this should be an example that the business world is giving to politicians; it is giving us a good signal.   As in the case of Colombia, the case of Colombia, those hard and difficult days of some months ago.  There, the people gave us a very strong signal, business people, indigenous. “You must find an agreement” they said.  So, we met,  President Uribe and I and we clarified the matter and here we are.   And the exchange with Colombia this year has increased and the perspective is that…. last year, excuse me…more than 3 billion dollars.  It had fallen a lot as a consequence of the situations that we have been living through there and here. 

But likewise with the United States, please know my dear North American business friends, and I tell you this with total frankness that comes from my soul, we want to do everything  possible to better things, to promote better commercial, economic and political relations that are higher, transparent, dynamic, constructive between the two countries. I plead for peace, for understanding, I plead for transparency, I plead for true integration.

Simón Bolívar, leader and guide of our revolution, in spite of also having had problems with some, in some occasions, in some events with the government of the United States.  However, he was careful at the time to try to create a positive ground for relations. General Lafayette took the gesture of sending a gift to Bolivar on one occasion. We know that Lafayette was one of the liberators and creators of the nation of the United States, and was a good friend of Miranda.  Lafayette also wrote to Bolivar.  Bolivar answered him, Lafayette sent him a gift.  What was the gift?  A portrait of George Washington and some belongings, which he had of Washington’s. And Lafayette thought that Bolivar was the best keeper of these relics. 

Bolivar responded to him with a letter on March 20, 1826, to the hero of the North American independence, to thank him for this gift.  And Bolivar said the following to Lafayette:

“The image of Washington, some of his relics, some of his monuments of glory are being offered to me by His Excellency in the name of that great citizen and first born of the new world.  That which my heart values, such a glorious encounter between things and beings, cannot be explained by any _expression…”

Bolivar had great respect for Washington, for those men who gave their life to that great Nation of the North.  Miranda, of course, unsheaved his sword and fought in Florida, in Pensacola, in several battles after the takeover of the Bahamas that allowed Washington to liberate that part of the territory. 

Miranda was a fighter for the independence of the United States and he always said with pride that he was a friend of almost all of them, Lafayette, Madison. 

And Miranda and Bolivar I am sure were inspired by the way in which the North American union was born, in their suggestions of a South American union. Because Miranda deserted the Spanish army in Cuba and he went to battle in the United States and spent much time there, many months.  He travelled that nation which was being born, he saw what was happening there, and he imagined something similar in the South.

And this is how this idea came to the mind of that luminary Miranda, the idea of Colombia.  Colombia was South America, the Grand Colombia.  And afterwards Bolivar took that project that he unfortunately wasn’t able to gel.  It was to build a pole of strength in South America to balance the continent, a clear geopolitical vision of those men.

Well, when looking for ideas to comment upon in this meeting which is so positive, so optimistic – not only because of what has taken place here, I repeat – but because of what this projects into the future, so that one is filled with more commitment more optimism, I brought some words of Walt Whitman, the great North American poet, of Song of Myself:

“I speak (I brought this especially to share with you, North American friends, businessmen and Venezuelan compatriots) the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy, By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms. I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.”

Equality, the equal treatment both within our States, our nations as well as between nations, is a universal principle, a principle of universal acclaim, respect for the equality of nations.  Look, there are countries in the Caribbean whose heads of government visited us in recent days. There is a country in the Caribbean, which has eighty thousand inhabitants.  Venezuela has, we know, we are going on thirty million, we are growing a lot, the young people are willing for us to get to thirty million.  It’s true, I know have two grandchildren, we are galloping, we will arrive at thirty million in a few years.

But, because of this, are we going to consider that other country a little country?  Or are we going to imagine that because these islands of the eastern Caribbean hardy have even a tiny deposit to store gasoline or diesel for a room of this size, that we think we should convert them into our colonies in order for them to do just what we want them to do?  No, they are free, they are sovereign, they are great countries and their inhabitants are great citizens and should be as free as ours.  Only in this way can we live in peace in the world. 

John Fitzgerald Kennedy died at a time of difficulties. Who killed Kennedy?   It was never determined exactly who it was.  Who killed Martin Luther King?  It was never known exactly how that happened.  But I will never forget the day that they killed Kennedy. 

My fourth grade teacher arrived very worried and said: “Children, children, there is going to be a war….” We, in that little town of three streets that was Sabaneta de Barinas, asked her “Teacher, why a war?” “They killed the president of the United States”.   That caused commotion even in Sabaneta de Barinas. There was no television, only radio, big radios with tubes, and I arrived home very scared: there is going to be a war, they killed a man over there.  It was Kennedy that was 1963, I was nine years old, and I was in fourth, no in third grade.

Now, John Kennedy designed a strategy of cooperation with Latin America. It was called Alliance for Progress.  This does not say that I share in it, or its spirit and its form.  But above all it is important to have a reference of how some governments of the United States offered ideas and actions.  A man once told me here in Carabobo, no in Aragua, south of Maracay, he told me that he remembered when Kennedy came there with Rómulo Betancourt, to give out some land titles.  It was the agrarian reform, because Kennedy proposed things such as this.  Take note, here are the phrases of Kennedy: “The great battlefield (said Kennedy) for the defence and expansion of liberty is today the southern half of the globe: Asia, Iberoamérica, Africa and the Middle East, the lands of the people who are awakening. Their revolution is the largest in human history. They are seeking to put (this is John Kennedy, not Fidel Castro) an end to injustice, to tyranny, to exploitation, we should say that more than an end, and they are looking for a beginning.

Could it be that because of this they killed him?  Probably, hypotheses will continue as simple speculation for such a grave act.  Kennedy recognized, without a doubt, from my point of view a truth, that there is a revolution in the South. He said that the cause is not communism.  He said, it is hunger, it is misery, and it is injustice. 

And he proposed at Punta de Este, at a summit, it was August 17, 1961 in Punta del Este, at a conference where by the way, Che Guevara was also attending.  It was one of the last meetings of the continent where Cuba attended and soon afterwards Cuba was excluded from the OAS and from all continental assemblies.  But, it is memorable; I was remembering the speech of Che Guevara at Punta del Este.  Well, Kennedy’s proposal arrived there, it was a different vision, it came from a respectful principle.  And that government proposed to the governments of Latin America, almost all at that time in the hands of iron hard oligarchies, that there was a way of alleviating poverty and misery.  That agrarian reform was necessary, for example.  That was a request that came from Washington.  That it was necessary to make changes here to reduce the levels of injustice that were causing the suffering of half of the world. 

Now, 40 years have passed, the causes which Kennedy saw have incremented. Because today, 40 years later, misery, inequality, exclusion, exploitation, what they have done, is to increase.    This is why we are proposing in the Millennium Summit, proposing something which, well, almost no one responds to at those levels where it is possible to make big decisions.

We have proposed for the last five or six years, to the world, in these meetings, the necessity of declaring a social emergency on this continent and in the world, and to create a type of International Humanitarian Fund, by reducing military expenses, working against corruption, the large capital of narco-trafficking.  A tax called the Tobin Tax by some Europeans, a tax on the large transactions in the world, donations.  Create a fund that would allow governments and society to forge an historic alliance for the survival of the human species, to recover the minimum levels necessary for peace.

This is what we have been doing here in Venezuela, dear friends and visitors; this is what we are doing here. Venezuela, and I said this before becoming president of Venezuela, is a kind of – we would say in ’95, ’97,  – Venezuela is a kind of a bomb (tick tock! tick tock!). We are going to begin to deactivate the mechanism of that bomb.  And today, it’s not that it is totally deactivated, but I am sure that it is much less likely that this bomb explode today than it was in the face of what we had since 1985, 88, 89 –then it already exploded.  The 90’s until ’98, poverty, inequality. 

A truly democratic system is what we here are promoting, based on an unquestionably legitimate constitution made by the country in total and open discussion, a country that enjoys complete freedom.  In Venezuela no one is persecuted by anyone.  Here there is total freedom of opinion, of _expression.

I was watching some news yesterday or the day before, which caught my attention.  Two U.S. journalists were found guilty and the Supreme Court ratified this decision. Why?  Because they would not reveal their source.  And they criticize us, just look for yourself. 

Now, should we criticize this?  No, it is a matter for U.S. citizens; it is a matter of the U.S. system.  We must respect the sovereignty of states, of nations, internal laws.  The people of the United States and their institutions will decide how to solve their own problems. It is not we who are going to propose how, but the United States, from their perspective.

Imagine that here something like that occurred, imagine that here some journalists were detained and went to prison for not revealing their sources.  Well, they would say that we are a tyranny, that we are dictators, that I am the biggest dictator of history.    Are we going to say the same thing there? No, there you have freedom of debate, of social and political action to determine your own path. And that is the fundamental base: respect, as I said, between nations.  

Today, when we are at the middle, today is the first of July, the first semester of 2005 ended, we begin a new semester.  The Venezuelan situation continues, this is not to declare victory, but to recognize objectively, well, how our situation moves forward, as a product of work and collective efforts, a product of policies applied by this government, a product of reforms which we have been applying in economic, social and political situations.   The country has taken on again a rhythm of growth, of development, at all levels, as it should be.

Because you know that we do not believe in the thesis that the free market is going to resolve everything and that what matters is only growth of the economy without taking into account the social situation. 

Venezuela is growing socially, morally, and also spiritually. Venezuela is progressively eliminating the ominous inheritance of past models.  In the area of health we have created a health system with a capacity to serve all of the Venezuelan people, almost at the very door of their house. 

In education, from initial education at infancy to adulthood of men and women of 90 years who are studying right now, finishing their high school degree, learning to read and write, technological education, technical education. 

We continue to reduce employment.  We are near twelve percent  (12%), but that is still too high, we have to continue giving and giving.   Inflation for the month of June ended in 0.6, a significant reduction, and that is another phenomenon, since we had reduced it until 2001 when that craziness was unleashed and it sprung up again and caused chaos for macroeconomic and macro social variables.  But our country has shown strength to resist and an ability to find its path once again. Ability to think and put us above and beyond circumstances and difficulties, because of these positive numbers, so positive of the Venezuelan economy.  

I don’t come to say here or anywhere that this is due only to the government. No, it is you, the business people of Venezuela, as Cudemus says, the true business people, who have businesses, who have invested, who have workers, who are responsible to your country, who are the majority of the Venezuelan business community.

The international reserves in the country are, well, at 28,747 million dollars, the stock market has recovered, the active interest rates are at 15.15 on average, the passive interest rates at 11.7, the agricultural interest rates coming down to 12.8, treasury notes 10.7, prices of oil are at an average of 40.5, the average for the year and we have also completely recovered the production and intentions of sabotage.  We are at 3 million 300 thousand barrels a day, we cannot produce a barrel more, and this is one of the grave problems in the world.  Almost all of the countries are producing at full steam, and the world keeps asking for more oil and more oil, but the capacity of production has reached its ceiling, a ceiling, lack of investment for a long time.  The capacity for refinement is, well, like the flap of a butterflies wings in the theory of chaos that generates a hurricane. Whatever little thing happens can jettison the price of oil.

I was commenting issues like this with Fidel Castro yesterday, and he showed me a piece of international news that says something interesting, that they are going to make a sun, the developed countries have plans to make a sun.  Can they do it?  Sure, they can do it, if they have gone to the moon, and they already have cars there on Mars, looking for proof that there was life there.  Or perhaps there was life there if there was water vapour there could have been life on Mars, but perhaps it was destroyed, perhaps the planet was destroyed.  

At the rhythm we are going this planet could be destroyed, that is not an exaggeration, there are people who believe this.  This planet could be finished at the rhythm at which we are contaminating it.  It is necessary that we become aware of this, it is necessary that the people pressure our governments to open their eyes, peal their eyes, to take measures, which must be taken.  But it is truly worrisome, for example that the melting of the polar ice caps continues. This implies an increase in the levels of the oceans.  If this phenomenon is not detained, there could be a universal disaster.  The warming of the planet, which produces melting. And these phenomena, the invernal effect, and the ozone layer that protects us from the sun. There is a hole up there in the ozone layer; I think that it’s the size of Canada.  Well, this is to think about these things and take steps on time, we have time still, we have time.

However, we must become aware of these problems, aware in order to promote actions and to guarantee life in this beautiful planet, per secula seculorum.

The price of crude oil, the risk levels for Venezuela at 453.8, inflation, as we said, at 0.6 in June.  And finally, the growth of the GNP, the growth of the GNP in 2004 set historic records and the growth of the first trimesters or in the two trimesters of 2005, likewise is showing perspectives of strong growth, not only of the oil economy, but the non-oil economy, especially the private sector much more than the public sector.  So, I congratulate you for this.

We are willing to do everything we can to facilitate this commercial exchange, that yesterday and today you have shown the potential for creating, that already exists.  It is part of the commercial policies of our government. We have already done this with six business round tables.  We have  held business round tables with Chile, another one with  Argentina, with Colombia, with Cuba and now the United States. And certainly, we will continue to promote this. 

We want to continue to support, and support every day with more efficiency and precision, the Venezuelan exporters, so that we can export our good to the world.  Not only oil is produced in Venezuela and you here are demonstrating that. 

It catches my attention that the majority of Venezuelan business people who have come to this meeting are exporters, more than importers that are very important. Venezuela produces many quality goods, there are important technical advances here, scientific and productive, of great quality for consumption and for the benefit of our brother and sister nations on the continent, We want to continue to increase this quality, increase this production.  We have Bancoex (Bank of Foreign Commerce) ready to continue to help; we have Bandes (National Bank of Economic and Social Development) to continue promoting this, the Ministry of Science and Technology.

We have our vision of the world, we are critical of the neoliberal model, we propose alternative models, and we propose debate. Now Venezuela has a way in which to go forward.   While we are contributing to the debate, as we give our critiques so too we offer our contributions.  Venezuela has an ability to go to the markets of this continent.  In many different areas of production. 

On another hand, United States’ business friends, Venezuela has recovered in an important way, as you know.  Its importing capacity, and the security to sustain, the economic financial security and international reserves, in order to sustain that importation. 

We want to reduce importation in certain areas, and we have activated some plans which are now having the first results.  However, the country needs many imported goods and services to achieve development.  Now, I ask that you take notice that the National Assembly is about to approve a reform to the Law for Central Banking in Venezuela.   Yesterday you were working, Jorge, on the commission, with the commission of the Assembly, exchanging opinions, listening to criticisms, different areas of focus, but I am certain that soon this law will be approved. 

And that is going to be very important because from there we will be able to access the excess of the international reserves.  Because I insist on this concept. Venezuela with 20 billion dollars of reserves would have more than enough to guarantee its external commitments, its importations, and the payment of its debt. We have never been late by a day with our payment of the debt, even at difficult moments, especially after the coup, the oil sabotage.  In this regard we have always been firm and we have said this from the beginning and we have fulfilled this.  With 20 billion dollars we have more than enough.

And so we are going to be having access this year, next year, to several billion dollars, which will not come into the monetary flow or national monetary circulation in bolivares. No, we should protect ourselves from the inflation and disequilibrium of the macroeconomic variables.  In all of this we are responsibly taking care.

What are we going to do with this 5, 6, 7 billion dollars?  Acquire foreign goods and services to advance projects of national development.  For example, one of the goals we have this year and next year is that of “Into the Barrio III” which is to equip and modernize all of the large hospitals of Venezuela, all of the hospitals of Venezuela.

For many years there was no investment in health, and therefore we have great weaknesses.  We have begun at the first level, you know, “Into the Barrio I”, and now the second level of “ Barrio Adentro II” and now we are going for the hospitals.  There we are going to need, in this moment I don’t know how much, but it will be a significant sum for medical equipment and advanced technology to equip our hospitals. And, unfortunately, we still do not produce this here.  But some day we will produce some of these things.  And so, we are going to import.

Or machinery or technology to process food products, we are also going to have to import these kinds of capital goods, to process milk, meat, oils, cereals, etc.

In this way you can be certain that in the following months and in the next year of 2006, the commercial exchange between Venezuela and the rest of the world will only increase, as much in terms of exports as in terms of imports. 

At this time we are determined to associate ourselves as full members of Mercosur.   We want Venezuela be able to compete with brother nations and go to the international market.  For certain we can compete.  This means efforts to create juridical instruments which we are creating, to apply policies which motivate and stimulate national production, which we are always thinking about, Venezuela business people.

Surely, you have discovered in recent weeks about the debate-taking place over reducing the IVA tax, for example.  This is to contribute to efforts to diminish inflation and to contribute to making the economy more dynamic. Measures of all kinds, operation of Bancoex, opening of credit lines for producers through Bandes, all of this we want to do and are doing and will continue to do. 

Now we are suggesting a strategy of articulation between the state and the private sector.  Those business people who want to join in these efforts with the government and with the workers in the process of co-management to promote productive development; they are welcome and will have our support. Alberto Cudemus already said this in a statement he made “We do not fear co-management”.   To the cooperatives, how great that we have here representatives of cooperatives, of sectors of small and medium industry, who have every right to participate, to take part.

Well, I told my doctor that I wouldn’t talk more than ten minutes. Did I get to ten?  I think that I already got to ten.  I want to reiterate to you, Venezuelan and U.S. business people, the joy that I feel.

When they shared this idea I said, well, is it possible?  And what our valued friend of Corpus Christi said, my ministers repeated to me. Yes, it is possible; we are going to work on it. Let’s go, green light then, let’s work on having a great business round table with business people from the United States. 

And this should be just the first business round table. The next one can take place in Corpus Christi, or whatever city in the United States.

And believe me, I would like to accompany you in the business round table in the United States, I would like to accompany you.

And I would like to take another look at those things that we did six years ago, a profound exchange with universities of the United States, with athletes, with the military, with governors, mayors, congressmen, cabinet members, president, government, the society of the United States. 

If there were a real change of direction in the foreign policy of the United States, and when I say the United States I am referring to the government of the United States.  If there were reflections in which we could modestly contribute, even the possibility of criticism, through dialogue, many good things would come to pass, not only on this continent, but also in the world. 

We have already had two world wars; we cannot permit that the world goes towards new wars.   I hope that this is a century of true peace, of that which Christ came to announce: justice so that there may be peace. 

Business people such as yourselves with social responsibility, with national responsibility in each country, conscious of reality, and we who are at the head of governments can do much, we can offer much in this direction, towards a world where there is justice, where there is peace.

I congratulate you friends, thank you.