VA: Professor Samán, can you can talk a little bit about why you decided to run for mayor and what your vision and proposals are for Caracas?
ES: Well, I am Eduardo Samán, candidate for the Libertador Municipality of Caracas for the Homeland for Everyone party (PPT) and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). My candidacy for the mayorship of Caracas responds to the fact that it was not possible to form an alliance between the parties that make up the Great Patriotic Pole and PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). The alliance that was called the perfect alliance during regional elections, the elections of state-governors, was not possible in this case, because the PSUV broke off communications with the two most important parties of the Great Patriotic Pole, which are the Communist Party of Venezuela and the Homeland for Everyone party. This communication was broken because the right-wing announced, the Democratic Action (AD) party - the social democrat party - that it would not participate in the municipal elections. Other important right-wing parties followed Democratic Action’s example, and also decided not to participate in these municipal elections. Therefore, the party of the government felt that it could go it alone in the municipal elections, without attending to its allies, even though they are important parties, parties that were significant for the [government’s] victory in at least four notable states in Venezuela [during regional elections].
Thanks to the votes of the allied parties, the Communist Party, the Homeland for Everyone party, we won governorships like Miranda, the very key state of Bolivar, and Carabobo, among other states. In this case, these parties asked me if I would accept being candidate for the mayor's office of Libertador; this is the most important mayor's office because it is in the capital. Of course I accepted the nomination. This has created an alternative that has transcended the municipal elections, which has transcended a mayoral contest, and has become a national reference point for the Venezuelan left and also for popular power, and popular power movements. This candidacy has given way to a phenomenon in Chavismo, a phenomenon in the left ... where leftist parties, revolutionary leftist movements, have assumed this candidacy as a reference point for the left. This candidacy, in spite of being for a local government election, has national transcendence, and this phenomenon has had an impact on public opinion throughout the country.
This candidacy has given way to a phenomenon in Chavismo, a phenomenon on the left ... where leftist parties, revolutionary leftist movements, have assumed this candidacy as a reference point for the left
VA: Can you tell us about your vision for Caracas and the proposals you are putting forward?
ES: Caracas is a city that has been sent into exile, because the [PSUV] mayor [Jorge Rodriguez] abandoned his responsibilities to the city in order to take care of other matters related to national policy. He was the person in charge of negotiating with the right-wing during this period of crisis which has affected the country, and as a result, he has abandoned the city, neglecting his duties up to the point where the essential systems of the city are collapsing, and others are on the brink of collapse. Issues related to citizen security and garbage removal, there has been an increase in the amount of garbage that is not being collected. This has caused a series of serious problems for the city because the inhabitants have opted to burn that garbage, and burning garbage generates pollution, generates toxic fumes in the air, carcinogenic fumes, fumes that weaken the immune system. Then comes the flu, infections, autoimmune diseases, allergies, and other serious health problems in the city.
There are serious problems with water supply. The mayor has not looked for a solution in conjunction with national institutions to resolve the lack of water [supply] in the city. There is a very, very serious problem in terms of urban transport. An efficient public transportation system has not been developed. We have a very inefficient private system and this system has of course, increased fares. The owners of this service have not managed to gain intermediaries with the mayor’s office in order to discuss fares that are convenient for both the people of the city and for the owners of the transportation systems, systems which are very deteriorated, and paralysed due to the scarcity in replacement parts, and with many deficiencies.
Among other things, the food distribution system in the city, the central market, and the municipal markets are collapsed, the people’s economic markets are depressed and closed. That is to say, almost all the essential systems in the city are collapsed.
The streets are full of holes, the roads are very deteriorated, the sidewalks where pedestrians circulate are damaged in much of the city, more than 95% of the city has damaged pedestrian crossings and roads. That is to say, we have to rescue the city.
In part, our candidacy is about recovering from, and winning people over from this discontent, and to reconstitute Chavismo. We represent a new option on the left, a Chavista alternative, a revolutionary option that, far from creating divisions, can strengthen the leftist and revolutionary wing of Chavismo
These conditions have made many supporters of Chavismo, many followers of the revolutionary process feel dissatisfied and we need to win back these people, to bring these people back around. We have detected that a lot of people have gone over to the right-wing, they have chosen to go over to the right-wing parties and that has frankly, left the revolutionary process isolated. In part, our candidacy is about recovering from, and winning people over from this discontent, and to reconstitute Chavismo. We represent a new option on the left, a Chavista alternative, a revolutionary option that, far from creating divisions, can strengthen the leftist and revolutionary wing of Chavismo.
VA: There are some who call you a "traitor", a "counter-revolutionary," for launching your candidacy against the PSUV candidate, Erika Farías. How do you respond to these criticisms and why is it important to have left-wing candidates beyond the PSUV?
ES: We represent diversity, diversity on the left, we represent an alternative, we are not traitors to the revolutionary process. The betrayal of the revolutionary process is the mismanagement, the erroneous economic policies that have been taken, the lack of radicalism, and the lack of socialist economic principles, the deviation of the socialist process, that is a betrayal. But our alternative, our candidacy, is to make ourselves reference point for the left. To respect the diversity of thought within the left is not a betrayal.
We don’t consider it a revolutionary attitude to be submissive. We have been silent on many occasions, and we have not noticed that being silent has led us to make mistake after mistake, and those successive mistakes that we have made have resulted in a loss for Chavismo, and stopped Chavismo from advancing
Therefore, we reject these descriptions of us as "traitors" that they have sought to generate, that they want to accuse us of in order to maintain impositions and authoritarian positions within the revolutionary process. We are against those impositions, we are against that misunderstood concept of discipline. We are disciplined, but we are not submissive. We are against submission, we are against discipline that leads to submission. We don’t consider it a revolutionary attitude to be submissive. We have been silent on many occasions, and we have not noticed that being silent has led us to make mistake after mistake, and those successive mistakes that we have made have resulted in a loss for Chavismo, and stopped Chavismo from advancing. For us it is hugely important to consolidate the revolution, and for the revolution to develop, not the deviations, the reforms which we see the [current] leadership of the left or Chavismo are carrying out. We are a non-reformist alternative, we are a left-wing option. Perhaps the word "radical" can be misunderstood, because radical means going to the root of the issue, but we are the option of left-wing principles.
VA: And what are the radical measures, from your perspective, that are necessary at this juncture to get out of the current impasse of international attack and economic crisis in order to continue deepening the revolution?
ES: We believe that we should give more power to the people. In terms of the economy, we must develop the economy so that productive units, the majority of the benefits of production, go directly to the people. We need economic systems made up of small companies, communal enterprises, cooperative enterprises, and productive organization that mitigates the exploitation of human beings, and not the installation of large companies, of large corporations that emphasize exploitation, that accentuate the division of social classes and inequality.
We want to move towards an endogenous socialist model of development that reduces exploitation, that eliminates exploitation among human beings
We are in favor of promoting equality, of re-industrializing our cities. We oppose the neoliberal model of trade that has characterized our economy. Really, very little has been done to change that model. We want to move towards an endogenous socialist model of development that reduces exploitation, that eliminates exploitation among human beings.
VA: You have talked about discipline. Faced with a threat from the right, you have expressed willingness to abandon your candidacy in support of the PSUV, especially in the face of the presidential elections next year?
ES: Yes, there can be a discipline which is well-understood discipline, positive discipline, and I have been disciplined. I publicly supported the National Constituent Assembly when the right-wing was a real threat to the [revolutionary] process. During the constituent assembly, I participated, I defended it personally, I worked very hard to motivate the vote, to cancel out the threat of the right-wing against us. Today in these municipal elections, the right-wing is not a threat. All of the polls from the government, businessmen and the opposition have said that. The city is in dispute, between the PSUV candidate and myself. In the development of the campaign, many people from the grassroots media, mid-level leaders and grassroots leaders of the PSUV, have expressed their preference for my candidacy. Because they see that this candidacy comes from the people, it is not an imposed candidacy, it is not a candidacy that was decided for the elections, rather it is the candidacy that was born from below.
So for us, the right-wing is not a threat. I would never jeopardize the revolutionary process. That is why we are aiming to polarize from within the left, from within Chavismo, in order to allow people to choose their way of doing things.
This candidacy comes from the people, it is not an imposed candidacy, it is not a candidacy that was decided for the elections
The government has responded by blackballing us. The public information system has blocked us, the public system belongs to the state, not to the government. However, the government is using it in their favor. They have also threatened the private television channels, and we haven’t been able to get a space on these private television channels either.
They are also using a large amount of economic resources to promote a candidate when we know that the country is going through a crisis, where we are in need of food, medicines, spare parts - there are broken down transportation vehicles for lack of spare parts. All of these are consequences of the fall in the price of oil. The price of oil has recovered moderately, but nevertheless, our economic situation continues to deteriorate. We just can’t justify this serious misuse of resources, these huge expenses in electoral campaigns, when the majority of the population is going through serious economic problems.
We are facing a political machine that has used tons of resources and employed many people against our candidacy. We are facing a media blockade, media blackballing, in state media and private media. We are facing a network of espionage and the interception of our telephone, which have impacted our electoral strategy, and laboratory-style information warfare that attempts to confuse the electorate into not voting for us, to the point that my name will not appear on the electoral ticket. I am the only candidate in the history of Venezuelan elections whose name will not appear. People will vote for me by marking the ticket under someone else’s name, and though they were already substituted [for my candidacy], they [the National Electoral Council] didn’t want to change it on the printed tickets or on the electoral machines. It’s a situation which takes five minutes to rectify, but there is no desire to make that change, [rather] to generate confusion and rig the elections. Because by not respecting and confusing voting intention, that could result in rigged electoral results, because the most popular candidate amongst the population might not win because of a technical issue when voting.
VA: You have tried to exercise collective leadership. Could you talk a little about that?
ES: We have held discussions with the different sectors, political parties, two very important political parties - the Communist Party of Venezuela and the Homeland For Everyone party – also REDES, the Revolutionary Workers Party - parties that do not have a ticket but continue to organize – the Libertarian Voices Movement, the International Marxist Current, these are some of the movements that have joined this candidacy. This coalition of movements has made it so that Eduardo Samán as a candidate cannot impose [his] way of thinking, because I owe everything to a collective. In the sense that you dialogue as a collective, make agreements within a collective, and abides by what that collective decides.
No economic sector can impose conditions on me as mayor
That means that our administration is not going to be an individual administration, it will not be the administration of one mayor, because it is not that of a mayor who was imposed, appointed, [but rather] it is a mayor who won the support of a series of movements and those movements, those people and individuals which belong to the middle strata of the population, will bring their candidate to the mayor’s office, and he will have to govern with them. This candidacy is a collective alternative, and I will have to govern collectively because the only thing I have is popular support. I am not appointed by superior forces, by hidden forces, by economic groups, we do not have economic power to advance in the elections. No economic sector can impose conditions on me as mayor.
I have to respond to the movements that have nominated me and that will vote me into the mayor's office. Therefore, it is guaranteed that our administration will be collective. This is something we have accepted responsibility for and which has developed due to the relationship we have developed with different movements. We have made our decisions collectively in this campaign. For instance, we reached a consensus for campaign activities and the closing campaign rally. None of this has been a personal strategy, because I am just one of the group. I have made my suggestions, but in the end I accepted the consensus, that is, the collective decision, and that is how the mayor's office will be.
VA: During your time as foreign commerce minister, among the other positions that you have held, you were the Venezuelan official most watched by the United States. You appear in more than 20 wires of the US State Department. Is the United States government is afraid of your candidacy in Caracas?
ES: I have held strategic positions in the Venezuelan government. I have been the Director of the Venezuelan Autonomous Service for Intellectual Property [Regulation]. This refers to the legislation that controls the knowledge that generates wealth, that generates added value to material. That is controlled by a series of rules that is intellectual property, industrial property, copyright and all that. I was also Director of the State Service for Normalization, Quality, and Metrology [validating and verifying predefined standards for measurements in terms of traceability, accuracy, reliability, and precision] for several years. This is very important for the capitalist system, because in this way it defines the standards and ways in which a productive unit is managed as 100% capitalist, and generates norms to exclude the social economy.
Thirdly, I occupied the direction of Defense of Peoples in Access to Goods and Services - which in other countries is known as consumer protection. It has to do with the cultural pattern of consumption and that is important. There are three pillars that sustain the capitalist system: intellectual property, production standards, and patterns of consumption. I then entered as Minister of Foreign Commerce, which is an important position within the government. That led to me being followed, being marked by the US State Department. This is reflected in reports on the cables that have since been released by the State Department. I don’t know how many times I may appear in reports that remain undisclosed. I was one of the most marked officials of the Chávez government, and one of the most often followed by the US State Department.
I have other values in life, other values in terms of what it means to go forward, other values of solidarity, equality, to build a new society, to build a new homeland. Accumulating fortunes is not part of my values
This makes us think about our socialist behavior. I can say it with my head held high: I have been an honest civil servant in Venezuela despite holding important positions, handling a lot of money, I do not have wealth, I do not have accounts in dollars, I do not have property, neither I nor my family. None of my family, neither my closest nor most distant relatives are people who look to accumulate wealth or fortunes. That is something that in Venezuela frightens them a lot, because being honest, not being attached to material goods, material wealth, that means that you cannot be pressured through properties, through companies, I cannot be blackmailed, because I simply do not accumulate riches. I have other values in life, other values in terms of what it means to go forward, other values of solidarity, equality, to build a new society, to build a new homeland. Accumulating fortunes is not part of my values, and that is not always liked by everyone in a country where people like me are kind of scarce. Yes there are ministers who have left the government who still walk in the street, but there are very few ministers who like me who are still in the streets.
VA: Do you have a historic message with which you would like to bring this interview to an end, to the people of Venezuela and the world?
ES: Yes. People of Caracas, people of Venezuela, we are making history, there is a popular rebellion. We are creating a new reference point for the Venezuelan left, we are carrying out the revolution within the revolution. We are fighting to maintain Chavismo in Venezuela, we are preventing reformist deviations that historical processes suffer from, in which the people always end up defeated. This is an attempt to maintain the initial impulse of the revolution. Give us your support.
Interview by Lucas Koerner and Javier Gómez Rojas, translation by Katrina Kozarek and Rachael Boothroyd Rojas. Video filmed by Javier Gomez Rojas and edited by Katrina Kozarek.