The following is the first part of a three part interview conducted by Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Ramonet has previously worked with Le Monde Diplomatique and Liberation and is an author of over a dozen works including a spoken biography of Fidel Castro.
The interview was published on Ramonet’s facebook page on January 1, 2019, and comes only days before Maduro is due to start his second constitutional term as president on January 10, which many regional right wing governments have claimed is illegitimate. It also comes in a context of ongoing inflation, increased international pressure and sanctions against Venezuela, a solidification of the political hegemony of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) after winning five elections in the past 18 months, the implosion of the right wing opposition alliance, a series of government-led economic reforms, and a recent attempt to assassinate the President with drone-laden explosives.
Ramonet, who has known Maduro for more than ten years, personally testifies to “the profound affection and confidence that Chávez had in him.”
Ignacio Ramonet: For this final section, let us look at international issues. In these past six years, several Latin American countries have witnessed a resurgence of the neoliberal right-wing. In your opinion, is this conservative surge – confirmed by the recent victory of Jair Bolsonaro – a lasting trend or merely a temporary crisis?
Nicolás Maduro: Well, Latin America is a terrain of struggle, and, with the Monroe Doctrine, is embraced by the current US administration. As background, there has been a brutal offensive against popular movements, against these alternative leaderships which, ever since the 1990s, tackled and dismantled neoliberalism in Latin America. Let us recall, for example, President Lula da Silva in Brazil, former President Cristina Fernández in Argentina among others. There has been a persecution of these leaders which has created the coming-to-power of governments and leaders very far to the right.
There has been, certainly, a regressive cycle in what concerns social achievements, reversing the advances made under the progressive leaderships which were very diverse. We feel not only the impact of these policies on the peoples, but also in processes of privatization. In Brazil, for example, after the destitution of Dilma Rousseff, there have been privatizations of oil, public services, electricity, water, etc. They have privatized everything overnight. Now with the arrival of the far-right neofascist government of Jair Bolsonaro, they will be handing over Brazil, and what it represents in Latin America, to US multinational corporations on a silver platter. It really is a sad process of regression.
IR: Along the same lines, with the electoral victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, do you envision a possibility for the popular forces to return to power in Latin America.
NM: Along the lines of what I was saying before, I should add that this entire process of regression boosts and stimulates – inadvertently – the forces that fight against it. It is like the physical principle of action and reaction.
Therefore, we witness that, alongside this major regression, in many countries currently governed by neoliberal forces, the capacity for action of social and popular movements in the cities and in the countryside is getting stronger. Examples include the Homeless Workers’ Movement, the Landless Workers’ Movement [both from Brazil], as well as student, feminist, Afro-descendant, sexually diverse movements.
There is a powerful resurgence which reminds me of the emergence of formidable popular movements that fought against the ALCA [Americas Free Trade Deal] in the 1990s. At the time, these resistance movements did not have a prospect of achieving political power. Then, in Venezuela, along came the Bolivarian Revolution. This victory by Chávez [in 1998] convinced the resistance movements against ALCA that winning political power was possible. It had been so in Venezuela, and then in 1999 with the constitutional referendum.
These two victories blew new wind into the sails of social struggle in Latin America. They paved the way for the upcoming electoral triumphs of popular governments of Lula in Brazil, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, the Frente Amplio in Uruguay, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, the FSLN and commander Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Michelle Bachelet and the Concertación in Chile, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Salvador Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN in El Salvador…
This sparkle of popular forces allowed Latin America and the Caribbean to play, in the early XXI century, a central role in global geopolitics and in the global left. Today, paradoxically, the situation is similar. There have been setbacks due to, most of the time, merciless attacks and coups from the opponents of progress and social justice, but popular forces throughout the continent are once more ready for battle, and new electoral, democratic successes will not be far off.
IR: Recently you made two visits to important partners, one to Beijing in September and another to Moscow in December. What were your conclusions from these two trips to China and Russia, two of the main world superpowers and strong allies of the Bolivarian Revolution?
NM: From the beginning of our Revolution, Commander Chávez was very dedicated to consolidating relations based on respect and friendship with all the peoples of the world, and in accordance to what he called “strategic alliances” for a planet different from the one imposed by imperial powers. Then, with his prodigious political creativity, and in close cahoots with [Cuban President] Fidel Castro, Chávez moved towards the creation of ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America], UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], Petrocaribe, TeleSUR, CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States]… All of this was part of a wide ranging effort towards Latin American integration.
The relationship between Caracas and both China and Russia, two economic and military giants, was also directly nourished by Chávez and his counterparts to get to where we are today.
I should tell you that with Beijing and Moscow we have more than a relationship of partners, we have a relationship of true brotherhood between our governments and peoples. The same occurs with some Arab countries, Iran, African countries and others in the Far East.
I served as Chávez’s foreign minister for over six years and I can testify to his efforts towards the construction of a “multipolar and multicentred world.” These days, with the brutal aggression from the US empire and its allies against us, we take note of the results of the relationships that Chávez set up and nurtured.
Let me remind you that Venezuela currently presides the Non-Aligned Movement, which is the most important organization of states after the United Nations. On the other hand, by the time this interview is published, on January 1, we will assume the presidency of OPEC in Vienna. During these recent trips of mine to Russia and China that you mentioned, we had high level discussions about our economic, political, military and cultural relations with two of the main world superpowers.
With Turkey we also share ties of true friendship, between the government of President Erdogan and mine, and there is even – I confess – a true personal friendship between myself and the Turkish leader. Never before had Venezuela managed to have such important economic and commercial ties, so diverse and favourable, with a historical power like Turkey.
Nowadays Venezuela is not alone. On the contrary, it is our aggressors that are ever more isolated, while our relations with the whole world get stronger and more diverse.
IR: January 1 2019 will be the 60th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. In your opinion, what is the importance that this Revolution had and still has in Latin America?
NM: The Cuban Revolution was a watershed moment in the second half of the XX century. It represented and still represents a fundamental reference point for all the peoples struggling for freedom, for dignity, for sovereignty, for justice and for socialism. Many generations of revolutionaries – including mine, the youth of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – saw the feats of Fidel, Raúl, Camilo and Che as a beacon that guided our hopes during the long neocolonial night that engulfed our continent for over a century.
This small country faced up to the most brutal empire that humanity has ever seen, resisted and still resists against the aggressions of its northern neighbour and its lackeys. A country that made dreams of redemption, equality, solidarity, of an historic construction of socialism, came to exist. It drove many young people to the streets to struggle with renewed hope.
It is a Revolution that has defended and supported Latin American unity, this dream of Simón Bolívar and José Martí. A dreamed unity – without forgetting Puerto Rico and the Malvinas – that the pliant oligarchies of our continent so fear. Cuba has been an example of international solidarity. How many lives have Cuban doctors saved around the world?
I celebrate this 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. And I am thankful for so many long nights talking to Fidel, hearing his words full of wisdom, of searching for ideas and putting them into practice. Always striving to do good. I also thank Hugo Chávez as he, alongside Fidel and Raúl, built a new dignified beginning for Latin America.
IR: December 6 2018 was the 20th anniversary of Chávez’s first electoral victory. To conclude, I would like to ask you the following: if you had the chance to talk to Chávez about your own experience of almost six years governing, what would you tell him?
NM: There are so many occasions, in the midst of battles, when reflecting on things in the middle of the night after a hard day’s work, that I ask myself: “What would Chávez have done?” “How would he have approached this or that issue?” We had so many intimate conversations, so many memories…
Fortunately, and of this I am sure, Chávez established a constant pedagogical work with us, his closest circle, a training on the immense difficulties involved in the construction of a revolutionary project: its challenges, obstacles, unexpected turns… the attacks, threats, betrayals… This taught us, trained us, forged us.
Chávez predicted many of the events we are currently living through. He put us on guard. Some of the last concerns he shared with us concerned what he envisioned as the “economic war” – the phrase is his – that the enemy would launch against us, a new kind of aggression, a multi-pronged one at that, against our people. He was also very concerned that oil production was declining.
Therefore, the profound sorrow that his departure provoked is in a way compensated by the immense advice he left us. And we never forget it. So many examples of strength and loyalty to the Bolivarian ideals. This “beautiful revolution” he dreamed of, with democracy and freedom, free from illiteracy, with multiplied art and culture, healthcare for everyone, full employment, peace, joy, progress, prosperity and love. When I think of how cruelly he was attacked for having this beautiful dream… Just like I am attacked today, with even more fury, if that is even possible, for having the same dream, wanting to do good and spread joy…
That is why I invoke Chávez every day. I need him, I claim him, I resort to him, and like in that verse by Spanish poet Miguel Hernández, I tell him: “We have to talk about many things, compañero.”
Translation by Ricardo Vaz and Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.com