Marco Teruggi is a well-known journalist who writes for Página 12 and is a Caracas-based correspondent for both Sputnik and Telesur. Examining both continental trends and Venezuela’s internal correlation of forces, Teruggi offers a rich interpretation of the country’s economic and geopolitical situation in the second part of this exclusive interview. [Click here to read part I.]
The government is taking steps towards liberalizing the economy. This includes the Anti-blockade Law and other policies that facilitate the transfer of public assets to the private sector while generating favorable conditions for capital, both national and foreign. How do you interpret what is going on?
Several things come together here. Some are factual while others are open to interpretation. There is a [US-led] blockade and that is a fact. The sanctions persecute not only the government but anyone who comes to the country to invest or do business. That too is a fact. Another fact is that the state has lost a large part of its income due to the blockade.
There is a severe deficit in revenue. To give you an example, basic services are in the hands of the Venezuelan state. This includes water, gas, electricity, communication services, etc. The state's inability to invest has led to the degradation of these services. That, in turn, affects the daily life of the people.
To confront the crisis, the government’s premise is that private capital must be brought in. In turn, this requires securing conditions and investments. There is not much more to say about that.
Now, one question is: how did we get to this point? First, it is important to note that the economic situation cannot only be explained by the impact of the sanctions. For example, the drop in [real] wages began before. In 2014, the minimum wage was already under $50 USD [per month].
Also, around 2014 and 2015, we began to see state enterprises declining and deteriorating. This, for example, was evident in the state-run sugar mills. To understand what happened, one could infer that there were sectors with a longtime plan: the return of private capital to those areas where the state had a leading role.
One may disagree with this perspective, but the truth is that it is not illicit as a political and economic tactic. The problem is that it was not made explicit. It was not explained to society as a whole.
Now, when it comes to the economic situation underway, the reasoning is that [a more statist model] simply did not work, so the answer is in the private sector.
It seems to me that we should understand how the situation really developed: what is happening now was in the making for some time, and the sanctions landed on top of that reality.
However, beyond any speculation, today everything points to the need to seek private investment. This includes new economic concessions, privatizations, and the return of some assets to the former owners.
Now, how all this flows will depend on the type of capital that enters the economy and with what kind of oversight. If the process is carried out well, in an orderly fashion, with state oversight, with bidding, if all this feeds the nation’s coffers, then good. However, my experience beyond Venezuela tells me that the inflow of private capital is usually fast and difficult to monitor, while the process of recovering [the state-controlled areas of the economy] is usually very slow.
Nonetheless, the process is underway. Beyond my opinion, what will matter is whether the state maintains control of the economic strategy.
That is my interpretation. There are those who say that the state should not, under any circumstances, give up its assets. That is another position.
So far, the government has not officially proposed privatizing services, but there are people calling for it to do so. Having lived the Argentine experience of privatizations, what is your opinion on this matter?
It is clear to me that there are things that cannot be left to market speculation. When basic services pass into the hands of large companies whose natural aim is to make formidable profits, then exorbitant rate increases follow and people are left in a really bad place. We know this from the Argentine experience, and it should be a wake-up call here.
If the capital inflow is activated in an orderly and controlled fashion, the state should be able to recover and invest in the public services infrastructure. However, if the process is chaotic and disorganized, and if it leads to the privatization of services, then the impact will be very negative.
As I said before, in this process the state should know who enters what sector of the economy and how, it must keep track of economic flows, etc. For example, the state must map the profile of the capital entering the economy: there will be international and national capital, and the latter, in turn, will be divided between the longstanding and the new business sectors.
Finally, going back to the Anti-Blockade Law that you mentioned in the beginning, it is one of the key cards that the government has to encourage dialogue. As it is, the government is demanding that the blockade be lifted, but if private capital were to advocate the same, the traction of the anti-sanctions campaign would grow. In effect the government is generating conditions for companies to enter areas of the economy that were totally out of the reach of private capital just a few years ago, but for this to work to the fullest extent, the sanctions must de-intensify.
Last year, at an Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity meeting, you made an interesting analysis about the advance of neoliberalism in the continent’s geopolitical configuration. Since that time we have seen changes for the better in Bolivia and advances in Chile, as well as other rebellions and protests throughout Latin America. What is your evaluation of the geopolitical situation right now?
As you point out, it is worth mentioning that the context of that debate was right after the coup d'état in Bolivia and also after the indigenous uprising in Ecuador. Both events showed the precarity of the processes.
The looming question at that time was, on the one hand, why did Evo Morales’ government not withstand the pressure and, with that being so, what were its weaknesses?
On the other hand, looking at Ecuador, how and when did the enormous distance between the government and society develop? Furthermore, why was there such a large gap between correismo [the political tendency associated with former president Rafael Correa] and the indigenous movement?
In geopolitical terms, the situation is better now. The Bolivian government was recovered via elections, which was a huge political victory, and there is a possibility that Ecuador will be recovered [for the Left] in the February elections. This means that regional integration instances such as UNASUR could be reactivated.
Moreover, we can see other interesting signs: the Chilean attempt to change the constitution; the recent uprising in Peru; the process of constant mobilization in Colombia; or the protests against the IMF in Costa Rica... All these point to the fact that neoliberalism is not enjoying a situation of political stability, although this doesn’t mean that the progressive processes are in a stable situation either.
Moreover, there is always a struggle within alternative projects, particularly when they gain access to power. The million-dollar question is: can anti-neoliberal spaces of power become stable while the project is advancing?
With this in mind, we must pay attention to how processes and movements unfold, and we should do so taking into account that we are in the era of a great US offensive.
In the past year, on the one hand, we had some advances of progressivism, while on the other we felt the constant pressure of the US. Now a change of administration is about to happen in the US. It is obvious that the strategic objectives of the United States are not going to change, but the new administration may push for some formal changes. For one, Marco Rubio's confrontational approach will be left behind and negotiations are more likely to happen... but the objectives will be the same. At the end of the day, those going into the White House are just as hawkish as the ones leaving it.
Additionally, we will have to observe how the gravitation towards Russia and China evolves, including the possibility of relating to those great powers with a project of our own.
Finally, all this brings up another question: what is the development model that will define progressivism in the continent?
You have spoken about the “non-debate zone” in progressive processes. You were pointing out the lack of internal debate, particularly in the realm of intellectual production. We are interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.
The question I asked – also in the context of the Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity meeting – is how we debate about the features and characteristics of the processes of change. The question was put on the table among intellectuals [in that meeting]. It was just following the insurrection in Ecuador and the coup in Bolivia.
The question really was (and still is), when and how are we going to debate the processes of transformation? Intellectuals must defend progressive processes in this tournament… but at the same time, it seems that the defense is making it difficult to reflect on the processes.
And of course, when a process is under threat, it might seem that it is not the time to debate. This is not a new problem: all progressive processes face it.
Venezuela has built an architecture for the defense against imperial aggressions, and that is good. However, there is practically no debate about the situation of the Bolivarian Revolution.
There are important issues to be discussed. Some questions on the table could be: What is happening with popular power? What is the transition model? What happened to the agrarian reform? What happens when there is private capital inflow? Is there a trend towards restoration?
In fact, these are questions we could ask in any progressive process.
Of course, this issue of debate must be seen in relation to the political culture of each country. For example, in Argentina, there is a tradition of debate in the media while in Venezuela the culture of [televised] debate is not established, and the communication media are very centralized. This results in a unified message that is repeated at different levels. Thus, it is very difficult to open the doors to an internal debate with different interpretations being expressed.
When it comes to this question of debate, I ask myself: in addition to defending the processes, which is a must, could there be something else? Should the analysis limit itself to repeating the same things over and over again? I have no doubt that exposing the empire and its tactics is a must, but shouldn't intellectuals also examine what is happening within the progressive processes?
To this question, someone might reply: this is not the time. Indeed, this is a very strong argument in Venezuela, since the sanctions are harsh. However, if we accept the thesis that the current situation began in 2014, then we are talking about a period of six years with limitations on debate.
I believe that a synthesis can be built between debate and non-debate. This means balancing defense with a critical and non-critical analysis of the situation. And, I should add here, this situation applies not only to Venezuela but also to Bolivia, Ecuador, and other progressive processes.