Venezuela and Europe: Towards a Different Kind of Politics

An interview with Rodrigo Chaves, Venezuela's former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe. Conducted in June this year during a visit by Chaves to Europe.

Former Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe, Rodrigo Chaves

An interview with Rodrigo Chaves, Venezuela's former Vice-Minister
of Foreign Affairs for Europe. Conducted in June this year during a
visit by
Chaves to Europe.

How would you evaluate the Venezuelan
government's relationship with the European Union since Hugo Chavez came to

I think one has to
understand the contexts within which the Bolivarian process has been developing.
Principally, it has concentrated on Latin America and the Caribbean
and that is where most of the effort has been directed. Secondly, one needs to
understand that until 2004 we lived through a very complex and difficult period
where the United States and
countries such as Spain in
Europe were directly involved in the conspiracies to destabilize Venezuela.
Therefore, at the time, to think that Venezuela had a clearly defined
policy towards the European Union is probably not the case. I think that
beginning in 2004/2005 Venezuela began to overcome the aggressive conspiracy of
the [April 2002] coup d'état, the business-owners strike, the [2002/2003] oil-strike,
and it entered a new stage, a pro-revolutionary offensive where it began to
move forward from a social, economic and cultural point of view, and in
specific areas such as health, education, and employment generation. A real
national development plan began to be created – irrigation system, roads, the
construction of homes, the creation of human resources, and all the government
‘missions' were created that deal specifically with each of the areas which had
to be developed. It was intense work.

And from that moment
the Bolivarian process also projected itself outwards. It was probably from the
moment that the domestic opposition was defeated in the country, and with the
recovery of the Venezuelan peoples' social conscience, a very aggressive international
media campaign began, as another means of attacking the Venezuelan process, and
the Latin American and Caribbean processes.
Therefore one could focus on that latter period. Beginning in 2006 we created a
work plan for Europe which includes plans for
individual countries and for the European Union. I can tell you that today, at
this moment, we can say that many spaces have opened up in every country and in
the European Union itself. We have focused on bilateral relationships, trying
to identify people within the European Union but who are active in their own countries
and who mainly act politically in their country, for example the European
Members of Parliament themselves.

A recent
by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in Washington D.C. says
that by remaining neutral on the issue of Venezuela the European Union might be
losing out on what could be important benefits emerging from a sharpening
divide between the U.S. government and a progressive bloc of Latin American countries.
What do you think about this?

I think that there are
undoubtedly countries in Europe which are strongly influenced by the interests
and opinions of the United
States. But there are also a string of
countries that have a capacity for constructive criticism, that have a capacity
for self-determination in their decision-making. And we think that until now,
in the European Union they have managed to – we're talking about the European
Commission and European Council, whose decision-making is made by consensus, not
the Parliament- properly discuss the issues in debates about Venezuela or any Latin American or Caribbean
countries. And we could say that until now what has been achieved is that even
though they plan to write something on Venezuela, the discussion, the subject
matter and the way things are approached has had a radically different focus
between different countries, and that has allowed for the balance which today
exists in the European Union with regard to Venezuela and many of our Latin
American and Caribbean countries, to be in one way or another not biased
towards a pro-U.S. position.

So the Venezuelan government isn't worried that
France's new President,
Nicolas Sarkozy, who has openly expressed his admiration for the U.S., will try and make Europe take a more
confrontational approach with Venezuela?

Venezuela has had a relationship with France regardless of Presidents. We
know that President Chirac has a very close direct relationship with President
Chavez, one based on a common understanding. We hope that with the new
President of France this relationship is transferred with the same conditions and
that we can continue to advance a respectful bilateral relationship such as the
one we have had until now.

Now, President Chavez often speaks of working
towards a multi-polar world. How does Venezuela's
relationship with Europe fit within this wider
foreign policy strategy?

Multipolarity for us
is a central element of our foreign policy. From the outset we define ourselves
as anti-imperialists, and if we are anti-imperialists we must promote multi-polar
relationships between peoples and governments. We feel that we have made a lot
of progress in this area. Venezuela
was a country where over 90% of its relationships in different spheres were
with the U.S.
Of course that was a totally perverse, unequal and unjust relationship. Today Venezuela has
redefined its relationships with all of the world's countries in a totally
egalitarian and respectful manner. And today we are strengthening South-South
relationships with entire continents such as Africa, with our own continent,
Latin America and the Caribbean, and of course with Asia, with whom we have a
close relationship today, with Eurasia, with countries such as Russia, Belarus
and with Europe – and of course Eurasia is part of that great Europe.
I would say we are intensifying our relations and alliances in an impressive
way and I think that the balance at the moment is very positive in the
relationship between Europe and the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela. And the role that the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela plays within the process of Latin American and
Caribbean integration, whether as a member of MERCOSUR, or as a friend of the
Andean Community and CARICOM, is a very important one, fundamental even, in the
construction of multi-polar relations.

Finally, does the
Venezuelan government have a policy towards Europe's
social movements?

Yes, and I can give you concrete examples. In Great Britain
one of our closest relationships is with the trade unions, with intellectual
movements, with the university sector, aside from the political sector and the
productive sector of the country. And that is how we are trying to develop
things. Of course we are trying to respect the specificities and idiosyncrasies
of each country. We don't want to promote the construction of an artificial
social movement, rather we want to strengthen and get closer to social
movements that already exist in each country, be they worker movements, student
movements, women's movements, anti-imperialist movements, anti-globalization, or
environmental, ecological and green movements. And that is the direction we are
trying to move forward in, to build solidarity networks – not only for
Venezuela, but for Latin America and the Caribbean, for all the processes that
are taking place today in the South, that are trying to build a different world
and create mechanisms for conducting a different kind of politics in the world.