Nelson Dávila is not your usual diplomat. He does not come from a comfortable bureaucratic position but rather from the revolutionary struggle, from the struggle of students and teachers and ultimately the process of building the Bolivarian revolution. Even before the start of the revolution he had been under the command of President Hugo Chávez. In the 1960s he was involved in the guerrilla struggle. During the ‘60s and up to 1974, universities were attacked and closed down by “democratic” governments.
Bolívar’s 200-year vision
The topic of the bicentenary is not just a formal remembrance of an historical fact as often people think of history, that history is dead and past. For us this event has an historical significance. The process of independence that took place 200 years ago was interrupted. That project was part of the revolutionary process of the 19th century, which was to create the Great Colombia, the great homeland that was an entire, united continent.
For us at this moment, that historical process of independence (and this is why we are telling the world) is of a significance equal to that of the French Revolution. From that process of independence in America many nations arose. It showed the rejection of an imperial system. It was a rejection of colonialism. It was a process of struggle that brought about unity in the continent. For that reason several countries in Latin America are celebrating the bicentenary, because it was in 1810 the declaration was made by several countries.
In the case of Venezuela it was on April 19, 1810, on which the Venezuelans organised around a progressive junta and resolved not to continue as a colony and declared against the kingdom of Spain. After that declaration was the process that we are going to celebrate next year – the act of independence. That was not an easy process. The imperialist forces of the time did not want to accept that independence. It was necessary to go to war.
In Venezuela we organised a patriotic army that was there to defend the interests of America and one of the leaders of that process of formation of the army was Simón Bolívar. That army was able to defeat the empire. The Bolivarian army fought the imperial army. They came from winning wars for the Spanish empire and our army was one that was made up of peasantry, derived from the ordinary people and was capable of defeating the imperial army.
The Spanish empire sent large numbers of troops to America and despite that the continental army was able to defeat it. There were many deaths but, in the end, we triumphed. Of course the project of developing this great continental alliance was impossible to materialise. Bolivar died in 1830, and there were several contradictions that prevented that project from being consolidated. Divisions between those nations developed.
The same process
That seems like a tale from the past, but it happens that today we are passing through the same process. We are fighting against an empire and that empire has another name – the empire of the United States, the government of the United States. There are countries in Latin America that are allies of the empire and the Bolivarian revolution has taken up the historical link from that process that happened 200 years ago and we are creating a new Latin American unity. That is the reason why the Bolivarian revolution is under attack, not just in the media but also economically and even militarily.
For example, in 2002 there was a coup d’état against President Chávez. That was a movement supported by internal forces allied with the US and other countries seeking to stop the Bolivarian revolution from advancing.
These threats developed on a daily basis. For example, the presence of the new US bases in Colombia is a threat against the Bolivarian revolution. Those bases are not destined to prevent drug trafficking but are to put a brake on the advance of revolutionary forces on the continent.
That revolutionary struggle is happening in several parts of Latin America. All those geopolitical and strategic changes in the continent, for example what is happening in Bolivia and Ecuador, everything historical that is represented by the revolution in Cuba, the process of change in Nicaragua, all of that means the plans of the empire are not being complied with.
The Bolivarian revolution is trying to keep the unity of the continent advancing for which reason it has created different forms of unity. For example we have created this strategic alliance called ALBA [the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America]. We have strengthened the creation of UNOSUR [the Union of South American Nations], we have also created the Bank of the South and we have been trying to become incorporated into MERCOSUR [a common market of several South American countries], but going back in history there are internal enemy forces on the continent.
In the same way that Bolívar had enemies during the process of independence, in this new independence we also have enemies. For example, two days ago the Congress of Paraguay rejected the incorporation of Venezuela into MERCOSUR. This decision has thus been postponed until 2011. Despite this, Venezuela continues to advance in the process of unity, and that continental unity is not just words.
Latin American integration
It is an historical project that can be achieved. It is extended on the basis of solidarity and all those mechanisms are to provide mutual help among all the countries of Latin America. For example, Venezuela has created mechanisms of solidarity using its natural resources of oil. We have been able to create Petrocaribe which aims to create accords with Latin American countries. It is to administer oil at a different price to the international market, so as to help those countries without those natural resources.
That is Latin American integration. But that integration is not seen as positive by the United States. In this mechanism of integration there are other important countries involved, such as Argentina and Brazil. So all that current process of independence is developing at a different level rather than war. Two hundred years ago we had to fight with guns, but now we are fighting politically. We are struggling against the forces of the economy, against the mass media that every day portrays the Bolivarian revolution as a threat to the continent; that portrays President Chávez as a dictator.
This process of development of the revolution is part of the whole that we have called the Simón Bolívar Plan. It guides the Bolivarian revolution and we are beginning the process of building something new on the continent, where we are mixing elements of our history, from our predecessors, from our historical roots, and also theoretical elements of what is our political practice and historical materialism to interpret reality today. We are showing the world that capitalism is not the system that will fix the great problems of humanity. We have been saying that socialism is the political model that can help us fix the great problems that currently face humanity.
At an international level we are carrying that message as well to defeat the smear campaign against the Bolivarian Revolution. Two days ago, we had the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations in Venezuela as part of his trip to Latin America to establish which countries have fulfilled the challenges of the Millennium Goals and he congratulated Venezuela because we have fulfilled all the targets of the Millennium. That is exactly where the mass media does not say anything.
Of course, all the multinational networks of the mass media like the BBC and CNN will not show any advances of the Revolution, neither all the development we have fulfilled internally in Venezuela, nor the multi-billion investments made in our society. We have always had that wealth from the oil, but the problem of the governments prior to the revolution was that money, the product of the oil sales, disappeared among the political parties that were in government, in corruption.
Now for example, most of the profits are invested in social services. In Venezuela for example, one of the biggest attacks we face at the international level, accuses Venezuela of not having freedom of expression. That version is very difficult to believe because in Venezuela there are hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations belonging to the political opposition and every day they broadcast everything they want; all the lies against the revolution. There is no repression on the part of the government and they keep on saying that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship.
In a dictatorship there is no freedom of the media, there are no community TV or radio stations as was the case in the dictatorships in Latin America in Chile, Brazil or Argentina. For that reason, on all of those points on which they attack the revolution they do not have any solid argument.
Solidarity is not unilateral but is mutual, for example, from country to country or people to people. We have been helping, for example, the people of Haiti and, at this very moment, in Brazil due to the floods. We have also helped in Colombia during national disasters. During the cyclone in the United States we went to help in New Orleans by giving cheap oil to the inhabitants of the zone.
Solidarity is not just at the economic or material level but also political solidarity, and for example, the political solidarity of the people of Venezuela for the people of Palestine during the invasion by Israel. It wasn’t just in words, it was in deeds. In this case Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Israel.
It also condemned the recent attack on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. Israel has developed into a criminal state. We also express our solidarity with those countries struggling for their freedom. For example, we condemned the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, we also condemned the attacks on Iran and Syria, and of course we are against the US blockade of Cuba.
So you can see that the Bolivarian Revolution is a very broad revolution. It does not just look after the internal necessities of our people but we also struggle for sovereignty – our own sovereignty and the sovereignty of others.
This is the same experience as that of the Cuban revolution. The Cuban revolution expresses solidarity with the independence of other countries, for example, the struggle of the Cuban soldiers in Angola. Cuba helped to defeat apartheid. A revolution that doesn’t act in solidarity is not a revolution.
And for us it is a revolution that is both internal and external. And that is why we have achieved the millennium targets*. Our president got 65 percent of the vote because we have helped our own population in the fields of education and health. That is what gives us the confidence that we are going to win the elections on September 26. And we are also going to win the presidential elections in 2013 when our president goes again to face election.
Consolidating the revolution
I would like to make it clear that it is not at all about the image of one person. There are some allegations that there is some kind of idolatry of Hugo Chávez. In reality Chávez is a historical leader and that is difficult to negate. If the people want president Chávez to continue governing he has the right to face another election. That is also a guarantee that the process will continue until we feel that the revolution has been consolidated.
Because there are some aspects of the revolution that we need to strengthen. We need to consolidate the ideological consciousness. We need to make sure that the population understands the importance of socialism as a political model. So we consider international solidarity important as it will help us strengthen consciousness.
For example, every year there are several delegations visiting Venezuela from Europe to other countries in Latin America, and of course from Australia different groups have visited Venezuela. And that is one of the reasons why our president has called for the construction of the Fifth International. If this is possible it would be a great advance ideologically and politically for the world.
Of course, we are aware of all the changes that are happening around the world, in the great international forums. For example, in Copenhagen, president Chávez, together with other Latin American presidents, united in alerting the world of a crisis in a system, which is the one that has created all these phenomena of climate change. Climate change is not an anarchical, capricious phenomena, did not happen by itself, humans have contributed to climate change.
For that reason, president Chávez has called on the people to show more humanity so we can stop devastating humanity, killing the rivers, continuing to destroy the forests, eliminating fauna and, of course, killing each other in wasteful wars. And we see the economic interests for which wars have been fomented around the world.
We have insisted that the Bolivarian Revolution is a peaceful revolution, but we will not allow for our revolution to be attacked. This, together with what we have discussed at the beginning, we will continue to link with our struggle of 200 years ago. Because Bolivar is alive. He is with us. And we need to continue his history and legacy until we finish this revolution.
For some people here it is difficult to understand, although the process in Australia was also a colonial process. The difference is that there was not strong resistance here in Australia. In Mexico and Central America we have ancestors who gave their lives in the process. It is something that is authentic, that lives, that is present in our struggle from the past.
Today we are looking for trade relations with Australia, and in other countries in the Pacific area. For example, when we talk about solidarity, Venezuela has a program of solidarity with the Pacific Islands assisting them to prevent desertification, to protect the forests. There are countries in the Pacific that have problems with the degradation of the soil, with salination.
So Venezuela has an aid program with all the Pacific Islands. That is one of the reasons for the diplomatic work. Part of the diplomatic work is defence of the revolution and to strengthen solidarity work of groups in Australia. And of course among the political parties of the left, like the Communist Party of Australia which is an historical party here in Australia, which is not an improvised party that comes from nothing.
A party for the next stage
Guardian: Chávez was elected without the base of a political party, with a number of movements and people who rose against the regime, the poverty, the intolerable conditions. Now he has formed a party. Could you describe that process and the reasons behind it?
Nelson Dávila: That is part of the history of Venezuela – unity in disunity. Even during the process of achieving independence, there was unity and division. When the Bolivarian project begins, with president Chávez and then the military insurrection, the Movement of the Fifth Republic was founded – “Fifth Republic” because the history of our country had been divided into republics, and nowadays we live in the fifth republic. That began in 1999 when president Chávez came to power.
When we talk about the fourth republic, we are talking about the supposed democratic past. The fifth republic party gave us the possibility of another political party, which is today the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Perhaps at the beginning of the revolution that political party would not have been accepted by the population. Today it is.
For example, a month ago we re-opened applications and received 700,000 new members. Of course, there were other political parties that supported the revolution, but some of those political parties have been left behind. Because they know now that the ideology of Bolivarian process is against their interests.
At the beginning, they thought that process would give them similar privileges as during the fourth republic, and that is one of the reasons they have not continued supporting president Chávez. The only political party that continues affiliated to the Bolivarian process is the Communist Party of Venezuela. Despite there being some points that we do not have in common, we continue walking in the same direction. So we are not enemies.
We have the other political parties who jumped directly to the other side, and that is a very important ideological process that has to be made clear, and as the Bolivarian process gains strength in the population, in the same way we are going to clarify the position politically and ideologically for the movement.
Of course, there will be people who will stay behind but there will be others that will come onboard.
G: So how would you characterise the current ideological position of the United Socialist Party – in a way you are saying that it is an evolving process?
ND: We have defined this period of 10 years of government as a transitional period, in which people have been left behind, there are political parties that have deserted, we have created the Socialist Party, and that party is in a process of consolidation and we expect that party to become a vanguard of revolutionary cadres.
The achievements and the challenges
G: Could you provide some detail on the achievements of the government to date in social and economic terms and describe what the situation was before the commencement of the Bolivarian Revolution?
ND: Prior to the Bolivarian Revolution we had a high level of illiteracy and we have been able to achieve a reduction in the numbers of those living in poverty of up to 32 percent – it was 50 percent. We have fulfilled the targets of the Millennium Goals and we have achieved food sovereignty. In the past the food distribution was in the private hands of the political opposition. For example, in health, with the help of Cuba, we created the mission Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighbourhood).
The missions and programs were created by the revolution to directly look after the population. Because we are in a transition period, we pretty much invaded a capitalist state, we are living in a capitalist state, we are changing that state, and that capitalist state, like others, was not designed to help people. So the structure of the state did not allow resources to go to the people. And that is why we created the missions, in which the missions gathered the resources and distributed them directly to the people – food, health, education and so on.
In education we created several missions from primary schooling to the university. People from the third age, for example, who were unable to complete secondary school, through the missions were able to finalise their education.
Education in Venezuela is free of charge from primary school to university. There are private universities but the government has created universities throughout the country and they are free of charge – technical colleges, as well, where we train technicians.
In the economy, one of the key issues is that we are opposed to privatisation. We prevented the sale of PDVSA (Venezuela’s national oil company), which is the third largest company of its type in the world. The capitalist plan was to sell it.
Without the Bolivarian Revolution our economic situation would be critical. We prevented a flight of capital from the country and we managed to do that by controlling currency exchange. Previously, the capitalists were able to buy a huge amount of US dollars, but not the people.
But now the dollars are being put in the market by the government, and that is a problem for our international reserves. We put many US dollars in the market and the capitalists came and bought them, and then our international reserves were lowered, so we stabilised the situation by controlling the exchange rate. Now currency control is in the hands of the government. That allows for more economic stability.
In the political sphere, we have created new institutions to advance the elimination of the capitalist state. We have established an incentive to community media and, of course, in the process of Latin American integration there are all the instruments that we have created for that unity.
In Venezuela, we had a rail system, which was eliminated completely by the auto multinationals that wanted to sell more cars. Now we are building a new national rail system. We have got a metro network in Caracas.
Now we are continuing to build the revolution. Of course, there are many people who carry forward the vices of their past. We have to fight against the corruption and bureaucracy that still exist. There are some bureaucrats that don’t fulfil their jobs.
* The Millennium Development Goals are eight international development goals that all 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organisations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. They include reducing extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development.
*Acknowledgements to Vinnie Molina for interpretation during the interview which was conducted in Spanish and for final editing by Bob Briton.