Interview with Former Venezuelan Trade Minister Eduardo Samán: “New Radical Current Needed to Oppose New Bourgeoisie”

For many months, the ex-minister of trade and ex-president of the Institute for the Defense of People’s Access to Goods and Services (INDEPABIS), Eduardo Samán, kept a low profile, until he decided to speak.

Former Trade Minister Eduardo Saman

“I was waiting until the September 26thelections were over… I am not going to do anything that hurts the [revolutionary] process, and of course I am not moving to the right. I am a revolutionary and I accompany Chavez because I believe he is an essential and indispensable factor in this process,” said Samán.

Since his surprising exit from the ministry [in February 2010], many questions have been raised among government supporters as well as adversaries as to his departure. Hundreds of opinion articles, analyses, and commentaries circulated in diverse media outlets, especially on websites, demanding an explanation of why he was fired.

Samán’s administration did not go unnoticed, as has happened in other cases. During his time in office as minister, he won the sympathy of many and the hatred of others. The threats, insults, curses, and rice bags thrown in his face merged together with admiration, love, and respect toward Samán, who is also a university professor.

During Samán’s administration, the nationalization of the Éxito and CADA supermarket chains was carried out.

An interesting piece of information is that the same day that the [state-owned] Bicentenary Supermarkets were inaugurated, on February 10thof this year, President Hugo Chavez, from the capital of Lara state, announced the firing of Eduardo Samán from the Trade Ministry and from INDEPABIS, without offering more details than those which are known today.

ES: I proposed the expropriation of Éxito, but the decision was taken by President Chavez. In the same way, I proposed the expropriation of the CADA markets, and this bothered some comrades, who told me ‘you are not the one to decide what is to be nationalized or what is to be expropriated, this is a decision that the president makes.’

LC: Who was bothered by this?

ES: The comrades who ran the agriculture and food sectors. Remember, I proposed the CADA because, understanding how CATIVEN [Chain of Venezuelan Stores] works, it was impossible to nationalize Éxito without nationalizing CADA, because the logistics are the same for both systems, Éxito-CADA; it was the same apparatus, the same trucks, the same storage facilities, and it was the decision that the president made on the very day that he fired me.

LC: And why were you fired from the Trade Ministry?

ES: The only person who knows is the president.

LC: And you still do not know why?

ES: I do not know. Moreover, all ministers do not know the cause of their firing. They are simply sent a letter or called on the telephone, as it was in my case, the vice president [Elías Jaua] called me and asked me to resign from my position, but they did not explain to me why I was leaving.

LC: But what is your hypothesis?

ES: The one that makes the most sense, given everything that happened and everything that is happening, is a threat of food shortages that appeared in all of the indicators collected by the Planning Ministry, or at least that is what they made the president believe.

LC: This threat that you refer to came from the bourgeoisie?

ES: No, come on, what bourgeoisie? It was the internal boli-bourgeoisie or, to refer to them respectfully, the reformists.

LC: Can you give their names?

ES: No, ok, because I could forget a lot of people.

Hypothesis about the Firing

Samán reveals that, before he was fired, a meeting was held in the Office of the Vice President of the Republic among ministers and government authorities with top executives of agroindustrial companies and food producers.

ES: I think it was a trap that my own comrades set up for me. What happened in this meeting is that I assumed an intransigent position, because it seemed illogical to me that price increases would be permitted, for example those of ice cream, when neither the price of electricity, nor milk, nor sugar had increased, and at that time salaries had not increased either. Only the prices of some emulsifiers that they purchased in dollars increased when the exchange rate went from 2.15 [bolivars to the dollar] to 2.6 [bolivars to the dollar], but ice cream was already incredibly expensive and they defended themselves by arguing that these were not items of first necessity. This was one of the impasses that there were at the meeting with a representative of Polar industries. When other comrades told them, ‘yes, increase the prices, but not much,’ I took a hard line with them. That is where a big conflict arose because I contradicted my comrade, in the middle of a meeting with business owners, and I think they used this against me.”

LC: You haven’t had the opportunity to talk with President Chavez since you were fired?

ES: Yes, I spoke with the president. He told me that this is a question of strategy, that politics, like baseball, is a question of playing positions. I cannot obligate the president to explain, he is free to hire and to fire.

Capitalism and Socialism: A New Bourgeoisie?

Samán declares himself, without any type of shame, a communist “of the most radical type,” and for this reason he believes that to build bridges to capitalism and from there build the basis of socialism is an error.

ES: To believe that we have to strengthen a bourgeoisie to develop capitalism in order to later go to socialism is to jump over hurtles. I think this is incorrect because we’ve had a dose of it and we have gone backwards. Here, the Bolivarian bourgeoisie was strengthened and look what the results have been.

LC: Are you saying that in the Fifth Republic [referring to the period since Chavez was elected in 1998] a new bourgeoisie has been strengthened?

ES: Of course! [In the Fourth Republic] you don’t see, for example, [Ricardo] Fernández Barrueco [a rich Venezuelan investor arrested and charged with bank fraud]. He didn’t make that fortune in the Fourth, he made it in the Fifth.

LC: And are they linked to the government?

ES: Not necessarily. Polar [Venezuela’s largest private food company] is richer under this government and is not linked, at all, to the government, and it has had more profits during this government.

LC: Why is that?

ES: Chávez has been the factor that kept the bourgeoisie from disappearing in these years of ferocious capitalist and neoliberal globalization. In this country, independent pharmacies still exist. In other countries, the large chains ate up the independent pharmacies. Here, small businesses like shoe and furniture stores still exist… that was the big threat in the Fourth Republic: The big fish was eating the small fish, and Chavez has impeded that. 

Between Desks and Communicational “Rickets”

Today, Samán continues to serve as a professor in the Pharmacy Department of the Central University of Venezuela, in addition to being responsible, ad honorem, for the economy section of [Venezuelan leftist newspaper] Diario Vea.

ES: I am not tied by an umbilical chord to any position, not even in the cabinet. I am a soldier of this revolution and I believe that from here, from [Diario] Vea, I can fight and I believe that I am more useful here than as a minister, because in the communicational area we are very weak, very rachitic.”

LC: Why did you pull out of your candidacy in the PSUV primaries for the legislative seat in Circuit 5 of Caracas?

ES: If we accept being in a party it is in order to obey the party line. The president explained to me that there was a determined strategy and my personal aspirations cannot hinder that strategy. I launched the candidacy because the vice president, when he asked me to resign from my charge, told me the president had said I should consider the possibility of going to the National Assembly, that is what Elías [Jaua] told me, but afterward there were changes in opinion.

Governments on a Knife Edge

Samán believes that the actions of some governors and mayors influenced the abstention of Chavistas in the last elections.

ES: If you look at the mayor’s secretary today, and tomorrow she has bought a brand new truck, then you say, ‘hey now, what’s that all about? She’s only been there a month and she already drives a luxurious truck.’ There were more than two million from our side who did not come out to support us, who are dissatisfied [the PSUV’s membership is more than seven million, while approximately five and a half million people voted for the PSUV in the last elections]. I say that the radical current should capitalize on this discontent within the party, that is, not permit those people who did not vote for us to go to the right… The right is death, fascism, racism, backwardness; it is to hand over the country, hand over the oil; it is slavery.  

A Watered Down INDEPABIS?

Samán asserts that INDEPABIS, after he left the presidency of that institution, “does not inspect bakeries” because, according to him, there was a non-aggression pact between the Trade Ministry and the Venezuelan Federation of Baking and Related Industries (FEVIPAN).

ES: So that they would not go on strike and so they did not stop producing, the INDEPABIS agreed to turn a blind eye to the unjustified increase in bread prices. So, it prohibited its inspectors from inspecting and closing bakeries. They can take me to the courthouse and judge me for what I am saying, but it is the truth. When the INDEPABIS inspectors did an inspection, the baker called up FEVIPAN, the FEVIPAN person called the vice minister, Carlina Pacheco, and she called the president of INDEPABIS to call her attention to the fact that they were inspecting a baker, and they had to stop that.

This interview with Mr. Samán was conducted by Oswaldo López and published on the Venezuelan revolutionary news and analysis website Aporrea.org on October 18, 2010. Translated by James Suggett for Venezuelanalysis.com.