On the eve of the Presidential elections, here is an interview I made with respected Venezuelan political and sports commentator Reinaldo Iturriza. His blog, ‘saber y poder’, can be viewed here.
The Presidential elections are coming up on October 7th, how do you see the chances of Hugo Chavez' re-election?
I think the chances are very high. Elsewhere, it may be a bit difficult to understand how someone who took office almost 14 years ago can be supported by the will of the people to govern for another six years. The thing to understand is that these elections are not "normal": every time there is an election in Venezuela, the people are confronting two historical projects, the choice between two ways of Venezuelan society. One of the choices includes the majority of the people remaining exploited and invisible forever. Today, that majority supports Chavez.
Do you think Henrique Capriles has the potential to cause an upset in the elections? If they lose the election, do you think the opposition will accept the results or try to use other methods to achieve their goals?
In my view, Chavez should always work with the worst case scenario in mind: a result adjusted, even defeat. Never yielding to the temptation of triumphalism. You have to be prepared for "surprises".
Regarding the attitude the opposition will assume in defeat: certainly part of the opposition will try to ignore the popular will, as it always has. However, I think most of the opposition will recognize the results. I do not see how they can draw political gain from ignorance of Chavez's victory.
If Capriles was to win the election, how do you think it could affect the progress Venezuela has in the last ten years?
It would stop the process of revolutionary change. Of that there can be no doubt. I will go further than that: the program Capriles publicly signed on January 23rd of this year is radically neoliberal in content. His character is deeply anti-popular. If he won, there would be times of great political and social upheaval.
In a speech in Trujillo last Saturday, President Hugo Chavez said: "Take the reins. Deepen the revolution." What exactly does this mean, and how can be achieved?
There are no formulas, of course. But I would say that one of the keys is to not forget that the main achievement of the Bolivarian revolution is popular participation. In the speech that you refer to, the President spoke to the youth: he told them to take the reins. We must be on guard against the signs of an ageing Bolivarian revolution. We must be on guard against corrupt people, the opportunists, the sectarians, who believe that to make a revolution, it is enough just to "apply" what the old leftist manuals say. We have to fight hard, and beat them.
Clearly, there are signs that progress has been made, but what would your criticisms be of the current government? If re-elected, what do you think can be improved? How can more power be put into the hands of ordinary Venezuelans?
There is plenty to do. But I would say that three things are essential: firstly, we must review the notion of political representation that went into a deep crisis. We must invent new ways of popular participation. The party and communal councils, they are not sufficient. Even, at times, they can act as brakes. Secondly, we must also open the doors to popular ethics and aesthetics. In the field of culture we remain very conservative. Thirdly, we need to stop the violence that excludes millions of young people in our barrios. We need to attack the police mafias, and clean up the corrupt and elitist justice system.
I haven't been in Venezuela for long, but I've participated in a two huge pro-Chavez demonstrations in Caracas, the second of which could have been the biggest in the city's history, and I am also aware of similar mobilisations in Merida, Trujillo, Zulia and Yuracuy. Why are people going out in such huge numbers in support of the current government?
People go out and support Chavez, because Chavez is like us.
For example, the misiones, how have they affected the everyday lives of ordinary Venezuelans?
The misiones are the best expression of a government we elected that puts the emphasis on the popular majority. They have improved education, healthcare, provision of food, we have eradicated illiteracy, our seniors have a pension, hundreds of thousands of people are beginning to have decent housing, and so on. But the change goes far beyond these achievements. Today, the people do not feel slighted. Today, it feels that your life is worth something, that it makes sense. The challenge is not to allow the misiones to decay. They must continuosly be improved. Until they are no longer required, or until they give way to new, even more democratic institutions.
Your blog, 'saber y poder', is read by a large number of people online. Why is communication particularly important for the Bolivarian process?
Because of a need to convey information and stimulate the discussion of ideas, in a environment that is hostile to the Bolivarian proposal: the vast majority of the media here is in the hands of private capital, which is against the revolutionary process. Outside Venezuela, the situation is no different: there is mostly misinformation about what occurs here. But also, we need communication to combat the trends of the "normalization" of the Bolivarian revolution. In the field of communication, we must continue to invent and multiply spaces to connect the struggle in the streets with popular criticism.
As a sports commentator yourself, what role do you see for sports and culture in the Bolivarian process? The Venezuelan Olympic and Paralympic athletes, for example, came home to an amazing reception!
Sports and culture are a mirror in which we see what we can do. Each of our heroes' triumph is our triumph, and makes us feel a little heroic ourselves. We feel that the time for defeats is being left behind.
How do you see the situation in Venezuela, politically, socially and economically, in ten years from now?
Better. As long as the Bolivarian revolution continues. As long as it does not stagnate and we reinvent every so often. I see my country as a place where my daughters, Sandra and Ainhoa, may grow and live in freedom.