The following is the second part of a three-part interview conducted by Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Ramonet has previously worked with Le Monde Diplomatique and Liberation and is an author of over a dozen works including a spoken biography of Fidel Castro.
The interview was published on Ramonet’s Facebook page on January 1, 2019, and comes only days before Maduro is due to start his second constitutional term as president on January 10, which many regional right-wing governments have claimed is illegitimate. It also comes in a context of ongoing inflation, increased international pressure and sanctions against Venezuela, a solidification of the political hegemony of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) after winning five elections in the past 18 months, the implosion of the right-wing opposition alliance, a series of government-led economic reforms, and a recent attempt to assassinate the President with drone-laden explosives.
Ramonet, who has known Maduro for more than ten years, personally testifies to “the profound affection and confidence that Chávez had in him.”
Ignacio Ramonet: Well, let's discuss, in the second part, some economic issues.
Once the scene of political violence was overcome, the economic battle and in particular the fight against inflation were seen as the main national tasks for 2019. What evaluation do you make of the Plan of Economic Recovery, Growth and Prosperity launched on August 20 last year? And what are the prospects for 2019?
Nicolás Maduro: I believe that the main achievement of the Programme of Economic Recovery, Growth and Prosperity is that we now have a handle on what is a plan of growth and recovery. We have the reins for the protection of employment, the protection of the wages of the workers. We have the reins for the organized growth of key sectors of the economy.
And we are in a better position to engage in the bloody, tough battle against international sanctions that have made Venezuela lose at least some twenty billion dollars only during 2018... These are colossal, multi-billion dollar losses. They pursue our bank accounts. They prevent us from purchasing any product in the world: food, medicines, supplies... It is a wild persecution, a criminal harassment against Venezuela.
Not to mention the financial blockade, which is more than a blockade... Because a blockade is, sometimes, when they want to block you they put a barrier there, and now you cannot go there... But it is more than a blockade against us, it is a true persecution... They chase after our bank accounts, the business dealings which Venezuela has in the world, our purchases etc…
For example, Euroclear [one of the largest systems of clearing and settlement of financial stocks in the world whose headquarters are located in Brussels.] in 2018 kidnapped 1.4 billion Euros which we had put aside and committed to buy medicines, food and supplies. And no one gave us an explanation. We have denounced this at the United Nations, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I have reported it to the various international agencies... And nobody says anything.
So, we have a struggle to liberate ourselves, to make ourselves independent from all this persecution and blockade, and this is only achieved through the production of wealth.
I'm very determined to raise oil production, to raise Venezuela’s petrochemical capacity, gold, diamonds, coltan, iron, steel, aluminum production. These are abundant goods which Venezuela has and which, despite international persecution decreed by the United States of North America, are still raw materials which have an international market without limitations.
I would add that the attacks against us are constant, ruthless, and multi-pronged. And they are not just economic. For example, now, with the end of the year festivities, dozens of terrorist cells specialized in electrical sabotage have arrived to Venezuela from outside. They blow up transformers, cut high voltage cables, they dynamite power stations... They leave entire neighborhoods, sometimes entire towns, without electricity, without power for freezers, industries, hospitals, transport. They put lives in danger, they ruined the holidays for thousands of families.
Other groups have infiltrated [Venezuela] with plans to provoke disruptions in the distribution of water. They destroy pipelines, sabotage aqueducts, cause water cuts, they complicate the daily life of hundreds of families. Other terrorists sabotage our public transport... Others specialize in making cash disappear, carrying it en masse to Colombia.
These are criminal acts that we qualify as "terrorist." Our security forces are deployed throughout the country and are every more effective. They have already arrested dozens of these mercenary commandos. But they keep coming because our enemies’ resources are infinite...
And I must say, admiringly, that the Venezuelan people have faced all these attacks with a staggering political consciousness. With the determined support of our security forces, they are very determined to resist against such cowardly attacks.
This is why I say that the people of Venezuela are the victims of fierce persecution that I compared, I have dared to do so, with the persecution of Hitler against the Jews, with the permission of the World Jewish community. They persecute us mercilessly. They besiege us. They obsessively heckle us from the United States, with sadism, and they want to do us economic damage so as to suffocate us, strangle us, beat us.
They haven't managed to achieve this. Nor will they. And I think that with the Programme of Economic Recovery, Growth and Prosperity, in 2019 there will be very positive surprises, the elevation of production and the creation of wealth for the country and for the population. Decidedly, our economy will take off thanks to the control of inflation and the elements that have been disrupting the life of Venezuelans in recent years.
IR: According to our information, the production of oil from Venezuela is around 1,200,000 barrels per day, i.e. below the optimum output. What is the real situation of the state-owned PDVSA petroleum firm?
NM: We have embarked on a process of defending international oil prices, and my government has strived to do just this. One of the manifestations of the multipronged aggression against the economies of Russia, Iran and Venezuela - to mention a few of the big exporters - is the way of handling dangerous forms of production, the so-called fracking of shale oil, and the financial speculation in future contracts, which look to artificially lower prices.
We try and defend a balanced oil price that favours both producers and consumers, and we will continue to act this way in the framework of the agreement of OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] member countries and non-OPEC members.
About your specific question, I confess: it is true, Venezuela is producing less oil than it should, and that has been one of my major concerns. Unfortunately real mafias have popped up in the bosom of PDVSA. Wicked corruption which, like a cancer, has undermined our strength and prevented us from increasing oil production. We have faced this with force, with determination.
We have put several corrupt managers and senior officials who betrayed our trust, their word of honour, and loyalty to become cheap thieves, at the disposal of the justice system, and they are being processed.
I am sure that 2019 will be the year of recovery in oil production, with the contributions of the honest PDVSA and private enterprises that, through the formation of joint ventures and contracts for services, are already producing and accelerating this effort.
IR: What you respond you to the international media that campaign against your government talking about "chronic shortages" of basic food, “hardship” in finding vital drugs, and denouncing a "humanitarian crisis"?
NM: The reality behind the brutal and infamous psychological and media campaign of the imperial centers against Venezuela and Venezuelans has been demonstrated by serious researchers. They want to break our morale and our unwavering commitment to be independent and free.
Of all the news published about Venezuela in US and European media, 98 percent is negative news. 98 percent! Outrageous. They don't tell - as I have already stated - that six million Venezuelan households receive at home, almost for free, essential family food every three weeks. They silence the fact that we are ensuring food for the people, as they do for the recognition by multilateral agencies such as FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]. They do not mention that, in these festive weeks, our government has distributed about 14 million toys to boys and girls from poor families. They are silent on the fact that we have delivered - you were witness to a part of this yesterday - two and a half million social houses. What other country has done that?
They hide the fact that we are facing a tough economic war and a blockade promoted by the US empire and some countries in Europe. They omit indicators that almost the entire population of Venezuela has access to free and good quality medical care. There is not a single corner of Venezuela that is not covered to by our physicians of the Barrio Adentro mission. They don't say - as I have also pointed out - that the entire population has access to free and quality education from preschool to elementary school to university and even postgraduate level.
By the way, in 2018 in Venezuela total education enrolment increased... Don’t you find it strange, Ramonet, that we have managed to increase enrolment in this so-called "catastrophic" context which they are trying to convince the world exists here?
The response to such nonsense has already been suggested in 2015 by General John Kelly [current Chief of Staff of President Donald Trump; former Secretary of Homeland Security. In 2015, he was commander of the United States Southern Command of the United States] when he said that Washington "would intervene" in Venezuela should a "humanitarian crisis" present itself.
We do not deny the problems that exist in our country. On the contrary, we confront them, discuss them with our people and are determined to solve them. If the United States wanted to help, they could start by not being hypocritical. They could release the resources that Euroclear stole from us, 1.4 billion Euros. They could allow us access to the credit system of international finance that all the states of the world can access. And bear in mind that Venezuela is a good payer. In the first five years of my government, we paid more than US $ 70 billion [in debts].
Despite our status as good payers, Venezuela is denied access to international credit, pursued and has accounts closed in an illegal, abusive, illegitimate, and unfair way.
IR: Throughout 2018, some international media outlets have spread images of Venezuelans "fleeing" their country due to the alleged "economic collapse" and the "humanitarian crisis." They speak of "millions of immigrants." And several neighbouring recipients of this emigration - spurred on by the United States, the European Union and Canada - are demanding international aid for the so-called "care expenses" for those migrants. What reflection does this phenomena deserve?
NM: This phenomena, as you yourself observed, has been built, in part, based upon "fake news" of "alternate truths" and other misinformation manufactured with the active complicity of various media conglomerates.
On a minimum reality base - that no one denies, Ramonet - some working screenwriters have developed an anti-Chavista narrative for the millions. It is a gigantic 'false positive' operation coordinated by the world champions in 'false positives', i.e. the government of Colombia, who are accompanied as ‘yes-men’ by some satellite countries of imperialism.
It's a good sad story. It sounds regrettable. On the one hand these magicians tricked a group of Venezuelans, whose number - I take this opportunity to denounce - never reached, even remotely, the figures big media outlets have repeated a thousand times in a deceitful way. We, I insist, do not deny that a group of Venezuelans left the country swallowing that deceitful offer of "better conditions of life and work."
It was an unusual group of people, to put it that way, because those who left did so with money in their pockets, a thousand, even ten thousand dollars; another group left with twenty thousand dollars, or even larger amounts... And they went to Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile. And there they were met with the brutal reality of the wild capitalism, of xenophobia, racial hatred... Many had the money stolen from them, others were mistreated, harassed, or subjected to slave work.
In parallel, the propagandists constructed the false story of "mass migration" and the "humanitarian crisis." Stating frankly absurd things, blatant lies... They came to repeat, for example, that a million Venezuelans entered Ecuador each month... I did a little exercise of arithmetic, Ramonet: do you how many buses are needed daily to move that amount of people to Ecuador? Eight hundred daily trips! Can you imagine eight hundred buses going daily to Quito? Where are the photographs showing that these million people? The world has seen thousands of migrants walking toward the United States from Honduras. We all saw a huge march. Yet, however, this was only something like eight or nine thousand people... Can you imagine a column of 100,000 migrants? A column of eight hundred buses collapsing the streets of Quito daily?
It is incredible that people who can think for themselves have believed lies of such a caliber. But that is precisely the purpose of the "false positive" and of the "fake news": to sow lies so that they impose themselves over reasoning and truth.
In addition, the government of Colombia and its President Iván Duque, in a shameless move, are trying to get money out of the operation. It's amazing! Isn’t it? Money that, surely, will be lost, stolen... There are still those who are asking, in the United States Congress, what the government of Colombia did with the US $72 billion Washington gave them to "fight drugs"... What did they do with those billions? I can tell you for sure: they stole it.
Colombia remains the number one producer of cocaine in the world, and illicit crops have done nothing but increase. It is incredible that President Duque is looking to defraud the international community and the multilateral system with the nonsense that he himself invented. He could begin to deal with, for example, his own citizens, the Colombians, who already repudiate him amply only a little more than 100 days after taking office.
He could deal with, for example, the Colombians living in Venezuela. Did you know that here, in our country, we have received around six million sisters and brothers from Colombia? They constitute 12 percent of the population of Colombia, but they live in Venezuela! And here we have given them security, work, food, education, free medical care and above all, peace, we have guaranteed their right to a dignified life. It never occurred us to ask anyone for a penny to cater for the millions of Colombian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Chilean, Brazilian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Lebanese brothers and sisters who have come to this Venezuelan homeland. Here we receive them with open arms.
Finally, all this tall story about "mass migration" has already fallen apart. The mask has fallen off... And something even more unusual has happened. I do not remember this happening anywhere else: in mid-2018, large numbers of our compatriots began to queue at the doors of our embassies and consulates in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, etc. Compatriots clamoring to return to Venezuela. Fed up with racism, xenophobia, scams, the precariousness of the poor, the working life of a slave...
This was when we came up with the “Return to the Homeland" plan... More than twenty thousand Venezuelans have returned already. And we will continue facilitating the return of all those who wish to do so. Here we expect them to go on to building our beautiful homeland together.
IR: Several Latin American governments, left and right, have recently been accused of being involved in major corruption patterns linked in particular to the "Odebrecht" case. In your opinion, what is the level of corruption in Venezuela? What measures has your government taken to fight this corruption?
NM: Listen well to what I'm going to say, Ramonet: there is, in the history of Venezuela, no process nor government that has fought corruption in its structural character with greater rigour than the Bolivarian Revolution and the governments of Hugo Chávez and mine. I am aware that one of the lines of attack of our opponents consists in accusing us of laxity with regard to corruption. It is absolutely false.
I denounced corruption in virtually every one of my speeches. You have heard me, only yesterday... I am the first to recognise that there is much corruption, there are many bandits out there, in public offices, stealing, cheating and taking advantage of the people. I have denounced it with greater severity again recently, last December 20, in the Bolivarian Peoples Congress where I proposed the creation of a plan for the fight against corruption and bureaucracy. This has never been addressed in Venezuela.
But these are not just words or speeches, Ramonet. With the tools of justice and of the state, we have undertaken a genuine crusade against corruption and indolence.
And we have gotten the Attorney General to process and imprison dozens and dozens of senior public officials and high-level representatives of private companies that dishonored their oath of loyalty, honesty and that violated the laws of the Republic. To point out only the oil sector, for example, more than 40 senior managers of PDVSA and Citgo [Citgo Petroleum Corporation] are in prison for acts of corruption against the Republic, and even a former president of PDVSA is on the run from our justice for serious acts of corruption.
So I doubt that there is any government in the world that confronts corruption more aggressively and diligently as we are doing. In fact, for 2019, I've defined three basic lines of action of the revolution and of my government in its new beginning. First of all, the preservation of the peace of the Republic, with strict adherence to the constitution, and safeguarding of the peace from internal or external threats. Secondly, the consolidation of the economic recovery programme to finally defeat, in the first half of 2019, the criminally induced inflation and strengthen the productive system of our country.
And thirdly, precisely: a tireless struggle against indolence, negligence, laziness, and above all corruption. I have asked for all the support of the people in this crusade. And I am counting on their strength and collaboration to accompany me. This is a highly popular cause, deeply supported by the population. People know that corruption is their enemy, an enemy in the shadows and an enemy of the revolution. We will eradicate it. We'll make it happen. You will see. We will defeat the indolence of the officials who don't fulfill their duties. And we will deepen the battle against corruption. Be it where it may. He or she who has to fall, must fall.
Translation by Ricardo Vaz and Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.com.