Economist Judith Valencia is a professor emeritus at Venezuela’s Central University and a member of the Network of Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity. In this interview, Valencia talks about the evolution of Hugo Chávez’s approach to geopolitics and the recent reactivation of the Union of South American Nations [UNASUR], an institution for continental integration that was born under Chávez.
Can you outline Chávez’s geopolitical perspective and how he came to assume an anti-imperialist stance?
When Chávez came to power, he had only Simón Bolívar in his toolkit: his key concepts were the “Patria Grande” and Bolívar versus Monroe. In other words, Chávez’s geopolitics evolved and became more complete during his presidency; he was in constant dialogue with the Venezuelan people, and he learned from his experience in national and international politics.
A pivotal event that would push Chávez to proclaim the Bolivarian Process anti-imperialist (and later frame our project as “Socialism of the 21st Century”) was the April 11, 2002 coup d’état – which involved imperialist interference – and also the popular mobilization to rescue him and bring him back to the presidency on April 12 and 13. From that moment on, he began to purge his government of the conservative and anti-popular elements in it. He did all this because he was listening and learning from the people.
In 2004 Chávez declared the Venezuelan process to be anti-imperialist. The counterrevolutionary offensive led Chávez to understand that Bolívar’s postulates were important, but that it was necessary to go beyond them, because the US’ expansionist policy had grown exponentially over time.
The Bolivarian Process is a constitutive one. What does that actually mean? The Constitutive Assembly drafted the text of a new constitution and the Venezuelan people voted it into law in 1999. Even so, in articles 347, 348, 349, and 350, the country’s magna carta states that the constitutive process is ongoing.
In other words, our constitutive process began in 1999 and it’s still unfolding. The process in which we are participating involves the making of laws, new ways of doing politics, and the ongoing incorporation of new elements to the program, including anti-imperialism in 2004 and later, in 2005, 21st Century Socialism.
The internal and external aggression against Venezuela worked as a catalyst. However, there were other experiences that pushed Chávez toward assuming an anti-imperialist stance, particularly his work with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC].
OPEC had been dormant for years, and in the early 2000s, Chávez took a tour through the Middle East to reactivate the institution. This trip gave him a wider perspective on US meddling that would eventually fuel his anti-imperialism.
Chávez was not a god. Chávez was a human being – if an exceptional one – who learned through practice. That is why, returning to your question, I want to highlight that Chávez’s geopolitical perspective evolved through time.
Can you outline the main elements of the geopolitical context in the first decade of the 21st century?
If we look back at the geopolitical panorama, we can see that beginning in the early 1990s a unipolar empire emerged and extended its tentacles toward Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Having visited Iraq on his OPEC tour, the 2003 US invasion of that country had a great impact on Chávez. Moreover, the destruction of Iraq came hard on the heels of the Oil Sabotage [December 2002 – February 2003] against Venezuela’s petroleum industry. Like the sabotage, the bombing of Iraq was carried out in the name of liberty and freedom.
Around that time, Chávez began to reflect on the terrorist character of US imperialism; he did it hand-in-hand with the people from around the world who stood up against military invasions, and in collaboration with Fidel Castro. In fact, during the first decade of the 21st Century, Fidel and Chávez developed a rich geopolitical program based not only on recriminating and exposing imperialism, but also developing a counteroffensive that included promoting international alliances.
Chávez’s discourse around 2005 and 2006 was marvelous. He often talked about imperialism and its blood-stained actions, but he also proposed an alternative and promoted laws that would boost national sovereignty. Additionally, Chávez recovered the terms “democracy” and “liberty,” which the empire was attempting to co-opt. All this triggered a counter-revolutionary onslaught around 2007 and 2008, but that didn’t weaken Chávez or the people.
This is a very condensed history, but I want to highlight once again that Chávez’s perspective and program evolved based on his lived experience and his dialogue with the pueblo.
You consider 2015 to be a turning point in the global scenario. Why is that?
On September 28, 2015, Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the United Nations, where he invited Barack Obama to join forces with him to defeat terrorism in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, Obama declined: the US had vested interests in those terrorist forces, which had become a critical factor in the US plan to redraw the map of the region.
Two days after that UN address, Russia offered a helping hand to Syria. As it turns out, the plight of terrorism in the region was actually neither cultural nor religious. Of course, superficially, cultural and religious issues had become a sort of social cement in the war, but the logistics and the objectives had “USA” written all over.
The US attempted to hide from international condemnation by working with mercenaries in Syria who didn’t wave US flags. In so doing, they avoided overtly breaching international law. Mercenary armies and proxy wars are the new modus operandi of the empire. In fact, NATO has become quite comfortable with the use of such tactics to displace populations and governments from strategic territories.
Fast forward to 2023 and a similar scenario is unfolding in Ukraine. Since his famous Munich speech in 2007, Putin has been advising NATO to not encroach on Russia’s borderline. It was clear already then that NATO, under US command, was attempting to pull the former Soviet republics away from Russia and into the North Atlantic bloc. In effect, the objective was to break the political, economic, and cultural ties of these former Soviet republics.
Over the years, NATO continued to encroach on the Russian Federation with terrorist and mercenary practices. That, in a nutshell, is why Russia was forced to go into Ukraine.
Mercenary terrorism is the currency of the US empire.
Are we living in a completely new scenario?
Weberian social scientists will often say that capitalism isn’t rational. On the other hand, political economists on the left understand that capital is rational, that those who govern are rational, have intentionality, and develop their strategies accordingly.
That’s why it would be a good idea to reread the 20th century and study how (and why) capitalist corporations collaborated with Hitler and Mussolini and their expansionist project. Almost 100 years later, we can see the same expansionist logic – and the same terrorist practices – being deployed by the US. This isn’t new, but it’s becoming more obvious.
The empire’s objective is to exterminate populations and cultures. What they are doing now is not too different from what Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy did: corporations are allying with the fascist axis to further their rational interests.
So, to answer your question, a global reconfiguration is underway, but the terrorist character of empire is nothing new.
What consequences does this situation have for the non-aligned countries and those of the Global South?
A new global consciousness of the cruelty of the NATO project is emerging. There isn’t such a thing as the “American way of life.” In its place, we find expansion and devastation. There is no life and no humanity in their project. In other words, the imperial drive to destroy life is visible everywhere you look.
In the current scenario, I argue that there is no Global South or “periphery.” Instead, there are pueblos and governments that understand that their interests are incompatible with those of the US. The non-aligned countries know that the battleground is not so much between the worker and the capitalist, but between survival and extermination.
This doesn’t mean that the current battleground is not class-based as well, but the key is located in the survival of peoples, their nation-states, their cultures, and the protection of their resources. Right now the battleground is not so much capitalism versus socialism, but between an empire of mercenaries and the peoples of the world.
Many countries desire an alternative and the global correlation of forces is beginning to change. That’s why Venezuela allies itself with countries that respect its sovereignty such as China and Russia. The US empire wages wars against peoples in the name of freedom and liberty… but its objective is just the opposite! There are governments in this loose bloc that may not declare themselves communist but they respect the sovereignty and culture of other nations. Those are our allies.
This takes us to the South American presidents’ summit that took place this May in Brazil, renewing prospects for continental integration and the reactivation of UNASUR, an institution that had been dormant for years. Does this point to a South-South realignment in the region?
We should cast our lot with UNASUR, but we should pay attention as it gets reactivated to make sure that it remains true to its original principles, which are of a piece with Chávez’s geopolitical strategy. That strategy included initiatives such as ALBA, Petrocaribe, and the defeat of [former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique] Cardoso’s plans for Mercosur. Cardoso’s plan was about economic convergence or integration but didn’t really break away from the precepts of the Alliance for Progress. In fact, Chávez didn’t base his proposal on the convergence of economies, but rather on the need to overcome weak multilateral institutions that are easily penetrated by US interests.
President Nicolás Maduro did well at the Brasilia summit. He talked about regional integration, and he kept the idea of UNASUR as a true “union” in the discussion. That idea was being challenged by other participants. From where we are, this makes all the difference: union of the pueblos, integration of our economies, and full respect for each other’s borders and sovereignty.
The issue of the borders is altogether relevant because there are regional multilateral instances such as IIRSA [Initiative for the Integration of Regional South American Infrastructure] promoted by Cardoso himself that have attempted to redraw borders. In fact, in the Venezuelan case, the country’s map was chopped into two!
Why do I talk so much about Cardoso, a former president of Brazil? Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva has an alliance with Cardoso and Celso Amorim, the ideologue behind Cardoso’s “map,” is also an adviser to Lula. If their influence on Lula and UNASUR is felt, UNASUR won’t be the instrument we need.
At the end of the day, the important thing is for there to be a space where the pueblos and their governments can deliberate on their own and not with the tutelage that expresses itself in IIRSA or direct interventionism along the lines of Plan Puebla-Panamá [Mesoamerica Project].
The existing UNASUR charter preamble is beautiful because it centers both unity and integration; it talks about development but it also talks about liberty and sovereignty; and it sketches a framework where the continent’s pueblos can be free and respect each other’s territories. That’s why some years ago, when the governments of Brazil and Colombia were cooking up plans to invade Venezuela, they had to get out of UNASUR.
The language of the preamble of UNASUR’s charter must be maintained. Colombia’s Gustavo Petro proposed that it be called an “association” and not a “union.” What is that? We don’t want to be business associates with our partners in the region! Our aim is much more ambitious.
Let’s stay firm and push for integration and union. If we are able to do this, UNASUR will be a powerful tool against the unipolar interests of the US empire.