Mérida, February 4th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com)-- In an exclusive interview with the international news network CNN on Monday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said that his government will maintain its extensive social programs no matter how low oil prices drop, and re-iterated his hope that relations with the U.S. will be restored.
“You could put the price of oil at zero, and the social programs will not be cut back… we would have to re-focus, revise, reduce spending elsewhere, but we will never reduce the spending on education, health care, housing, and micro-credits,” said the president when asked how long the government’s extensive social programs will be sustainable amidst falling oil prices.
Chávez added that his government “does not have plans to increase taxes or devalue the bolivar [currency] in the short term,” but that he “can’t say with absolute certainty” whether this will change in the future.
CNN’s Patricia Janiot, who Chávez has criticized for reporting inaccurately and sympathizing primarily with the anti-Chávez opposition, asked the president how Simón Bolívar, the independence hero and namesake of Chávez’s political movement, would evaluate Chávez’s presidency.
“Bolívar was very demanding,” Chávez told Janiot. “I don’t think he’d fail me, out of 100 points, I think he’d give me 55.”
Chávez recounted how Venezuela, an OPEC nation which exports a million out of the three million barrels of oil it produces per day to the U.S., has increased its international currency reserves by more than 200% to $43 billion over the past decade, and reduced its external debt from more than half its budget to less than 15%, placing the country on solid footing amidst the world economic crisis.
Also, Venezuela has diversified its markets and spearheaded trade integration in the hemisphere, which has solidified political alliances and opened new opportunities for economic cooperation, the president emphasized.
When Janiot asked if Venezuela will invest in alternative energies in case U.S. President Barack Obama fulfills his campaign promise to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, Chávez said the alternative energies are “phenomenal” and that he hopes Venezuela and the U.S. can collaborate on the development of wind, solar, and marine current energy.
However, Chávez predicted that “an increase in world oil consumption is inevitable,” and that “in the short term, it will be difficult for the U.S. to detach itself from the oil it needs like oxygen to live.”
With respect to diplomatic relations with the U.S., which have been on hold ever since both countries withdrew their respective ambassadors last September, Chávez said, “Hopefully we can restore our relationship at least to the level we had with the government of [former President Bill] Clinton… I have faith that this is possible, but it will depend on the attitude of the president of the U.S and his secretary of state… we will not accept disrespect from anybody.”
Currently, Venezuelans are preparing for a national vote on whether to amend the constitution to abolish the two-term limit on elected offices. Janiot asked Chávez, who initiated the amendment, what will happen if the campaign of his opposition against the amendment wins.
“I am a democrat. I am subordinated to the constitution and to the people’s decision,” Chávez replied. “If we lose, we simply lose, and I have four years left in the government.”
Also, those who oppose his government could gather signatures to hold a national recall referendum on whether to remove him from office, the president pointed out.
Janiot aired a clip of a prominent opposition leader and former mayor of a wealthy Caracas district, Leopoldo López, denouncing that Caracas has become one of the most violent cities in the world.
The president responded, “I do not have a repressive mentality. When we talk about cultural programs, educational missions, employment training, we are talking about attacking the roots of delinquency and the roots of insecurity. We must combat [insecurity] in an integral manner, because the only path to peace is justice.”
Chávez dismissed accusations re-stated by Janiot that his “authoritarian” government had sent the military to close businesses that did not observe the holiday for the ten-year anniversary of Chávez’s presidency.
“They can’t find anything new to invent now to attack a government that acts according to the constitution and the law,” said Chávez.
The president also said it is “absolutely false” that government offices had obligated their employees to attend anniversary festivities. Some employees have denounced the pressure in their workplaces, where Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is ubiquitous, to attend activities led by the president.
Finally, when asked about whether his position with regard to Colombia’s guerilla movement has changed since he first came into office, Chávez said, “Our position on the internal conflict in Colombia is the same as ten years ago. It is an internal conflict in Colombia.”
The full interview, in Spanish, is below: