| | MR Online President Maduro discussed the Venezuelan opposition, drone attacks, his new term, coup d’etats, the Constituent Assembly and smear campaigns in an interview with renowned journalist Ignacio Ramonet.Photo: Venezolana de televisión Photo: Granma

Interview with Maduro: I thank Chávez, because, with Fidel and Raúl, they constructed a new, dignified beginning for our entire continent

Originally published: Granma on January 18, 2019 by Ignacio Ramonet (more by Granma)  | (Posted Jan 21, 2019)

THE President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, this past January 10, began a new term in office. Given the people’s express will that he continue to lead the country in defending the legacy of Hugo Chávez, Maduro was interviewed by journalist Ignacio Ramonet. Granma International reproduces excerpts from this conversation:

How do you explain that voters supported you so massively, given the difficult situation citizens face, created by the economic war and financial sanctions imposed by Washington?

The people granted the Bolivarian Revolution-Chavismo, which is a real social and political force that exists in the streets, in neighborhoods, in the fields and the cities-the greatest support any candidate has ever obtained in a Presidential election.

We had noted, following the victory in the Constituent Assembly election of July, 2017, a sustained recovery of our forces, a strengthening of revolutionary unity – we received the support of all parties in the Gran Polo Patriótico (Great Patriotic Pole) and innumerable social movements – and organizational growth of our United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). This is also explained by the maturity and wisdom shown by our people amidst the most brutal aggression we have suffered since our war of independence, and because the Revolution has addressed the needs of Venezuelan society, amid difficulties and economic persecution. Not a single school has been closed, nor a university: the number of students in public education has increased. We continue to provide healthcare free of charge for our entire people; forcefully and tenaciously protecting salaries and employment; every three weeks we deliver basic foods, the now-famous “CLAP boxes” to some six million homes in Venezuela.

Several governments did not recognize the results of the Presidential elections and have threatened to refuse to recognize you as President. How do you respond to this?

That Venezuela is a country which has forged its identity, its republican nature, its independence, throughout its history; that Venezuela is governed by a Constitution that is the most democratic in our entire history, approved by our people in a referendum 19 years ago. In 2018, we had two absolutely transparent electoral races, organized by the country’s electoral institutions. The Electoral Power in Venezuela is a public power, the fifth public power, and utilizes logistics, advanced electronic systems, recognized by international figures of unquestionable prestige, like Jimmy Carter, who stated that the election process in Venezuela is the most transparent and spotless that can be seen in the world.

The Presidential elections of May 20, 2018, were held with the supervision of national and international observers. And our people made a decision. Decisions about Venezuela are not made by foreign governments. The people made this decision: for the first time, we received 68% of the votes, and we are going to abide by the people’s decision. Our democracy has real strength; there have been 25 elections in the last 20 years. That is to say, in 20 years of Revolution, there have been almost three times the number held in the United States during this period.

Although you have continued to call for democratic dialogue, the most important opposition forces, grouped within the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), chose not to participate in these elections. What do you think about this?

I have appealed to the Venezuelan opposition for political dialogue on more than 300 occasions, not counting the ongoing dialogue with private sectors and society in general. I have not sought to convince anyone to assume our models. Our work has always been directed toward strengthening peaceful, political coexistence among forces in Venezuela. But all of our efforts for dialogue have been boycotted by the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela. Someday, the visits made by the embassy’s chargé d’affaires, door to door, to every one of the opposition’s candidates for nomination, to force them not to participate in the May 20 Presidential elections, will be known.

Within the framework of the Bolivarian Revolution, what is the political space available to the opposition? Would the Revolution accept their victory, if the opposition should win a Presidential election?

The opposition enjoys all the guarantees established in the Constitution to freely conduct politics. Of the 25 elections held in Venezuela in 20 years, we have won 23, but we have lost two: the constitutional reform of 2007 and the legislative elections of 2015. When we lost, we immediately recognized our defeat. Chávez in 2007, and myself in 2015, recognized the results and called on the people to respect them in peace. I presented my message to the nation, in January of 2016, before a majority opposition National Assembly, and what was the pretentious right’s response? That I be removed from office within six months, in violation of the Constitution and the term in office granted by the people.

On several occasions, you have described some opposition forces as coup plotters, and on August 4 you were the victim of an assassination attempt with drones loaded with explosives. What can you tell us about this attack?

We experienced something I never thought would happen, a terrorist attempt to assassinate me with the use of advanced technology. And more than assassinate me, this was about putting an end to the Presidency of the Republic and putting an end to the state’s powers. They used drones and the attack was ordered, from Bogotá, by President Juan Manuel Santos, whose term in office ended coincidentally three days later. Former deputy Julio Borges, a leader of the Venezuelan opposition, participated directly. The White House was fully aware of this. Behind this attack, there was a yes, an OK, from the White House. We know that John Bolton, current National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, is directing plans to assassinate me.

Several opposition leaders have launched an international campaign to discredit your administration, accusing it of holding political prisoners. How do you evaluate this criticism?

There are persons who have been accused of committing crimes, being involved in coups or attempted military coups, including assassination attempts like that of this past August 4, for example, who must respond before the courts, be they political figures or not. An imprisoned political figure should not be confused with a political prisoner. Imagine if a political activist attempted to assassinate the President of France, or carry out a coup against the President of Spain. What would be the legal response on the part of courts in these states? Well, in Venezuela, there is a state of law which must be respected by all.

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Photo- Estudios Revolución

There are currently two legislative assemblies in Venezuela: the National Assembly which emerged from the 2016 elections, dominated by the opposition and declared in contempt by the Supreme Court, and the National Constituent Assembly which emerged from the elections held July 30, 2017, dominated by forces supporting your government and not recognized by several international bodies. How do you think this situation will be resolved?

These are two bodies of popular representation clearly established in the Constitution, with specific functions, also outlined in the constitutional text. On the one hand, the legislative power, that flagrantly violated a ruling by the Republic’s highest court, and obliging this body to take action to protect the Constitution, a ruling which will be null at the very moment that the National Assembly rights itself and abides by the Constitutional Chamber’s decision. On the other hand, in accordance with the initiative which the Constitution grants me in Article 348, I convoked elections for a National Constituent Assembly (ANC); a vote by the people, within a context in which the right had engulfed parts of the country in serious violence, with more than 130 deaths. The election of the ANC was judicious and reassuring. It brought peace to the country. Now the ANC finds itself assuming its established constitutional role of transforming the state, creating a new legal order and drafting a new Constitution.

The economic battle, and in particular the struggle against inflation, have been presented as the main national tasks of 2019. How would you evaluate the results thus far of the Economic Recovery, Growth, and Prosperity Plan launched last August 20th?

I believe the principle accomplishment of the Economic Recovery, Growth, and Prosperity Program is that we have in hand what is a plan of growth and recovery. We have a way to ensure protection of jobs, of workers’ income; organized growth in the economy’s fundamental sectors. We are in a better position to confront the cut throat battle against international sanctions that have cost Venezuela losses of some 20 billion dollars in 2018 alone. It is savage persecution. I am intent on raising oil production, increasing Venezuela’s petrochemical capacity, the production of gold, of diamonds, of coltan, iron, steel, aluminum, etc.–riches that the country has, and raw materials that have an open international market, despite the extensive international persecution decreed by the U.S.

I must say, with admiration, that the people face all of these aggressions with astonishing political consciousness, determined to resist such cowardly attacks, with the decisive support of our security forces.

How do you respond to international media campaigns against your government, talking about a chronic shortage of food, scarcity of essential medicines, and a humanitarian crisis?

The true nature of the brutal, despicable psychological media campaign, conducted by imperialist powers against Venezuela, has been demonstrated by serious investigators of the information. Of all the news published about Venezuela in U.S. and European media, 98% is negative. They are silent about our guaranteeing food for the people, as if bodies like the FAO had not recognized this. They make no mention of our distributing some 14 million toys to boys and girls in poor families. They say nothing of our provision of 2.5 million homes. They omit the fact that almost all of Venezuela’s population has access to quality medical assistance free of charge. We do not deny the problems in our country. On the contrary, we face them, discuss them with our people, and are determined to solve them. If the U.S. wants to help us, they can start by not being hypocrites.

During 2018, some international media disseminated images of Venezuelans “fleeing” the country as a result of a predicted economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. There was talk of millions of emigrants. And several neighboring countries receiving them -encouraged by the United States, the European Union, and Canada-have demanded international aid to cover the supposed cost of assisting these migrants. What consideration does this phenomenon merit?

This has been constructed on the basis of fake news and other disinformation fabricated with the active complicity of several communications media conglomerates. On the basis of a minimal reality, which no one denies, some able scriptwriters have crafted an anti-Chavista story. This is a gigantic “false positive” operation, coordinated by the world’s “false positive” champions, that is the Colombian government, accompanied in the farce by some satellites of U.S. imperialism. These illusionists tricked a group of Venezuelans whose number – I take advantage of this opportunity to denounce – never reached the level falsely repeated by the big media.

We do not deny that a group of Venezuelans left the country buying into the deceptive offer of “better living and working conditions.” They went to Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and came face to face with the brutal reality of savage capitalism. Many were robbed, mistreated, brutalized, and subjected to slave labor.

Moreover, the government of Colombia and its President Iván Duque, in a display of unprecedented gall, is trying to get money out of the operation. Incredible!…

Do you know that we have taken in some six million brothers and sisters from Colombia? That’s 12% of Colombia’s population, but they live in Venezuela! We have offered them security, work, food, education, free medical attention, peace, and the right to a dignified life. And something unheard of has occurred. I don’t recall it happening anywhere else: around mid-2018, large crowds of compatriots began to appear at the doors of our embassies and consulates in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, etc. Compatriots asking to return to Venezuela and we created the “Return to the Homeland” plan. More than 20,000 Venezuelans have returned already.

Several Latin American governments, on the left and the right, have recently been accused of involvement in important corruption schemes linked in particular to the Odebrecht case. What, in your opinion, is the level of corruption in Venezuela?

In Venezuelan history, there has never been a process or government that has more vigorously fought corruption than the Bolivarian Revolution. I am aware that one of our adversaries’ fronts of attack against us consists of accusing us of being lax with regards to corruption. This is absolutely false. I denounce corruption in practically every one of my speeches. I am the first to recognize that there is a lot of corruption; many thieves in public office robbing, scamming, taking advantage of the people.

I denounced this with greater severity this past December 20, during the Bolivarian Congress of the Peoples, where I proposed the creation of a plan to struggle against corruption and bureaucratism. Something that has never been done in Venezuela. In 2019, one of our fundamental lines of work will be precisely a relentless struggle against passivity, negligence, procrastination, and above all, corruption. I have asked the people for all their support in this crusade. This is an eminently popular cause, widely supported by the people. People know that corruption is their enemy, an enemy of the Revolution.

Over the last six years, in several Latin American countries, the neoliberal right has resurfaced. Is this boom a lasting trend or is it simply a passing crisis?

Latin America is a disputed territory and based on the Monroe Doctrine, resurrected by the current U.S. administration, there has been a brutal offensive against popular movements in recent years, against the alternative leaderships which, beginning in the 90s, confronted and dismantled neoliberalism in Latin America. Remember, for example, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, former President Cristina Fernández of Argentina, among other leaders. There has been persecution of these leaders that has allowed for the emergence of ultra-right wing governments and leaders. There has been, it is true, a regressive cycle in terms of social conquests, the advances that had been achieved with progressive leaderships of great diversity. We see it not only in the impact of these policies on the people, but also in privatization processes.

After the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the Presidency in Mexico, you observed that there is a possibility that popular forces return to power in Latin America.

To the point of view I was expressing, I must add that every process of regression stimulates and drives internal forces to fight back. Thus, we find that alongside this extensive current regression, with several countries governed today by neoliberal forces, the capacity for action of popular, social movements is becoming stronger. Popular forces, across our continent, are already on battle footing again.

You made visits to two of Venezuela’s most important partners: Beijing and Moscow, what conclusions do you draw from these trips to two of the world’s superpowers, firm allies of the Bolivarian Revolution?

From the beginning of our Revolution, Commander Hugo Chávez made a special effort to consolidate relations of respect and friendship with all peoples of the world, and in the establishment of what he called rings of strategic alliances for a planet different from that imposed by imperialist powers.With his prodigious political creativity, and in intimate complicity with Fidel Castro, he supported the founding of ALBA, UNASUR, Petrocaribe, teleSUR, CELAC, to undertake a broad integration effort. The relationships with China and Russia were directly nurtured by Chávez and the leaders of these powers to date. With Beijing and Moscow, we have more than a relationship of partners, rather a relationship of true brotherhood. At this moment, Venezuela is heading the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) and on January 1, 2019, will chair OPEC in Vienna. Today, Venezuela is not alone.

On January 1, 2019, the 60th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution was celebrated. What importance do you think this Revolution has had in Latin America?

It marked the second half of the 20th century. It is a fundamental reference for all peoples who fight for freedom, dignity, sovereignty, justice, and socialism. Several generations of revolutionaries saw in the actions of Fidel, Raúl, Camilo and Che a beacon that illuminated hope in the midst of the long neocolonial night in which our continent was immersed for more than a century. That small country that stood up to the most brutal empire known in the history of humanity, resisted and resists the aggressions of its northern neighbor and its lackeys. Cuba has defended and encouraged Latin American unity, that great dream of Simón Bolívar and José Martí. It has been an example of international solidarity. How many lives have Cuban doctors saved around the world? I give thanks to life for the many midnight hours I spent talking with Fidel, listening to his words of wisdom, of reflection, the ideas that allowed him to take action. I thank Hugo Chávez, because, along with Fidel and Raúl, they constructed a new, dignified beginning for our entire continent.

On December 4, the 20th anniversary of the first electoral victory of Comandante Chávez was celebrated. If today you had the opportunity to talk with him about your own experience in almost six years of government, what would you say?

There have been so many times, amidst the battles, after a hard day, that I have asked myself that question: What would Chávez have done? How would he have done it? Fortunately, he established with us, with his closest team, a continuous pedagogical effort, a training process on the immense difficulties existing in the construction of a revolutionary process: its risks, its obstacles, its challenges, its unforeseen events. The attacks, the threats, the betrayals. That forged us. So the immense solitude in which he left us is somehow compensated by the advice he left us. That is why I call upon him daily, and with a verse by the poet Miguel Hernández, I say: “We must talk of many things, soul mate, compañero.”