Revolution consolidated

Print edition : January 24, 2014

President Hugo Chavez (left) and Vice-President Elias Jaua present the radio programme “Suddenly With Chavez” in Caracas on February 8, 2010. Photo: AFP

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua. Photo: LEO RAMIREZ/AFP

President Nicolas Maduro. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP

Interview with Elias Jaua, Foreign Minister of Venezuela.

ELIAS JAUA, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, was in New Delhi in the third week of December on an official visit. During the visit, Jaua discussed plans to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two countries. India is the third biggest buyer of Venezuelan crude oil, and Venezuela is India’s largest trading partner in Latin America.

Jaua, a former university professor, was a close lieutenant of Hugo Chavez and served as the country’s Vice-President from 2010 to 2012. Jaua’s trip to India comes after the impressive victory of the ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and its allies in the nationwide municipal elections held on December 8.

Excerpts from the interview Jaua gave Frontline:

The results of the recent nationwide local elections have been positive for the ruling party.

The local and international right wing always plied the theory that the passing away of Commandante Hugo Chavez would mark the end of the Bolivarian revolution. So, when the presidential elections were held in April to select the person who would replace Chavez, they were very surprised by the victory of Nicolas Maduro.

It is true that the election was won by a very narrow margin, but it also clearly demonstrated the strength of the movement created by President Chavez. The opposition retaliated to that defeat by launching a very ferocious attack against Maduro and the government. They unleashed an economic war, leading to the disappearance of basic goods. They created a financial bubble to attack the currency and they tried to portray the municipal elections as a referendum. They said that if the ruling PSUV did not get the majority of votes, it meant that President Maduro would have to resign.

On December 8, we won 70 per cent of the municipalities. We won 270 of the 320 or so municipalities. And when we added all the votes that were cast, we won 55 per cent of the votes and the right wing got 45 per cent. So, as President Maduro said, we won the municipal elections and we won the referendum as the right wing had proposed to the country. It was a great victory for peace and stability. And now we are struggling to face the huge economic challenges that lie before us.

How confident is the government about finding solutions to the economic problems?

The problems were artificially created. Regretfully, Venezuela imports most of the goods it consumes. So, those wanting to undermine the revolution mainly attacked the value of the U.S. dollar against the bolivar [Venezuela’s national currency]. They succeeded in artificially manipulating the exchange rate. Because the price of goods was pegged against the dollar, basic goods became expensive. Therefore, we must succeed in dismantling the group responsible for creating this bubble with the dollar. With the creation of the new exchange rate system, which we are implementing in January, the problem will be solved by the middle of 2014. We have already implemented plans to improve the production capacity of the country.

Another issue with the electorate was law and order.

Law and order and rising crime rates are a problem that all societies can face. Some societies are more able to contain the crime rates. We are implementing a number of policies to tackle the problem. We are implementing police reforms by creating a new national police force. We are giving university training to new police recruits. Proper treatment is being given to police forces by giving them good equipment. We are also implementing a policy called “For Life and Peace”. Emphasis is being given to preventive measures to help restore peaceful coexistence in the low-income sectors. These include the sponsoring of cultural and sports events and providing the youth with employment opportunities. Steps will be taken to ensure the enrolment of children in schools. So, we are convinced that progressively we will be able to check this problem of crime.

Is the United States still trying to destabilise Venezuela?

The U.S. is continuing to support the opposition in Venezuela. Important officials in the U.S. State Department keep on working with extreme right-wing groups to generate violence in Venezuela. Frequently, the spokespersons of the State Department make statements that are clearly interventionist. These are obstacles that prevent us from having normal relations with the U.S.

How is the idea of Latin American and Caribbean integration shaping up?

On December 17, we concluded a summit attended by 20 countries that are part of the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America [ALBA] and two broader groupings called ECO-ALBA and Petrocaribe. The Petrocaribe started as an energy scheme and now we are gearing towards economic integration. These countries represent 120 million inhabitants with a lot of resources, including water, minerals and fertile land. We have coordination with the Mercosur regional bloc. Venezuela currently is the pro-tempore President of Mercosur. [Mercosur is the Latin American trade bloc consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Bolivia became an acceding member in December 2012.]

If we are talking about the population of these three groupings, then there are over 400 million people. We are talking about the main petroleum resources of the world, the major gas resources, water, biodiversity and strategic minerals also concentrated in this region. So, today, more than ever, the dream of Commandante Chavez to have our own economic space can become a reality. On top of the economic groupings, we have the political ones like the Union of South American States [UNASUR] and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC]. CELAC is today headed by Cuba.

Venezuela is trying to diversify its economic ties by shifting its focus towards Asia. How strong are the ties with India?

India represents the third biggest market for Venezuela’s petroleum exports after, the U.S. and China; 130 million barrels were sold to India this year. In our bilateral meetings in New Delhi, we reiterated the goal of President Maduro to expand [our] energy ties even further. We have come to India with a message to the political and business class that Venezuela will be a source of secure oil supplies. On top of all this, we also have in Venezuela, joint ventures between PDVSA (the Venezuelan state oil company) and Indian companies. Four thousand barrels a day are being produced by these joint ventures. Agreements have been signed for joint exploration in newer blocks and construction of naphtha plants. Naphtha will be produced to be exported to India. There is even more scope in the future for energy cooperation between the two countries.

Have relations with neighbouring Colombia improved? What are the prospects for the ongoing peace talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC [the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]?

The relations between us and the current government of Colombia are good. Venezuela is an important stakeholder in the ongoing peace talks the Colombian government is holding with FARC. The Colombian government and people will have to put this conflict behind it as the people of the region and Latin America want peace. Especially as Venezuela and Colombia share a long border, we have constantly suffered from the consequences of the conflict in Colombia. Commandante Chavez was a passionate believer in the cause of peace in Colombia. That is why we Bolivarians and Chavistas have a great commitment towards peace in Colombia. And we believe that today, more than ever, the conditions are there for peace to be achieved. The process is going smoothly and there are good expectations of peace.

Are relations between your country and Cuba stronger than ever?

With Cuba, we have a strategic alliance and a common vision of what the world should be although the political and economic visions are different because the revolutions occurred at different moments of history. The two revolutions have their own characteristics and their own pace. But, strategically, both the countries think that Latin America and the Caribbean should be united and free from American tutelage. We both believe in a Latin America and Caribbean free from hunger and poverty and developing in a sovereign manner with their resources. We are fully in agreement with these goals and that is why we work together. Beyond that, we also believe in a world without military intervention from NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation], without the meddling of the U.S. in the affairs of every country. We work together in international fora to make sure that is the case.

How do you look at the future of “21st century socialism” in Latin America?

It is true that no model of socialism can be exported. Even though we have common strategic points with Cuba, our socialist models are very different. In Latin America, we have seen a strong anti-neoliberal current—a democratic and popular current. In some countries, this is gearing towards socialism. In other cases it has taken the shape of popular democratic form. All this is good. We are certain that little by little, the whole of Latin America is heading towards a more equal political and economic society. They will all end up having socialist societies, but with their own characteristics. Michelle Bachelet has just won in Chile. The Socialist Party there is a socialist party with its own characteristics.

Is there a danger of right-wing populist leaders emerging again in the region? The government in Argentina seems to be in some sort of electoral trouble.

No. The international media keep on saying that our current projects are doomed to fail. Had you interviewed me three weeks before the recent municipal elections, you would have asked me whether the end of the Bolivarian revolution was near. The international media were precisely saying so. The international media want to make their wishes a reality. What we have built in Latin America has deep roots. Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina are examples. What we have built cannot be toppled easily. The international right wing is wrong when it characterises a temporary crisis as a final tipping point. All societies will have to meet challenges. The people of Latin America know that right-wing governments will not be able to solve problems.

Today, in Latin America we do not have left-wing populist leaders. Right-wing populists were replaced by neoliberal movements of the 1990s. These neoliberal movements were defeated by the popular democratic movements.

Latin America was the first to strike a blow against neoliberalism.

Correct. Very early on, our people realised that they had to defeat this exclusive type of system. The first upheaval happened in Venezuela in February 27, 1989. Our people clashed with neoliberalism. This was followed by the 1992 rebellion led by Commandante Chavez. We can humbly say that we got saved from a historical tragedy because we got rid of neoliberalism so early on. It is a tragedy that is now so seriously hitting the European people.