President Maduro’s New Year Interview

Ignacio Ramonet and Nicolas Maduro

Part I: ‘The Pressures & Attacks of the US Empire Are Nothing Compared to the Voice of Our People’

The following is the first 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 2018 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.”

Due to its length, VA will publish it in three parts, the first of which addresses political issues, the second economic affairs, and the last part looking at the international picture.

IR- Before we sit down in his office to do this interview in Miraflores Palace, Caracas, President Maduro invited me to join him in a public ceremony to hand over social housing units. Apartment number 2.5 million is about to be delivered… The buildings, erected in collaboration with a Chinese company, are located close to the El Valle neighbourhood, a middle class area, and precisely where Maduro was born and raised.

The small population here receive Maduro with a loud show of joy and affection. Maduro is wearing a white Guayabera shirt with the Venezuelan colours on the collar. Naturally elegant and with an imposing stature, – he is over 1,90m tall – Maduro is a calm, affable, serene person, gifted with a fine sense of humour.

In his short speech he denounces the “indolence” of many of his own collaborators in the government or in local institutions. The locals enthusiastically cheer these criticisms. And they shout their lungs out when the president rails against corruption and pledges to punish it “regardless of who falls.”

He alternates pleasant comments, almost personal, with some of the families (among them a young couple with hearing disabilities and their baby) who receive keys to their new apartments, with deep reflections on economic policy or international relations. A bit how Hugo Chávez used to do it. He oscillates from the personal to the collective, from the concrete to the general, from praxis to theory. Always giving a pedagogical impression of lightness so as not to overwhelm anyone.

The next day, December 27, we met in his working office in the government palace. In the very same room where, almost six years ago to the date, Chávez appointed Maduro as his successor. We greet and, as the team finish preparing the set, we take a stroll in the yard and the beautiful indoor gardens of Miraflores, decorated for the holidays.

Today, the President is wearing an elegant intense blue shirt. Although this is an interview for written press, some photos of our meeting will be shot and some of the answers will be recorded on video. As usual with him, he brought a bunch of books that he places on the table between us. Everything is ready. Therefore, without further ado, we get started.

IR: Good afternoon, President. Thank you for receiving us. In this interview we will essentially address three issues: politics, economics and international affairs.

Let’s start with politics: perhaps the main political event of 2018 was your re-election in the elections of May 20, with more than six million votes and more than 40 percent of difference with respect to the main opposition candidate, Henri Falcon.

How do you explain, given the difficult context for citizens created by the economic war and the financial sanctions imposed by Washington, that voters gave you their massive support for the second time?

Nicolás Maduro: Indeed, the people of Venezuela gave their greater support to the Bolivarian revolution, to Chavismo, to my candidacy – which is a real political and social force on the streets, in neighbourhoods, in the countryside, in the cities and in the villages – with humility. In percentage terms, it was the greatest support that any candidate has ever received in a presidential election in Venezuela.

We had already started noticing that after the victory for peace with the constituent election of July 2017 our forces had undergone a sustained recovery, a strengthening of revolutionary unity. [In May] we received the support of all the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) parties and plenty of social movements. We have also seen an organized growth of our United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which is the political party with the greatest number of members in Latin America.

This good result is also explained, I must say, by the maturity and wisdom shown by our people in the midst of the most brutal aggression that we have suffered since our wars of independence. Our people have grown, have grown in awareness, in organized strength, in patriotism, and in spite of the psychological warfare and the illegal and illegitimate economic war perpetrated by the American empire along with its satellite governments of this continent and Europe, which look and subdue us. The result of this hostility has been the resilience shown by citizens in their determination to remain free, independent and sovereign.

Another fundamental, decisive factor, Ramonet, is that the Bolivarian revolution has, in the midst of difficulties and economic and financial harassment, managed to meet the needs of Venezuelan society. Not a single school or university has been closed here. On the contrary, the number of students in public education has increased. Here we continue to have free healthcare for everyone. We have protected, with much strength and determination, wages and employment for all. And approximately every three weeks we make sure that staple food products get to about six million households in Venezuela, the now famous “CLAP boxes,” we deliver them directly to their homes.

On the walls of Caracas one may see some murals or grafitti which maybe sum up what I want to say: “I vote for who increases my wage, not for who makes products more expensive.” Perhaps that explains why the Bolivarian revolution is now more robust, alive and amalgamated in a single constructive effort than ever.

IR: Within a few days, January 10, your new presidential term of six years starts. Some governments that did not recognize the results of the presidential election of May 20 have threatened to not recognise you as the constitutional President of Venezuela. What is your response to them?

Nicolás Maduro: Well, first of all, that Venezuela is a country that has forged, throughout history, its own identity, its Republican character, its independence. Also, that Venezuela is ruled by a Constitution which is the most democratic that has existed in our history, approved by our people nineteen years ago by referendum, and this Constitution has been respected flawlessly during the nineteen years.

In 2018, we had two fully transparent electoral contests, governed by the country’s electoral institutions. I must remind everyone that the Electoral Power in Venezuela is an [independent] public power, the fifth public power. This power used all of its logistics, its electronic [voting] system with the highest level of transparency. Recognized by international personalities of unquestionable prestige like [former President of the United States] Jimmy Carter who said at the time that “the Venezuelan electoral system is the most transparent and clean in the world; the most perfect.”

The presidential election of May 20 2018 was held with the accompaniment of national and international observers, and our people made a decision. Venezuela’s decisions are not taken by foreign governments. We are not an intervened country, advised by any empire. Not by the empire of the North, its satellites in Latin America and the Caribbean, nor Europe. In Venezuela, the people rule and govern sovereignly. The people made a very clear and very forceful decision: for the first time we won 68 percent of the vote… as you pointed out: four million votes more than the main opposition candidate.

So: the people decided. And we are going to comply with the decision of the people. There is no way that any government can have a say, from abroad, on the correctness of recognizing or failing to recognise the constitutional and democratic legitimacy of the government which I will preside over as of January 10 2019 until January 10 2025. I have a plan, a project, experience, the strength. I have the people, with the military-civil union, and above all, [I have] the constitutional legitimacy which is the most important.

Let me repeat myself: the pressures and attacks of the North American empire and its satellite governments mean nothing compared to the voice of our people. Our democracy has a real strength that has been expressed in the 25 elections over the last 20 years… This means that in twenty years of Bolivarian Revolution, there has been almost three times the amount of elections carried out during the same period, for example, in the United States…

In the election campaign of April and May 2018, which lasted 21 days, I visited the 23 States of Venezuela several times. And I asked the people that filled the streets and avenues: “Who elects the President in Venezuela? Washington or Caracas? Miami or Maracaibo?” And the vigorous response of all the people, including those that vote for the opposition, is that we have the inalienable right to choose our rulers. Nothing and nobody is going to change that basic and sacred right.

For those who don’t like this we say that Venezuela has a long tradition of non-interference in the affairs of other countries. The Bolivarian Revolution has shown solidarity with all the countries of our continent and the world when they so required it due to natural disasters or other incidents. The least we can demand is that this is reciprocated, that others respect that we are sovereign and independent.

IR: Although you have not ceased to appeal to democratic dialogue, the most important opposition group – gathered in the so-called Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) – decided not to participate in the elections of May 20. The result is that the MUD is now fragmented, divided and, in fact, self-dissolved. What do think about you this opposition?

Nicolas Maduro: I have invited the Venezuelan opposition to participate in a political dialogue on more than 300 occasions… And this doesn’t even include the ongoing dialogue that my government maintains with the private sector and society in general. This dialogue has not sought to convince anyone to take on our model, we understand that we have very different ways of looking at life, that we [all] have different proposals to meet the challenges of our society. Our efforts have always consisted of strengthening the peaceful political coexistence of political forces in Venezuela.

But all those efforts of dialogue have been boycotted by the US Embassy in Venezuela. At some point the details of the house to house visits that the Chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy made to each of the opposition candidates to force them not to take part in the presidential election of 20 May will come to light. He managed to convince almost all of them, with two exceptions [Henry Falcón and Javier Bertucci] who participated and got the vote they got.

You don’t know how happy I would be if we could count on an opposition in Venezuela that stayed attached to politics, which moved away from conspiracies and coup adventures, which defended a voice of their own. And not the authoritative voice of the US Embassy.

IR: Within the framework of the Bolivarian Revolution, what is the political space available to the opposition? In other words: will the Revolution accept an opposition which wins a presidential election?

Nicolás Maduro: The opposition in Venezuela has all of the guarantees that the Constitution provides for the free exercise of politics. What more, of the twenty-five elections which have occurred in Venezuela in 20 years, we have won twenty-three, that is true, but we have lost two: the 2007 constitutional reform and the legislative elections of 2015. When we lost, we immediately recognized our defeat, minutes after the Electoral Council issued the results. Chavez in 2007 and myself in 2015 recognized the outcomes and called on the people to respect them in peace.

I presented my message to the nation, in January 2016, before the National Assembly’s opposition majority, headed by the leader of the opposition Henry Ramos Allup. And what was the response of the right, which had become vain by its electoral victory? To say that they would take power in six months, in violation of the Constitution and the electoral mandate given by the people.

The consequences of their actions are that now we have a fragmented opposition, divided, hating their leaders among them, and very diminished in its political strength. I want to say that we have always recognized all the election results, when we have won and when we have lost. The opposition has exercised regional and local power in the election of governors and mayors that has been favourable for them with the same electronic electoral system which Venezuela has had since 2004.

The problem is that they recognize only electoral results when they win… They did not recognize the outcome of the recall referendum of 2004, which Chavez won by 20 points. Nor that of the presidential election of 2006, which Chavez took by 23 points, nor my 2014 victory, nor May 2018.

IR: On various occasions you have described some opposition forces as looking for a “coup.” This past August 4 you were the victim of a spectacular assassination attempt with explosives-laden drones. What can you say with regard to this attack?

Nicolás Maduro: Indeed, on August 4, 2018, we lived what I never thought could happen: a terrorist attack with the use of advanced technology to kill me. And rather than kill myself as a human being, it was looking to end the Presidency of the Republic and put an end to the powers of the State. It was a truly terrible attack. Thanks to the technological security mechanisms that we have, we managed to partially neutralize the attack.

They used drones. A drone flew above the stage where I was, and was flown in front of me when I was making the keynote speech. Later it came closer but was neutralized by our technology. If it had exploded where the criminals wanted it to, it would had caused lots of blood, pain and death.

And there was a second drone that, fortunately, was disoriented by the same protective technology we possess. And it exploded… It was the most powerful drone because it carried a load of C-4, a plastic military-grade explosive. That drone exploded against an apartment building very close to the main stage. It made a huge hole in the outside wall of the building, and set fire to an apartment. The mission of this drone was to finish off, from above, the work of the first drone once this one had destroyed the main stage from the front.

We were able to – along with the Venezuelan people, the security and intelligence forces, and alongside the police – immediately apprehend the perpetrators. And then we started to capture the other perpetrators, those who organised it, and we were able to establish the identity of the masterminds of the attack.

The attack was ordered by [Colombian ex-] President Juan Manuel Santos, whose mandate ended curiously three days after the terrorist attack, on August 7, from Bogota… With the direct participation of former [Venezuelan First Justice] Deputy Julio Borges, leader of the Venezuelan opposition. The entire attack was prepared in Colombia. All direct drone operators were trained in Colombia. The drones and their explosives were prepared in Colombia under the direction of the government of then President Juan Manuel Santos.

The White House in Washington also had knowledge of it. I have no doubt. Behind that attack, there was a “yes,” an “okay” from the White House. We already know that John Bolton, current President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, is leading plans to kill me. I’ve reported it. Bolton had knowledge of the attack. And he gave his “ok” to run it. Washington and Bogota maintain a permanent policy of terrorism against us.

Why accuse me of being a “dictator”? When they label a progressive leader a “dictator” and build such a beastly global campaign against them… and all right and the extreme right forces in the world take up the accusation of “dictator” against Maduro, a union leader, a man of the people, forged in the struggles of the Caracas barrios, in the struggles of the student movement, in the struggles of the Constituent Assembly, in parliamentary debates, forged on the diplomatic front… When they accuse someone like me of being a “dictator” and term Venezuela a “dictatorship,” it is to be able to justify anything against our country. There is a permanent conspiracy of the Colombian oligarchy and the U.S. empire against the Bolivarian Revolution.

I say that God saved me from this attack. He placed his protective cloak over me. The Virgin of la Chinita, very miraculous, patron saint of the Bolivarian National Guard, also saved me. Anyway, here we are, very committed, willing to go on. Obviously with special security measures so that the criminal purposes of those people are never carried out.

IR: Repeatedly, both Chávez and you have spoken of the need for a democratic opposition that abandons the coup strategy and their subordination to any foreign power. Do you consider that in 2018, there has there been any progress on that regard?

Nicolás Maduro: In Venezuela, the opposition, the opposition bloc, the MUD, unfortunately has been falling apart, disintegrating. And I am convinced that the main cause of this collapse is its dependence on the policies of Washington and Bogota. It is not a national opposition, it has no policy based on national interests, an ideology or a national doctrine. It is an opposition supported, maintained, and directed – as if they were remote-controlled drones – from Washington and Bogota. And that has made them disintegrate, because they don’t think with own heads, they are unable to make decisions.

Just look at the sad spectacle they gave in the last process of national dialogue, when the registration of candidates for the presidential elections of May 20, 2018 was raised. They only attended to the call of the international forces of American imperialism and the right. That was regrettable. Because Venezuela needs a political opposition. I have called them to come and dialogue hundreds of times.

And I am firm on this: every sector of the opposition which wants to talk will find me with my arms open, with an open mind, ready to discuss the future of the country.

I deeply believe that, sooner rather than later, in Venezuela a diverse political dialogue with all the ideological forces of the opposition will be set up. I have faith in that. And I will work to achieve that goal, so that, in Venezuela, in 2019, there is a fruitful political dialogue that would rebuild a real opposition that our country needs to have peace, to have peace of mind, as well as to have a diverse democracy which is what we need.

IR: Several opposition leaders have launched an international smear campaign against your government accusing it of holding “political prisoners.” How do you assess these serious criticisms?

Nicolás Maduro: Look, there are people who, being accused of committing a crime such as, for example, being involved in coups or attempted military coups, or even assassination attempts like that last August 4 that we just spoke about, must be held to justice. Whether they are political or not. One must not confuse a politician in prison with a political prisoner. This is so in Venezuela and in any country in the world.

Imagine for a moment that a political actor – a deputy, a mayor, a councillor, a former minister – attempts to assassinate the President of France, or launches a coup d’état against the President of Spain, what would be the legal response that they would receive from the courts of these nations? Well, in Venezuela, there is a rule of law which must be respected by all.

Also, as a result of dialogue with the opposition in 2017, a Truth Commission appointed by the National Constituent Assembly granted generous commutations of sentences and benefits for almost all of the accused who had acted against the Constitution and the law, since the coup of 2002 until the violent actions – the “guarimbas” – of 2014 and 2017, with the exception of those who had committed serious offences, such as murder or drug trafficking.

IR: There are currently two legislative assemblies in Venezuela. On the one hand, the National Assembly that emerged from elections in 2015 and is dominated by the opposition but that the Supreme Court has declared “in contempt.” On the other hand, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) that emerged from the elections of July 30, 2017, and is dominated by the ruling party but which several international powers do not recognise. How do you think that this situation can be resolved?

Nicolás Maduro: Really, they are two figures of popular representation clearly laid down in the Constitution and with specific functions which are also contained in the constitutional text.

On the one hand, the legislative power, which flagrantly disregarded a ruling of the highest court of the Republic, forcing this Court to take an action of constitutional protection. This action by the Supreme Court will be overcome straight away once the National Assembly takes corrective measures and follows the decision of the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, in response to the power of initiative that the Constitution gives me in its article 348, I convened the election of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) by popular vote, in a context in which the right had plunged sectors of the country in a serious, murderous violence with more than 130 dead, people burned alive due to their skin color, children who were induced to act with violence under the influence of drugs… In summary, a very unfortunate and painful situation. So as it turns out, the election of the ANC was wise and had a curing effect. It brought peace to the country.

In identical circumstances, I would do it again. I can assure you. And the ANC is now complying with the constitutional function set which is to transform the State, create a new legal system and write a new Constitution.

Part II: ‘Sanctions Cost Venezuela $20 Bn in 2018’

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, 2018, 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.”

Due to its length, VA will publish it in three parts, the first of which addresses political issues, the second economic affairs, and the last part looking at the international picture.

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.

Part III: ‘The Continent’s Popular Forces are Once Again Ready for Battle’

The following is the first 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 2018 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.”

Due to its length, VA will publish it in three parts, the first of which addresses political issues, the second economic affairs, and this last part looking at the international picture.

Ignacio Ramonet: For this final section, let us look at international issues. In these past six years, several Latin American countries have witnessed a resurgence of the neoliberal right-wing. In your opinion, is this conservative surge – confirmed by the recent victory of Jair Bolsonaro – a lasting trend or merely a temporary crisis?

Nicolás Maduro: Well, Latin America is a terrain of struggle, and, with the Monroe Doctrine, is embraced by the current US administration. As background, there has been a brutal offensive against popular movements, against these alternative leaderships which, ever since the 1990s, tackled and dismantled neoliberalism in Latin America. Let us recall, for example, President Lula da Silva in Brazil, former President Cristina Fernández in Argentina among others. There has been a persecution of these leaders which has created the coming-to-power of governments and leaders very far to the right.

There has been, certainly, a regressive cycle in what concerns social achievements, reversing the advances made under the progressive leaderships which were very diverse. We feel not only the impact of these policies on the peoples, but also in processes of privatization. In Brazil, for example, after the destitution of Dilma Rousseff, there have been privatizations of oil, public services, electricity, water, etc. They have privatized everything overnight. Now with the arrival of the far-right neofascist government of Jair Bolsonaro, they will be handing over Brazil, and what it represents in Latin America, to US multinational corporations on a silver platter. It really is a sad process of regression.

IR: Along the same lines, with the electoral victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, do you envision a possibility for the popular forces to return to power in Latin America.

NM: Along the lines of what I was saying before, I should add that this entire process of regression boosts and stimulates – inadvertently – the forces that fight against it. It is like the physical principle of action and reaction.

Therefore, we witness that, alongside this major regression, in many countries currently governed by neoliberal forces, the capacity for action of social and popular movements in the cities and in the countryside is getting stronger. Examples include the Homeless Workers’ Movement, the Landless Workers’ Movement [both from Brazil], as well as student, feminist, Afro-descendant, sexually diverse movements.

There is a powerful resurgence which reminds me of the emergence of formidable popular movements that fought against the ALCA [Americas Free Trade Deal] in the 1990s. At the time, these resistance movements did not have a prospect of achieving political power. Then, in Venezuela, along came the Bolivarian Revolution. This victory by Chávez [in 1998] convinced the resistance movements against ALCA that winning political power was possible. It had been so in Venezuela, and then in 1999 with the constitutional referendum.

These two victories blew new wind into the sails of social struggle in Latin America. They paved the way for the upcoming electoral triumphs of popular governments of Lula in Brazil, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, the Frente Amplio in Uruguay, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, the FSLN and commander Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Michelle Bachelet and the Concertación in Chile, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Salvador Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN in El Salvador…

This sparkle of popular forces allowed Latin America and the Caribbean to play, in the early XXI century, a central role in global geopolitics and in the global left. Today, paradoxically, the situation is similar. There have been setbacks due to, most of the time, merciless attacks and coups from the opponents of progress and social justice, but popular forces throughout the continent are once more ready for battle, and new electoral, democratic successes will not be far off.

IR: Recently you made two visits to important partners, one to Beijing in September and another to Moscow in December. What were your conclusions from these two trips to China and Russia, two of the main world superpowers and strong allies of the Bolivarian Revolution?

NM: From the beginning of our Revolution, Commander Chávez was very dedicated to consolidating relations based on respect and friendship with all the peoples of the world, and in accordance to what he called “strategic alliances” for a planet different from the one imposed by imperial powers. Then, with his prodigious political creativity, and in close cahoots with [Cuban President] Fidel Castro, Chávez moved towards the creation of ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America], UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], Petrocaribe, TeleSUR, CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States]… All of this was part of a wide ranging effort towards Latin American integration.

The relationship between Caracas and both China and Russia, two economic and military giants, was also directly nourished by Chávez and his counterparts to get to where we are today.

I should tell you that with Beijing and Moscow we have more than a relationship of partners, we have a relationship of true brotherhood between our governments and peoples. The same occurs with some Arab countries, Iran, African countries and others in the Far East.

I served as Chávez’s foreign minister for over six years and I can testify to his efforts towards the construction of a “multipolar and multicentred world.” These days, with the brutal aggression from the US empire and its allies against us, we take note of the results of the relationships that Chávez set up and nurtured.

Let me remind you that Venezuela currently presides the Non-Aligned Movement, which is the most important organization of states after the United Nations. On the other hand, by the time this interview is published, on January 1, we will assume the presidency of OPEC in Vienna. During these recent trips of mine to Russia and China that you mentioned, we had high level discussions about our economic, political, military and cultural relations with two of the main world superpowers.

With Turkey we also share ties of true friendship, between the government of President Erdogan and mine, and there is even – I confess – a true personal friendship between myself and the Turkish leader. Never before had Venezuela managed to have such important economic and commercial ties, so diverse and favourable, with a historical power like Turkey.

Nowadays Venezuela is not alone. On the contrary, it is our aggressors that are ever more isolated, while our relations with the whole world get stronger and more diverse.

IR: January 1 2019 will be the 60th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. In your opinion, what is the importance that this Revolution had and still has in Latin America?

NM: The Cuban Revolution was a watershed moment in the second half of the XX century. It represented and still represents a fundamental reference point for all the peoples struggling for freedom, for dignity, for sovereignty, for justice and for socialism. Many generations of revolutionaries – including mine, the youth of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – saw the feats of Fidel, Raúl, Camilo and Che as a beacon that guided our hopes during the long neocolonial night that engulfed our continent for over a century.

This small country faced up to the most brutal empire that humanity has ever seen, resisted and still resists against the aggressions of its northern neighbour and its lackeys. A country that made dreams of redemption, equality, solidarity, of an historic construction of socialism, came to exist. It drove many young people to the streets to struggle with renewed hope.

It is a Revolution that has defended and supported Latin American unity, this dream of Simón Bolívar and José Martí. A dreamed unity – without forgetting Puerto Rico and the Malvinas – that the pliant oligarchies of our continent so fear. Cuba has been an example of international solidarity. How many lives have Cuban doctors saved around the world?

I celebrate this 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. And I am thankful for so many long nights talking to Fidel, hearing his words full of wisdom, of searching for ideas and putting them into practice. Always striving to do good. I also thank Hugo Chávez as he, alongside Fidel and Raúl, built a new dignified beginning for Latin America.

IR: December 6 2018 was the 20th anniversary of Chávez’s first electoral victory. To conclude, I would like to ask you the following: if you had the chance to talk to Chávez about your own experience of almost six years governing, what would you tell him?

NM: There are so many occasions, in the midst of battles, when reflecting on things in the middle of the night after a hard day’s work, that I ask myself: “What would Chávez have done?” “How would he have approached this or that issue?” We had so many intimate conversations, so many memories…

Fortunately, and of this I am sure, Chávez established a constant pedagogical work with us, his closest circle, a training on the immense difficulties involved in the construction of a revolutionary project: its challenges, obstacles, unexpected turns… the attacks, threats, betrayals… This taught us, trained us, forged us.

Chávez predicted many of the events we are currently living through. He put us on guard. Some of the last concerns he shared with us concerned what he envisioned as the “economic war” – the phrase is his – that the enemy would launch against us, a new kind of aggression, a multi-pronged one at that, against our people. He was also very concerned that oil production was declining.

Therefore, the profound sorrow that his departure provoked is in a way compensated by the immense advice he left us. And we never forget it. So many examples of strength and loyalty to the Bolivarian ideals. This “beautiful revolution” he dreamed of, with democracy and freedom, free from illiteracy, with multiplied art and culture, healthcare for everyone, full employment, peace, joy, progress, prosperity and love. When I think of how cruelly he was attacked for having this beautiful dream… Just like I am attacked today, with even more fury, if that is even possible, for having the same dream, wanting to do good and spread joy…

That is why I invoke Chávez every day. I need him, I claim him, I resort to him, and like in that verse by Spanish poet Miguel Hernández, I tell him: “We have to talk about many things, compañero.”

Translation by Ricardo Vaz and Paul Dobson for