President Nicolás Maduro’s Interview with La Jornada

Luis Hernández Navarro

Caracas | In the worst crisis since assuming the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro considers that the attempt of the right wing to form a parallel government in his country is an expression of the conflict between the independence and sovereignty of Venezuela and the US imperial intention to recolonize that nation.

In an exclusive interview with La Jornada, the Bolivarian leader rejects that Venezuela is a dictatorship, that human rights are violated or that there is a humanitarian crisis. According to him, the politicians who are imprisoned today are the organizers of a violent coup d’état, who murdered, burned many people alive and destroyed property. The vast majority of the media,” he says, “are in private, mostly opposition, hands. And the so-called “humanitarian crisis” is a show put on by the Southern Command to justify a military intervention.

Present at the inauguration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Venezuelan president tells that he did not attend the investiture ceremony in the Chamber of Deputies to avoid an aggression against him that would have covered up the historical character of the triumph of the Mexican politician.

Nicolás Maduro assures that, in the event that the United States bets on military intervention in his country, a new Vietnam will be created in Latin America. Venezuela is morally ready to respond to the aggression. His army is united and allied to the people. Trump’s aggressions,” he says, “seek to appropriate Venezuelan oil.

This is the complete version of the interview with Maduro, which La Jornada did for him at the Miraflores Palace on February 5.

President, today it became known that you sent a letter to Pope Francisco proposing that he play a role in mediating the conflict. Can we know what else he said to you in that letter?

First, I thanked him for his prayers for peace in Venezuela and asked him to help us facilitate a national dialogue. The Vatican already helped us in a phase in 2016. It means that he knows the terrain well here in Venezuela. I believe that the moral authority of the Pope can help a lot for a dialogue that is constructive, with an open agenda. I look forward to hearing from him soon.

However, the National Assembly said that it rejects “any dialogue or contact group that prolongs the suffering of the people. In other words, it disqualifies any possibility of dialogue.

Yes, the Venezuelan right-wing coup has rejected the mechanisms of dialogue that the international community is promoting. Two days ago the government of the United States, the government of Donald Trump, had already said: no to dialogue. And yesterday, the Lima cartel, this group of right-wing intolerant governments, also said no to dialogue. It is an irrational, senseless position. It is an anti-natural position, because what is natural in politics is dialogue, words, conversation.

I insist: yes to dialogue, yes to dialogue and yes to dialogue. And sooner rather than later, with the help of the government of Mexico, Uruguay, the 14 Caribbean governments in Caricom, Bolivia, the contact group of the European Union – and hopefully also of the Vatican – we are going to sit down at a dialogue table.

Mexico’s diplomatically correct attitude

What do you think of the attitude and position of the Mexican government?

The Mexican government has had a diplomatically correct attitude, which is to respect Venezuela, not meddle in its internal affairs. And, according to President López Obrador, it has rescued the spirit of the Mexican Constitution and the Mexican diplomatic tradition, so admired in the world, of non-interventionism, of dialogue. I think he is playing a great role in this historic moment.

You went to the inauguration of President López Obrador, but you didn’t go to the ceremony in Congress, but to the meal. Why was that?

That was on purpose. We knew that the right wing had prepared a show to attack me, even physically, and that the news was the physical aggression against Maduro. And if something like that had happened, I would have reacted, because I am a man of the people. If someone physically assaults me, I’ll answer him, I don’t care that it’s from the right. I don’t care. I’m telling you, I have blood from the Caribbean and they wanted a show to cover up the historical character of the change that began in Mexico with President López Obrador. And since I don’t fall for provocations or create provocations, I simply decided to go to the presidential palace directly to greet President López Obrador.

I got a big surprise in the Zócalo. Thousands of people greeted us with songs, slogans, posters, greetings. I believe that all the campaign that was made against us on the occasion of the inauguration was reversed. It generated an interest and a sympathy from the Mexican people that we appreciate.

It is also pointed out that Venezuela is a dictatorship, that there are no freedoms, that the press is controlled by the State. Is that true?

I can give you some information about the broad freedoms that exist in Venezuela. First, the situation of national television stations. Seventy-five percent are private, and all the private television stations in the country are opposition. Of the written press, 80 percent of national and regional publications are private, and they are all opponents. More than 70 of the country’s radio stations are in private hands, and all of them are opponents.

Social networks are controlled on an international scale. In Venezuela there is Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, WhatsApp. Everyone uses them. And I can tell you that 80 percent of the advertising and information that runs directly on all social networks are open and opposed.

To say that Venezuela is a dictatorship is an offense to the Venezuelan people. Venezuela has a sufficient level of education, culture and democratic maturity. All you have to do is stroll through any town or city and see the permanent debate about Venezuela. In any case, the accusation of dictatorship is part of the script that the U.S. empire has always used to label, stigmatize independent countries, the governments that do not obey. It serves to justify anything. Because if in Venezuela, as they say, there is a dictatorship, then anything is possible: a coup d’état, an assassination, an invasion.

Simply, the accusation that Venezuela is a dictatorship is part of the false stigmata with which they have tried to label the Bolivarian revolution.

The humanitarian crisis, a farce

It is said that in Venezuela there is a humanitarian crisis of great proportions, that there is hunger, that there is a shortage of medicines, that the migration of Venezuelans, not only to Spain or Miami, but to many countries in Latin America, is an unstoppable hemorrhage. Is it true that there is such a humanitarian crisis?

The humanitarian crisis is a farce. Venezuela has problems, like any other country. What’s more, in some cases we don’t have some problems that countries have where neoliberalism governs. But all the mounting of the humanitarian crisis comes from the U.S. Southern Command since 2014.

Why hijack a humanitarian crisis manufactured at the media level? To justify a ‘humanitarian intervention'”.

Venezuela has high employment rates. Last year we closed again with 6 percent unemployment. Sixty percent of employment in Venezuela is formal, protected, Venezuela has a social security system that protects one hundred percent of its pensioners. Venezuela has over 90 percent of initial, basic, secondary and university education. Eighty percent of our global education is public, free, quality.

Venezuela has a program called CLAP (Local Supply and Production Committees) that reaches 6 million households, 24 million Venezuelans. Food is permanent and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, we have very high levels of nutrition. Venezuela has a program called Barrio Adentro en Salud, which brings 30,000 doctors to the communities. In your neighborhood, in your community, you have a doctor, you have access to medicine. In the last three years, because of the sanctions, we have had problems importing food, importing medicines. Yes, we have, and we are already solving it effectively. But a humanitarian crisis has not existed and will not exist in Venezuela.

Donald Trump is obsessed with Venezuela

You have denounced that behind the attempt to impose a president-in-charge is the hand of the United States. Why do you say that? What evidence do you have?

Well, because the attitude of the United States government to call for the overthrow of the constitutional government I preside over is open and vulgar. Especially since Donald Trump’s extremists came to the White House, it has been a stage of total confrontation, of sanctions, of financial persecution, of calls for a military coup d’état, of direct conspiracy in the gringa embassy in Venezuela.

Donald Trump is obsessed with Venezuela. His team calls itself the Venezuela team. John Bolton, Security Advisor, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, and Mike Pence, Vice President, call themselves the Venezuela Team. Every day they tweet, write, declare, calling for an open coup d’état.

It’s not like they’re hiding it. Recently, The Wall Street Journal published information on this whole issue of trying to impose a parallel government, a false government, came about. And it was conceived in Washington, it was financed in Washington, it was imposed from Washington.

Months earlier, in September, The New York Times and The Washington Post published evidence of the U.S. government’s involvement, directly from the White House, in an attempted military coup in March and April, which we neutralized and defeated. They gave details of who conspired, who paid, where they paid. These testimonies and statements are sufficient evidence of the imperialist obsession they have.

Last Sunday Donald Trump threatened us once again with an invasion, with sending the U.S. army to take Venezuela. And I have been asking: what is the casus belli? Venezuela is not a threat to the United States. Venezuela has no weapons of mass destruction aimed at the United States. No, his casus belli is Venezuelan oil, Venezuela’s wealth. And that, in 20 years, they have not been able to defeat the Bolivarian revolution by any means. Neither by electoral means, nor by political or diplomatic means, nor by coup d’état.

I believe that the U.S. government is entering a phase of great desperation and is becoming more and more dangerous. So it is very important the solidarity consciousness of the world, of the people who want peace, of the people who want to stop a new Vietnam, this time in South America. Venezuela would become a Vietnam if one day Donald Trump sends the U.S. Army to attack us.

President Nicolás Maduro’s Message to the American People

President Nicolás Maduro: “I Won’t Go Down in History as a Man Who Turned His Back on His People.”

Are you prepared for a U.S. military intervention?

Venezuela is morally prepared to reject the threats of the use of force. And we and our Bolivarian National Armed Force, our Bolivarian city, our weapons systems and our people, in civic-military union, prepare ourselves with the concept of a people’s war, war of resistance, to give a forceful response to any possibility of military aggression.

We hope it will never happen. We hope that the truth of Venezuela will be imposed the diplomatic way, and that the conscience of peace in the people of the United States will twist the will and madness of Donald Trump. We hope that peace will reign. But, in the meantime, we prepare to defend our sacred land, as everyone would defend it.

You have reported that they have militias with 2 million members. Do these militias have a territorial or trade union organization? Do they have direct control of arms? Have they received military training?

Yes, we have the Bolivarian National Armed Force, which has four components. The Bolivarian Army, with a territorial distribution, a very powerful weapons system. The Bolivarian Army, which has also been strengthening its weapons system. The Bolivarian Military Aviation, also with a good system to protect our country, and the Bolivarian National Guard, which is a public order force. In addition, Commander Chávez created the Bolivarian National Militia as a fifth element that strengthens and integrates the four constitutional components.

The militia has reached 1,600,000 citizens. On April 13 of this year we will reach 2 million. They are organized in popular defense units, which group a number of 20 or 30 militiamen per territory. They have military training, they have an operational plan, they know what to do in any scenario. And, in addition, they have access, and they are going to have more access, to the national weapons system. This means that Venezuela has 2 million militiamen integrated for a war of resistance, a war of all the people, which would make it insufferable, would make a hell of an invading force that gets into Venezuela.

We want peace. All our armed force and our militia have only one slogan: to win peace. Our victory is peace, and that’s how we’re going to go on.

The opposition accuses them of having paramilitary groups. According to them, the collectives are civilian armed groups at the service of Chavism.

The so-called collectives are a form of voluntary popular organization, very typical of the Bolivarian revolution. They are an extra-partisan form of the popular movement. There are thousands of them in Venezuela. They organize people around some objective. The majority of the country’s collectives are in the productive, entrepreneurial, agro-productive area, where they produce tens of tons of food. Or they are in the area of culture, cultural resistance, music, art, murals. And they are also in the political area.

The right wing is very afraid of the collectives because they are very revolutionary, very radical groups. They are very honest people. They have tried to stigmatize them as paramilitaries, but this is totally false. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a collective that suddenly stimulates training for national defense. Surely there are one or two of those groups around here. But the fundamental thing about collectives is that they are a form of organization of the cultural movement.

And does the right have paramilitary groups?

The right wing has had violent groups that have led the guarimbas. During all these years it has had groups to attack barracks. And it has groups that express themselves through social networks, that say they have weapons, cover their faces and say they are already in a war line, for a civil war. It has not been able to disrupt the life and internal peace of the country with these groups, but they declare it and they have it. They are elements of risk that we must know how to control.

You place the current attempted coup d’état as a dispute for national sovereignty against imperialist intervention. However, there are those who conceive of the conflict as a fight between powers. They claim that behind Nicolás Maduro’s government are China and Russia, which are trying to establish a beachhead in Latin America. Is that interpretation correct?

That is a scheme of interpretation typical of the Cold War, in which all the conflicts seemed to be behind the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. But this is not our case. The Venezuelan conflict is 200 years old. It existed before the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation existed, before the People’s Republic of China existed. It comes from Bolívar.

It is the conflict between the emancipatory ideas of freedom and sovereignty of our liberators versus the imperialist ideas. If one reviews the ideology, the political practice of the liberators, of Bolivar, one finds that they sought to create a block of free, independent nations that would not oppress any nation in the world and that would build their own political, social, economic, cultural model.

On the other hand, if you look at the project, the form, the practice of those who founded the United States, of the former 13 colonies, you will find how they directly inherited the entire British imperial vision. They never helped the independence of the South. They were against the struggle for independence. Moreover, they sold arms, supplies and supported the Spanish imperial army against the liberators.

It is a conflict in a history that comes from far away, from 200 years ago. We say today that our conflict is between the independence of Venezuela, the sovereignty of Venezuela and the U.S. empire’s attempt to recolonize. The centre of the conflict is that of the new independence of Latin America versus the domination and a new enslavement of  our people.

What is your roadmap for dealing with the current conflict? It seems that what the Venezuelan right wants today, in addition to establishing a parallel government and gaining legitimacy in the international arena, is to mount a provocation around humanitarian aid that justifies a foreign military intervention. What are the steps you intend to take to avoid such a scenario?

The steps we are taking are linked to the Constitution. Our roadmap is the Constitution.

First of all, govern the country, attend to the problems of our people, implement the plan of the homeland 2019-2025 in all areas. Today we launch the Great Mission Transport Venezuela. A great project that aims to transform the entire public transportation system of the country.

Second, to defend peace, peace with justice, I say, peace with equality, peace with independence. And to promote all forms of political dialogue and political negotiation in order to establish a lasting peace.

Thirdly, to maintain civil-military union: Our strength is our armed force, our Bolivarian city and its unitary capacity to manage national defence.

Fourthly, to defend ourselves diplomatically, politically, mediatically from all the aggressions of the imperialist government of Donald Trump. The operation called ‘humanitarian aid’ is a show, a cheap show, a bad show. We will attend to it, be assured that it will not disturb Venezuela. Those shows are being diluted, they are being dissolved with the Venezuelan reality.

Is there a danger of the army breaking up?

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested to divide the Bolivarian National Armed Force. I can tell you, being in direct contact with the Venezuelan soldiers, that today they are more united than ever. They are not going to break.

What has the government of Nicolás Maduro done wrong?

Many things. We have a great capacity for self-criticism. We believe that self-criticism and criticism are the most important political pedagogy to learn from experience.

We make a great effort for our country. A daily effort, permanent, with a lot of honesty. But we still lack many things. We have made mistakes in exchange policy that have led to the possession of the criminal dollar, the parallel dollar fixed from Miami, from Colombia. We are rectifying many elements of that policy.

In some cases we have abandoned the daily leadership of popular issues. We must put more emphasis on building popular movement, popular power, communal councils. Attend to the base directly. Attend to the problems of the people, listen to the people, promote the assembly movement, make a permanent revision. Perhaps there we have made mistakes, product of the same conflict that we face.

There are many things to rectify every day. The struggle against indolence, bureaucratization, corruption, is hard, bitter, very complex. Nobody is going to tell me that because you say that we are going to fight against corruption, that is already being done. No, corruption has a thousand ways to recover. Sometimes you name a great comrade in a position, one who has served in the political struggle, in social upheaval, and ends up rotting in office. It ends up being more corrupt than some mafia you removed from that position.

The fight against corruption is tremendous, it’s an endless fight and we’re combating it with great precision. I have the feeling that in the months to come it will have a great result in the political reality of the country.

Would you say that the government of Nicolás Maduro has followed this orientation?

I think so. We have ridden alongside the Venezuelan people’s power. We have managed to activate more than 50,000 communal councils that group 80, 100, 120 families each, sometimes a little more. We have managed to articulate 3,100 communes of a superior instance of social, economic, and political organization of the community. They comprise  some 2 million Venezuelans. We have been able to respond to the issue of food supply through the communal councils, creating the CLAPs. If popular power did not exist, it would have been impossible to address this issue and others.

Now there is still a lot to do. It is a lie that just because one calls the organization, the people’s power organizes itself. No. It takes a lot of effort, knocking on doors, motivating, educating, carrying the people forward, attending to their problems, truly empowering the man, the humble woman, the citizen.

I would say that the great challenge for the left in the world is to build true popular bases, true popular power. Because, sometimes, the left fulfills its political struggles, with its slogan, but forgets that politics cannot be aerial. Politics must have roots. You always have to put your feet on the ground.

The Bolivarian revolution, by order of Commander Chávez, gave us the slogan: commune or nothing. That’s the dichotomy. Either we go the way of the commune of popular power, the real root of the people, or we are left in nothingness.

You are passionate about history, cinema – you directed the Caracas film club before doing institutional politics – and music. How would you summarize this current situation in a historical event, in a film and a song?

It would be: The battle for Venezuela. And the salsa song, by Ray Barretto, which I like very much, which is called Indestructible. Look it up on social networks. As in that song, I feel ” With new blood, indestructible / Alas, united we will win and I know we will arrive”.

President: anything else you want to say?

Thank Mexico very much for its nobility, for its solidarity. And ask all for solidarity. May a powerful movement of solidarity rise up to say to Donald Trump: No to military intervention in Venezuela! We want peace in Venezuela! We need the company of the Mexican people so that peace will be imposed and the war cries against our country will end.

Translation by Internationalist 360°