Marinella Correggia Reporting from Caracas
Interview with Cuban professor in Caracas on Venezuela’s International Relations and Contingency, amid failed ultimatums, criminal blackouts and international visits.
Nothing happened, in the end, on 23 February, the date of the ultimatum imposed for the delivery of “humanitarian aid”. And it was not beneficial for the coup opposition nor the electromagnetic cybernetic attack that knocked out the hydroelectric power plant of Guri, in Bolivar State, causing a national blackout that lasted more than three days in almost the entire country. Indeed, the New York Times in recent days, perhaps in anti-Trump fashion, “reconstructs” what the Venezuelan TVs had already verified in the field, on the border with Colombia: the famous “humanitarian” trucks have been set on fire by the opposition.
The arrival of Michelle Bachelet, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, should complete the picture. Before she arrived, the OHCHR published a terrible report on Venezuela in 2017, post-guarimbas, meeting only the opposition in Panama. This visit, therefore, is a change.
Cuban professor Ernesto Wong (teaches international law) has lived in Venezuela for many years and is the founder of the association Trisol (Tricontinental de las relaciones internacionales y de la solidaridad). He speaks of the “search for peace by Venezuela and the Chavista people who won 22 elections”, but “if the U.S. tries to attack militarily, Venezuela and its international allies will deliver a solid response.
In the West it has long been said that Venezuela is isolated…
How many countries in the world are there? The international community has 193 countries, and only a little more than twenty have sided with the United States and their self-proclaimed Juan Guaidò. The others either showed support for President Nicolas Maduro or avoided taking sides. It is important that they do not ally themselves with the United States in the project of attacking the country.
What about the European Union?
It has displayed levels of interference, but at a very different level from Trump. And it is not all the countries of Europe: there has not been a common position, as they have done on Cuba for many years. Not with Venezuela, because they have many interests here, and they also have conflicts with the United States, so they do not indulge them. But the people are aware of what is happening, they are increasingly expressing their rejection of this interference.
On the subject of international alliances: does the Alba (Bolivarian Alliance for Our America), promoted in 2004 by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, advance despite the departure of Ecuador?
Yes, the Alba-Tcp (Treaty of Trade between Peoples) continues, there are several projects. For example, Cuba offers medical services to other countries. Bolivia, an important country in this alliance, has the highest growth rate in Latin America, and more than an ally, it is a brother of Venezuela, also because of the common history of liberation. Nicaragua has a direct participation with Alba, especially with agricultural products. And there are many relations between peoples. More than 200 doctors from Bolivia, Nicaragua, and the Caribbean countries that are part of the Alba or Petrocaribe have graduated from the Latin American School of Medicine: another project born from the Alba that allows countries in the area to receive oil at very favorable rates, another international project that Trump wanted to bring down, according to his statements in 2018. Then, of course, Cuba is a special case in the Alba. In Venezuela there are more than 40,000 Cuban technicians, 20,000 in the health sector, with medical services, and 20,000 in different areas of education and training. Everyone said that in case of aggression they will remain to participate in the defense of the country. Important progress is being made in agriculture and also in the army.
What about the other partners or allies?
They are powerful: China has large investments with good levels of trade on favourable terms, low interest rates and grace periods. It’s investing a lot. Russia is also involved in the area of military defense. India is also important in the field of medicine.
Does Cuba export drugs to Venezuela? The scarcity of drugs here is always invoked as a pretext for so-called humanitarian aid…
The shortage of inexpensive medicines has to do with the fact that the government has its funds and purchases frozen, so it can import less. Allied US governments participate in this blockade, which includes essential products but also finance. In recent weeks the US has stolen more than 30,000 million dollars from Venezuela frozen in US banks, and now there is a lawsuit in progress. Cuba in exchange for oil sends drugs to all medical centers in considerable quantities, it is a free service for the entire population, by prescription. Cuba has also opened an oil field in the Gulf of Mexico, where the public oil company PDVSA is participating. And it refines oil in the Cienfuegos refinery, designed specifically for Venezuelan oil, which then also goes to the Caribbean countries.
But the scarcity?
The economic problem in Venezuela is the price war and speculation. Traders and brokers are speculating, based on the dollar. You can see that in Venezuela there are products, but at very high prices, which is why the president has launched several projects. For example, subsidized food crates of the CLAP ( Local Committees for Supply and Production), delivered directly to homes of six million families. If the bourgeoisie continues to speculate and wage economic war, the socialist public market can only expand in response. CLAP chain stores have also been set up for middle-income people, with products that are a little cheaper than the basic food box.
What about the humanitarian aid offered by Trump?
It is a facade to denigrate Venezuela. It is 6% of what the Venezuelan Government distributes in one day! Very low-priced food, highly subsidized, also offered to the five million Colombians, the million Ecuadorians, 500,000 Bolivians, from all Andean countries. The Colombians, for example, have received over 230,000 apartments from Mision Vivienda, which builds and assigns houses.
What does the civic-military alliance that we talk about so much mean?
Chavez, the president, transformed the Bolivarian Armed Forces into a people’s force, first integrating the military into social projects; then he merged the various components into a single Bolivarian national armed force, with a single strategic operational command, which oversees all the components, and then he included the civilian component, the Bolivarian National Militia, of which 2 million civilians are trained to defend against the invader. The army is monolithic, with a popular social base. In these decades Armed Forces have entered the barrios, in Brazil the favelas, here they call them barrios, and they have been given a decent life. The officers trained in the infamous School of the Americas were gradually removed and patriotic officers remained.
What about economic dependence on foreign countries?
The strategy of President Maduro and the government is to create, as is being done, the basis for the integral development of the nation. Not to depend on oil or a single product, but to invest in industries, in agriculture, the fifteen engines in different sectors of the economy. Oil money for development. This takes a few years: the president says that the economy will stabilize by 2021. The new currency, Petro, will also contribute, supported not only by oil but also by a lot of gold, diamonds, coltan and strategic minerals.
But how is Petro used?
When Petro was born, at first 5,000 million dollars were purchased. China of these 2,000 million. With this amount, you can exchange with other countries that want to be paid in Petro for what they can buy in Venezuela.
Is it an alternative to the dollar?
Yes, but it takes time for it to consolidate and for Venezuela’s offerings to expand with industrialisation.