[News] Venezuela - Account of a Day with Nicolas Maduro

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 27 18:02:28 EDT 2013


  Account of a Day with Nicolas Maduro

By Nicolas Maduro, Víctor Ríos, Miguel Riera, September 26th 2013
http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10050

*Very little is known about Nicolas Maduro, president of the 
Bo**livarian Republic of Venezuela, in Spain. [There's] scarcely four 
lines, mainly contributed by the mass media which is hostile to the 
revolutionary process. El Viejo Topo wanted to get to know him, and the 
Venezuelan president accepted the interview without any hassles.*

*But the invitation from Maduro wasn't limited to just an interview. 
Immersed in what has been baptised the Street Government, the president 
has been visiting, over the last one hundred days of his government, all 
the nooks and crannies of his country. Practically every day he has 
visited a different place, accompanied by some minister, taking note of 
the principle problems in the area, talking with people, approving 
projects. One could say that during this period the government of 
Venezuela has had a somewhat itinerant character -- something surprising 
for us, as we're used to a Spanish president who has so little contact 
with the people that he talks to the press through a plasma screen, 
hiding his physical presence from the mortal journalists.*

*Well then, the president invited a team from El Viejo Topo to accompany 
him during one of these work days, and in that way, as that day 
progressed, the interview would be held. It was a unique chance to 
observe up close the Venezuelan head of state.*

*So on 20 July El Viejo Topo went early to the Caracas airport where the 
presidential airplane was waiting. After a 25 minute flight we landed at 
the San Carlos airport, capital of plains state of Cojedes. A lot of 
people were at the airport and in the neighbouring streets waiting to 
see Maduro. Owing to the tinted windows of the cars that transported us, 
many of them must have thought that the president was in one of them, so 
we were greeting warmly by the population that was waiting for the 
procession.*

*Forty-five minutes later the small parade entered a military base. Two 
helicopters flew over the area. A military band got into position: the 
president was heading towards them.*

*We'll keep the story short: After the military ceremony, the procession 
headed towards a small platform where many soldiers and their families, 
over two hundred, were already seated. We were going to attend a 
promotion ceremony for a handful of generals as well as the handing over 
of banners to various military regions. After that, the speech.*

*Nicolas Maduro says what he means to say. Bread is bread and wine is 
wine. No beating about the bush. Even though it wasn't the main topic, 
Maduro talked about Spain; Spain devastated by corruption which has 
nested itself in a good part of the political class, and which has been 
(and still is?) an accomplice of the Venezuelan right-wing fascist coup 
plotters. He cites unemployment and highlights how intolerable it is 
that 55% of Spanish youth can't find work. It's not even necessary to 
say that Topo agrees with him.*

*Around the big tent where we are the Armed Forces have set up a small 
**exhibition of weaponry. Tanks, cannons, a range of military stuff. The 
president entertains himself in each area; taking his time, he converses 
with the troops and officials. The morning stretches out.*

***So much time standing up, for the Topo, our strength flounders. But 
everyone else doesn't seem to be tired. Suddenly, very quickly, Maduro 
and a group of soldiers enter a big campaign tent. Could this be the 
Military Street Government? It seems there are issues to resolve. After 
a few hours, soldiers appear with a bit of food. It starts to rain like 
crazy; stick of rain as they call it here. In the stall the president, 
the defence minister, the president of the National Assembly, and a 
group of the military continue their debates. Suddenly, Maduro talks to 
us. It's getting late, and the interview is about to start. "How shall 
we do it?" he says. He thinks about it for a few seconds, and continues; 
"Come with me, let's get in the car."*

*Everything happens in a hurry. Almost running, we get to the vehicles. 
Someone points to the car we should get in to. We do it, one in front, 
two in the back. There's no driver. He appears: it's Nicolas Maduro. The 
actual president drives the car. For a few seconds we can't help feeling 
a little bewildered. One of us jokes about the category of driver. *

*The surprises continue: Maduro doesn't treat us like journalists or 
strangers, he treats us like companions. *

*The president asks us if we have the recorder ready. "Go ahead, ask," 
he says, while he drives the car. It's obvious it's not going to be a 
conventional interview, one of those where the interviewer measures 
their questions and the person being interviewed avoids answering 
completely. From there the tone of our whole conversation is colloquial, 
polite, not at all haughty. And we decide to start.*

*Someone had told us that his [Maduro's] social and political commitment 
started when he was very young, so we ask him about his first years. 
Without taking his eyes off the road, the president responds.*

I was born and grew up in the Caracas of the 1960s and '70s. I was 
raised in a barrio, in the area where the Central University of 
Venezuela is. In those years there was a big social and political 
upheaval, big struggles arose, focused above all in a powerful student, 
university, and high school movement. I remember, being still quite 
small, the raids on the Central University. Because I was born and grew 
up in front of the San Pedro church, in a middle class, working-class 
community. There, one lived practically in a state of siege. Sometimes 
we couldn't leave the house all week, they kept us sheltered from the 
shootings that broke out in the storming on the university. I suppose 
that these memories, of a small boy, are from the time of Raul Leoni, 
who governed the country from 1964 to 69. Leoni raided the university 
with the Bolivar battalion, with the army. Later there was another raid 
which I recall well enough, in 1970, under the government of Rafael 
Caldera, the leader of Christian democracy. He entered the Central 
University and he closed it, because a process of university renewal was 
being damaged, a little along the protest lines of Cordoba and the 
French May...

[/In 1918 Cordoba was the epicentre of a reformist movement know as the 
university reform, which later extended to the rest of the universities 
in Argentina, a large part of the Americas, and Spain/]

...in Venezuela this renewal the university students were going for in 
69, 70, was strangled in blood. I remember this raid very well because I 
was already eight years old, and there was a youth on the block, called 
Pedro, who we later called Pedro the strange, who was beaten up a lot by 
the police in front of us, they hit the youth in the head, and him, they 
left him mentally disturbed, somewhat crazy. We called him Pedro the 
strange because he behaved strangely, a little crazy. I remember this 
part of my infancy, which was always connected with repression, 
disturbances. My father was a left-wing man; he was an active member of 
the party Democratic Action (AD). He held a left-wing, critical 
position. Actually, later in 1967 he participated in the founding of the 
Electoral Movement of the People (MEP), with a leader who came from 
social democracy, called Luis Beltran Prieto Figueroa, a teacher. They 
stole the primary elections for the presidential candidacy in Democratic 
Action from the teacher Prieto and after that he had to find his own 
political force. I'm sure that the presidential elections were stolen 
from him. He didn't have any sort of machinery to be able to back up the 
votes, and the Venezuelan electoral system was very fraudulent. The 
votes that were emitted and places in the voting boxes were worthless, 
what had worth was what was put in the final vote count [/Acta / in 
Spanish]. It's what's called /Acta/ kills votes. They completely changed 
the results.

So we might say that those were the years that marked my childhood. When 
the 70s arrived I began to study in high school. In the first year 
[translator: ie 7^th grade], almost the first day of class, I started to 
participate in the Student United Front of the Urbaneja Achelpohl 
School. And from there I was a member of a revolutionary organisation 
called Ruptura, which was the legal part, the legal face of the 
Venezuelan Revolutionary Party, PRV, which was underground, and lead by 
Douglas Bravo.

[/Douglas Bravo:Politician and guerrilla, he joined the Communist Party 
in 1946 at the age of 12. He was expelled in 1964. He founded the PRV in 
1966. He participated in the uprisings of 4 February and 27 November 1992./]

So then I was twelve years old. I got active when I was a boy. At that 
time Venezuelan high schools were very political. I don't know where 
else in the world there's such a climate, but in Venezuela, in general, 
it has existed since the fifties. In high school we had 100 members of 
the political movement Ruptura, 100. In the whole south region we had 
300 high school members that were 12, 13, 14 years old. That's the start 
of my political activism, which later gradually evolved. I have said 
that there was a lot of repression at the time, a lot of persecution. 
There were a lot of killings of youth and a lot of struggle. And I was 
politically educated, not just in the student struggles, but also in the 
struggle in the barrios.

*But youth aren't just interested in politics...we ask you what other 
interests Nicolas Maduro had at the time, if he did anything apart from 
study and politics.*

I was a sports person, I did a lot of sports, but I was most seriously 
into baseball. I ended up in various national baseball selections, in 
the delegation from the capital, and also in a national selection of 
youth baseball. As I was good at sports, and we also organised other 
cultural activities in the barrios, we formed youth groups who practised 
soccer, baseball- we encouraged them, we organised them and lead them. 
We also had a cine-club, working class theatre, working class music, 
salsa, rock, a little of everything.

I played in various salsa groups and we organised the Young Rock 
Movement of Caracas, there in the 80s. In Venezuela there was a very 
interesting rock movement at the time. I was a member of the group 
Enigma, around the place there are various videos that they have put on 
Youtube. We played hard rock... the soul of this group was a Venezuelan 
guitarist who I haven't seen in many years, Carlos Carillo, who learnt 
to play guitar by ear, alone in his room, listening to Led Zeppelin. He 
played the guitar just like Jimmy Page, the guitarist of Led Zeppelin. 
He was really extraordinary, a great guitarist. So we did all this, but 
without leaving the revolutionary struggle; we put out revolutionary 
newspapers in the barrios.

Then the Caracazo came...

[/Caracazo: On 27 February 1989 protests and disturbances flared up 
against the government of Carlos Andres Perez. The government ordered 
intense repression lead by the Armed Forces, the National Guard, and the 
Metropolitan Police. Unofficial sources calculate the deaths at 3,500]/

At the time of the Caracazo I was a member of the Socialist League. We 
were coordinating with grassroots movements in Caracas and various parts 
of the country. The Caracazo surprised everyone. Venezuela had been 
accumulating small social explosions, in Merida, in the east... already 
since 1984 there had been many student revolts in various places in the 
country. And when Carlos Andres Perez won the 1988 elections, and just 
after that he announced that he would establish an agreement with the 
IMF to implement a neoliberal economic package, that is, privatise 
education, health, the main companies of the country, that he would 
deregulate working conditions and put the country into debt, a weird 
climate was felt. And on 27 February everyone really was surprised. It 
wasn't just a Caracazo, it was a Venezuelazo, it was in the whole 
country [/Translator: Caracazo refers to Caracas/]. It was roughly a 
general insurrection. On Saturday 5 March there were still battles all 
over the place. The repression was with blood and fire. Maybe in 
Caracas, in what is really greater Caracas, is where it was most felt. 
People went out into the street to look, and it was like a yell of 
"enough already" to the threat of a neoliberal package, to a decade and 
a half of accumulating misery. Poverty reached 80%. Total misery was 
around 40%. It was a situation that the country couldn't stand any more. 
The Caracazo created a situation of social rupture between the 
Venezuelan people and the dominant class, which was most clearly 
expressed later in the political rupture that the Bolivarian military 
insurrection on 4 February by/ Comandante/ Chavez signified. On 4 
February the people said 'yes it can be done' and it was moment when a 
vision building and conquering political power began to be born among 
the vast majority of Venezuelans.

In Venezuela the whole political system was rotten. The left was tamed, 
the recognised leaders of the left, with a few exceptions, were tamed by 
the system, bought. Or tired of struggling. And Chavez represented an 
absolutely fresh leadership to Venezuela politics, and from the first 
day, revolutionary leadership. Revolutionary, nationalist, for 
independence, Bolivarian. He created a different way of doing politics 
which expressed the collective psychology of a country that was seeking 
deep transformation, a country that didn't believe in anybody, not even 
in itself. A country that started believe because of the hope of Chavez.

*But how did Nicolas Maduro end up connecting with Hugo Chavez? When?*

In 1990 I started with the Metro of Caracas and Metrobus, the system of 
buses that works with the metro. I started there to work based on the 
strategy that we had in the Socialist League of building a class based, 
revolutionary union force in the main companies of the Venezuelan state; 
the primary industries of Guayana, the national electrical company, the 
Metro of Caracas, the petroleum company. A plan was put together to 
develop revolutionary unions in them and to work with the forces in the 
barrios and the farms. The strategic idea that we agreed on was that all 
this would go towards a general insurrection against the system.

In 1991, in August, I was driving my bus through Bellas Artes, route 
4-21, a route used mostly by the Caracas middle class. It was midday and 
I had one last round to do when I saw a dude there, in the door of the 
bus. It was a friend that I hadn't seen in a long time, Ezequiel. I had 
known him in my high school years, in the '70s. "What are you doing 
here?" I asked him. "I need to talk to you urgently," he responded. It 
had to be something important for him to look for me and find me in the 
bus. And effectively, I did the last round and then we went to lunch at 
an arepa shop near the bus stop, in Bellas Artes. I remember that we had 
chicken soup and some arepas.

"And what are you up to these days? Why did you want to find me?" I 
asked him. "Well, Nicolas, I have been in contact with a military group 
which is going to rise up against Carlos Andres." He said it like that, 
straight off. I looked at him, "Are you sure?" I said. We had lost a lot 
of people to traps..."It's going to be a trap, they're going to screw 
you," but he said no, and started to tell me about it. I don't know if 
in Spain it's like this, but in Venezuela everyone knows everything, and 
he knew that there were two leaders, one that was a priest, who 
controlled the west, who turned out to be Arias Cardenas, and the other, 
and this is how he told me, with these words, was a /tropero/, who led 
troops, and who was a follower of Bolivar, Ezequiel Zamora, and who sang 
Ali Primera songs. And I told him that this seemed like a trap. He told 
me they were asking us to mobilise our small union forces. "And when is 
this going to happen?" I asked him. "In two or three months," he 
replied. This was August of '91. "And what can we do?" I asked, and he 
gave me various ideas, places to attack. And this confirmed to me that 
it could be a trap. So I told him, "Well, comrade, this smells like a 
trap to me, look they are going to kill us... they have killed so many 
people." "Ezequiel," I said, "If these people exist and they take up 
arms, the Venezuelan people are going to go with them for a hundred 
years, people the people are disgusted, and if there really is a 
patriotic sector in the Armed Forces, and they raise up arms, be assured 
that the people will go with them". We said goodbye and some days passed 
and I didn't see him again. He was going to contact me, but he didn't, 
we didn't coincide anywhere. And in December there were rumours that 
there would be a military uprising on 16 or 17 December. Later we found 
out that there really were projects to rise up for 17 December. Later 
there was a rumour that this attempt dissipated. So I met again with 
Ezequiel and asked him what was happening. "It's going ahead, its being 
put together." He said. "Of course it's going ahead, what I don't know 
is when, because I haven't been in touch," he said. And I didn't see him 
again until 4 February. I was working at night on my route 4-21, and 
when I got home very late, at around 2.30, the phone rang. It was my 
sister, who explained to me that there was a military uprising against 
the government. And I thought, "let's see how they are, now the 
persecution starts," because in Latin America the traditional thing is 
that the military coups are by the right-wing, and as the crisis that 
neoliberalism had created was so big here, anything could happen. So in 
the morning they told us that the head of the coup was going to speak, 
and suddenly on television was the image of a dark skinned man, skinny, 
spoon faced, red beret, and he spoke and said what he said...

[/It started off with: Companeros, unfortunately, for now, the 
objectives that we had planed weren't achieved in the capital city...]/

And I leaped almost up to the ceiling and shouted: "the thing was real!" 
Oh my god, I was left with this thing in my body... excited, like those 
who go crazy. Immediately I went out into the street. Of course, it was 
necessary to take shelter, because every time that something happened in 
the country, they always came out to look for a group of unionists, 
whose list the political police had. That day I slept in a safe house.

I started to look for Ezequiel. I found him, and we sought out contact 
with the soldiers, who were already in prison. And from that day, I, as 
member of the Socialist League, connected myself with this Bolivarian 
military movement, with Chavez, and from the street I worked in 
solidarity with them. Later we prepared for the other uprising, and then 
we did directly participate in the street, on 27 November, there we did 
mobilise people in many barrios in Caracas. But in the end they defeated 
us militarily.

[/On 27 November 1992 there was another attempt at a coup against the 
government of Carlos Andres Perez, just nine months after the 4 February 
one. Civilians and military participated, as well as the political 
parties Bandera Roja and Third Way./]

Chavez, on 4 February 1992 opened up a historical process, he split 
history into two and woke up a revolutionary force that has managed to 
change not just the economic, political and social model of Venezuela, 
which has quickly evolved towards a proposal of Our American socialism, 
but has also shaken up the story of Latin America and the Caribbean like 
nothing else in the last 200 years.

*So, are we facing a second Latin American independence? We ask...*

/Comandante/ Chavez had reflected on this and would say that it's just 
one independence. That the independence is continuous, there's no first 
or second, but rather it's just one process. It could be the second big 
moment in the independence, of a new independence for Latin America and 
the Caribbean that effectively, from the historical point of view, if 
one were strict, you'd have to say that it started with the Cuban 
revolution. With an expansive process in terms of ideas and the example, 
the real force to transform society and take political power for 
transforming projects in this Chavista stage.

In the second stage Chavez had a fundamental weight because he achieved, 
in a short time, from 4 February 1992 to 5 March 2013- 21 years, one 
month, and a day have passed -- the creation of a revolutionary 
movement. He transformed Venezuelan society, modified the power 
relationships with imperialism on our continent, and founded various 
organisations within the Bolivarian concept of the strength rings 
[anillos de fureza]...

*The strength rings...it would help to explain that for our Spanish 
readers, we'd suggest...*

The liberator Simon Bolivar believed in various strength rings from the 
geopolitical point of view. The first strength ring, which he called 
Colombia, he founded a powerful nation of republics where now there is 
Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. Panama was part of Colombia, 
which reached up to Central America. A second strength ring that the 
liberator visualised was the alliance between this Colomiba with the 
confederation of Peru, and the recently created Bolivia, which almost 
took up a fundamental part of South America and part of Central America. 
It had the Amazon, the Pacific, the Andes, the Caribean, an Atlantic 
coast... that was the second strength ring, the alliance of Colombia, 
Peru, and Bolivia. And the third strength ring, he thought about it and 
he activated it, but in the end it failed, thanks to Gringo sabotage. In 
the Amphictyonic Panama Congress he was thinking of proposing a great 
confederation of independent republics, previously Spanish colonies, 
confederated into just one. It was going to go from Mexico to Patagonia. 
It was a power bloc. It was the third strength ring.

/Comandante /Chavez, rescuing the doctrine and strategic thought of the 
Liberator, advanced in something similar. The first strength ring: the 
ALBA and Petrocaribe. The ALBA, which is a political, economic, social, 
integral alliance of a bloc that is advancing towards socialism. A 
second strength ring is Mercosur and Unasur. A third strength ring is 
the CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. All of 
this already in Bolivarian thought. Maybe the difference between ALBA 
and the Colombia project is the presence of countries and republics of 
the three sides of the continent- the Caribbean, Central America, and 
South America, and that they don't have common borders. But we have the 
great strength of political and ideological identity on the way to 
socialism in the ALBA, and Petrocaribe is a powerful energy and economic 
alliance that has acted like the first strength ring for the 
constitution of a new Caribbean in the new Latin America that exists today.

The second ring is made up of Mercosur and Unasur. That is, South 
America, which is more and more geopolitically and geoeconomically defined.

The third strength ring, I said it already, is the CELAC.

Chavez, in 21 years, managed to liberate Venezuela and constitute an 
ensemble of liberating strength rings of the continent. And without a 
doubt, he managed to generate a new alternative model to capitalism, to 
neoliberalism, and rescue the flag of socialism for humanity. The figure 
of Chavez is transcendental for understanding the historical process of 
Latin America, even for understanding the thought of Bolivar.

*As foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro played an important role in the 
creation of these rings... but we'll continue talking about his relation 
with Hugo Chavez.*

The first time that I physically saw Hugo Chavez was the 16 December 
1993. I was in the Yare prison, visiting with a group of companions. To 
see him in person impressed me. We had a meeting for about an hour. 
"What are you hear for?" he asked us. We were Metro union leaders. I 
told him, "Well, we want to know what your strategy is." You know, us 
people from Caracas use 'tu' (informal grammar) straight away. "We want 
to know what we can expect from you in the future". And he didn't stop 
speaking for 50 minutes. On his bed there was the book A Grain of Corn 
by Tomas Borge, the conversation with Fidel Castro. And it was full of 
little pieces of paper inserted in many pages. That made me happy, 
because Fidel Castro was an important moral example for Latin America 
and for the world, a phenomenon of world politics and history. Chavez 
didn't stop talking this whole time, with a lot of coherence, about 
everything that had to be done. He was sure that he would get out of 
jail soon. He told us about everything that had to be done in the 
street, that it was necessary to advance in building a Bolivarian 
military movement in the ranks of the Armed Forces, build up the 
grassroots so that an insurrection would be possible. And also open up 
spaces in case a peaceful way was possible. He explained all this, and I 
left there jumping about just like in February 1992. I left very 
excited, very motivated. I didn't have any doubt about his personality 
because of what I had learnt from his letters, but that day, 16 December 
1993, I sealed a spiritual commitment with him. I'm going with this man 
wherever he goes, I told myself. And that's how it was.

They transferred him to the military hospital because of a health 
problem, and on 26 March 1994 he was freed. It was Easter Saturday.

 From that Saturday I was by his side, working on a thousand things. He 
called me at the end of 1994 so that I would form part of the national 
leadership of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement 200 (MBR200) that he 
had founded in 1982 and that now had been reorganised. I accompanied him 
there for about a year and a half, always involved in the union struggles.

At around that time in Venezuela the work law was reformed, and stole 
the right to what we call social benefits from us in 1997. And he headed 
up the struggles. They were years of a lot of repression, from 1994 to 
1998, and as we might say between us, when you weren't prisoner they 
were looking for you. We had the political police there in anything that 
we might do. They even came to a baptism.

Later, in 1995, Chavez proposed a slogan: For now, for none of them, 
constituent now. Because there were mayoral and governor elections, and 
he said that we shouldn't exhaust ourselves in them. We were going to 
waste time, he would say, and divide our forces which we still hadn't 
finished building up. He already perceived that the solution for the 
country was a constituent assembly. A popular, plenipotentiary, 
revolutionary constituent.

1996 was a very difficult year for us, there was a lot of repression, 
and he proposed at the end of this year that we start preparing for the 
elections of 1998. There were people who didn't agree, but well, those 
/companeros/ gave in, and in 1997, on 19 April, we called for a national 
assembly of the MBR200, with 500 delegates that came from around the 
country. It was in Valencia, the capital of Carabobo state, and there we 
decided to launch /comandante/ Chavez's candidature and push for a new 
political movement that would help us be victorious, and further, there 
was a third decision; to build a broad political electoral alliance.

And that was what we did. We launched ourselves in 1997. The oligarchy 
believed that Chavez wouldn't get more than 10%. So we founded the Fifth 
Republican Movement, MVR. He chose that name. A commission was formed to 
chose the name and he proposed that. The basic idea was to participate 
in the elections in order to call for a constituent that would drive a 
democratic and peaceful revolution in the country.

In January 1998 he had 6% in the polls. In February, 10%. The 
bourgeoisie said that Chavez wouldn't get more than 10. But later it 
went up to 20, 30, 40. In July he had a bit more than forty. It was 
already an electoral phenomenon. All the bourgeois candidates were 
gradually shattered, and we won the elections with 56% of the votes.

In these elections I was elected legislator to the last Congress of the 
IV Republic, and they made me head of the parliamentary group, of the 
[pro Chavez] legislators. And I accompanied the /comandante/ until we 
had to resign in order to convoke the constituent.

The referendum was held so that the people could say they agreed that an 
assembly be convoked to write a new constitution. And this referendum, 
through a second question, the people were consulted on the electoral 
methodology to elect the constituents. It was a completely different 
method to the one used until then for the congress. In the referendum 
almost 80% approved the making of the constituent. On 25 July 1999 the 
constituent assembly was elected. The new constitution was written and 
publicly debated and on 15 December 1999 the people voted for it. There 
was brutal campaign where the opposition accused the constituent of 
being abortionist, of prohibiting private property, eliminating freedom 
of expression, religious freedom. They said a thousand things, but the 
constitution was voted for by 71.78% of Venezuelans. And that's how the 
revolutionary democratic process started. Later I was elected as 
legislator, I was a legislator for almost eight years. I presided over 
various working commissions, I was president of the national assembly, 
and in August 2006 the president called me and he named me as foreign 
minister.

*The vehicle moves swiftly through the airport to a side door. Nicolas 
Maduro stops it next to a staircase for the presidential plane. We get 
out. Suddenly we realise the president has disappeared, he's not with us 
anymore. We see him around 100 metres away, he's gone up to some people 
who were waiting to greet him. How on earth has he got that far so 
quickly? He returns, gets in the plane. He enters the back part and we 
lose sight of him. Twenty-five minutes later we land in Maiquetia, the 
Caracas airport. A car is waiting for the president, who invites us to 
go with him. Again he drives it himself. We head for Caracas, our 
recorder in the armrest. With a leaflet in his hands, Maduro resumes the 
conversation where we had left it.*

/El comandante/ called me on 7 August at night. He wanted to make some 
changes to the cabinet and he had already asked me for the CVs of some 
of the legislators with the idea of choosing a minister from among them. 
We had a lot of contact in those days. It was during the last war that 
there was in Beirut, with aggression from Israel, that was finally 
defeated by Hezbollah. He called me that Monday, it would have been at 
around 8 at night and he started to talk to me about politics. Later he 
commented to me that the foreign minister Ali Rodriguez was sick and 
that he would take a few months to get better. I started to think about 
some name to propose for foreign minister in case he asked me. But he 
said that needed to resolve the problem and he had thought of me for 
foreign minister. He said to me, "I need a foreign minister, but it has 
to be a comrade, who's going to be by my side as a comrade, who is more 
than a foreign minister". Never in my life had it occurred to me that I 
could be a foreign minister. Never. Once, in 2001, he talked to me about 
taking on the minister of work, and as I was a union leader, that seemed 
easy to me. But the only thing I asked him was, "President, have you 
thought well about this?" And he told me that he had thought about it a 
lot. "Start tomorrow," he said. And the next day I went to the assembly 
and I resigned from my positions as legislator and president of the 
assembly and I was as foreign minister for six years and four months. 
They were years of a lot of combat in the international arena, with the 
building of and consolidation of ALBA, the consolidation of Petrocaribe, 
the foundation on 17 April 2007, in Margarita, of UNASUR, the foundation 
on 2 and 3 December 2011 of the CELAC, and in general the strengthening 
of strategic alliances with Russia, China, Iran, Belarus, India, the 
whole map we have built up.

*Difficult years, putting up with the hostility of the empire, no?*

They were complicated years, because Venezuela is in the epicentre of a 
battle for a new world, a battle against imperialism for Latin America 
and the world. And in this battle I got to know even Hugo Chavez even 
better, as a human being, as a leader, as a very demanding person. He 
was very demanding. He was an example, but he was always clear about 
what he wanted and how to get it. He was a man of action, in that sense 
he was a lot like Bolivar-- in the sense of privileging action. Action 
as the centre of life, of reflection, of formulating ideas, of 
philosophy, of everything. He was very studious, very intelligent. 
Further, he had a virtue that Fidel Castro also had, which is to convert 
complicated things into simple things, and transmit, communicate with 
his language with the majorities. Chavez managed to convoke the vast 
majority of the people to politics. He called on them for big tasks. For 
a new independence. And left behind a formed [politically educated] 
people, a people with grand values. We can't say that the revolution is 
totally consolidated, but it has advanced along an important stretch in 
terms of the possibility of making it irreversible, a long stretch in 
terms of ideology, the formulation of our ideology. We have a 
revolutionary, Bolivarian, socialist ideology. We have doctrines. We 
have a national project for a homeland, a country, a great homeland, 
articulated with a vision of the world. It's impossible to have a 
revolution, trying to transcend capitalism and build a socialist society 
thinking of just one country. That's impossible. If one doesn't think of 
humanity, socialism is impossible. It's necessary to have a vision that 
encompasses the world, all of humanity. And in the region that you 
relate to, in this case Latin America and the Caribbean... In that sense 
Trotsky was right. Even though Lenin was too, because if Lenin hadn't 
consolidated the Bolshevik revolution, nothing would have been able to 
advance. In this debate that there was 100 years ago, bringing it into 
the present, Hugo Chavez chose the idea of permanent revolution in 
practical terms. Revolution in all the different areas, every day, 
revolution in different dimensions, the Venezuelan dimension, the Latin 
American revolution, Latin American independence, alliances with 
anti-imperialist forces of the world. In those years I managed to 
understand a lot with him, from the human and political points of views, 
and to get to know, deeply, the ideas that made up Hugo Chavez's 
project. Now I'm doing a lot of tasks, and it's as if he had been 
preparing me for this battle; but I think he also prepared the people, 
he prepared us all. No one can feel themselves individually prepared for 
this battle that we are waging, but he prepared all of us for it.

*We ask you, being at the head of the foreign ministry, what was the 
thorniest issue you had to face?*

The possibility of a war with Colombia. In July 2010 Uribe was preparing 
for aggression. Various Latin American intelligence organisations 
provided us with first hand information that, checked against our own, 
gave us the coordinates of two possible attacks and their dates, in 
order to open up a war front with Venezuela in the days before Juan 
Manual Santos assumed the presidency. This was the most dangerous 
moment. We denounced it, UNASUR made a declaration, and I did a 
lightening tour of all the countries of South America in two days, and 
President Chavez was personally leading this difficult situation. We had 
all our armed forces, our entire radar and defence detection system 
activated.

We worked hard, politically and diplomatically, and we stopped Uribe 
from attacking Venezuela. We defeated him in the political and 
diplomatic area. And also in the military area because the military in 
Colombia refused to carry out the operation against Venezuela. This was 
perhaps the most complex moment of all the moments I had to live through 
as the foreign minister of Chavez.

*But later the president started to show signs that he was sick and 
finally Nicolas Maduro became vice-president...*

Yes, a very hard and difficult period began for /el comandante/ when he 
started to suffer strong pains that affected a knee, a leg, which at 
some points stopped him from walking. We thought it was a muscular 
problem, other things were thought about, until he got the exam, when it 
was discovered that there was an abscessed tumour that was easily 
solved. Unfortunately later it was show that it was a very big cancerous 
tumour, very aggressive, and that grown in a very short time, and that 
affected him a lot from 2011 to 2012. In his last two years of life he 
was seriously affected by the operations, pain, treatment, and with all 
of that he was always at the front, running the revolution, always aware 
of the main problems of the people, of the building of socialism, of the 
important problems in the international arena. He didn't neglect any 
front. Although it's true that his rhythm of attending to and 
maintaining the dynamic of the Bolivarian revolution decreased. For 
example, in the electoral campaign, he himself told us that he felt like 
a boxer had gone into the ring with one hand tied. He fought with just 
one hand, and he won by a large margin. But either way he was very 
affected by the whole campaign, suffering pain. The medical exams that 
they conducted on him in this time, done with the most modern 
technology, said that there was an absence of cancerous cells. Not one. 
However, after the elections and after the big triumph of 7 October 
2012, the pains increased. October and the start of November were months 
of a lot of pain and when he left Venezuela to undergo new treatment, it 
was discovered that the cancerous tumour had reproduced itself in the 
same place, and that's when he investigated the dangerousness of the 
operation that they were going to perform on him. Face the evident risk 
of undergoing for the fourth time, an operation in the same place. An 
operation with a lot of risk, and he decided to prepare everything for 
just in case...

*Hugo Chavez was aware of the seriousness of the situation?*

His intuition never failed. With all the other operations he went in 
with a spirit of victory and sure of coming out fine. The day that he 
found out about this fourth operation, he talked with the doctors, and 
he knew intuitively that it was the last one. He called me on Sunday 2 
December. I was going over the repairs of the Bolivar pantheon and he 
used a codeword that we had agreed on between the two of us. It was bad 
news. This was a blow... I didn't know how big, one is always 
optimistic, but he told me, "Send me a commission". And I sent it to 
him. To Havana. Diosdado Cabello, Cilia [Flores], Rafael Ramirez, and 
his son in law, Jorge Arriaza was already there. That was, if I remember 
correctly, the 3^rd or 4^th of December. They talked with him for two 
days. He told them that if he was gone, that I would prepare to convene 
elections, and he sorted out many things-- personal, political, many 
details, and he ordered the commission to go back to Venezuela. They 
arrived early on 5 December, and that was when they told me the news 
about what was going to happen, the operation, and what he had decided. 
That for me was one of the biggest blows that I remember. Such a hard 
blow... to know that /el comandante /was in those circumstances... I 
think that in some way he sent me a message to prepare myself, so that I 
wouldn't receive the blow suddenly, so that I could digest it. He was 
always careful with everything. I went there on 5 December. I arrived at 
around 8 at night and I was with him until 5 or 6 in the morning of the 
6^th , and he talked for a long time. Jorge Arreaza was a witness of 
this conversation, he noted it all. It was a very difficult 
conversation, agonising. He kept giving me instructions about many 
things. He went into the future, he explained it to me, and then he 
returned to where we were. I almost couldn't speak, I was very affected, 
it was like a goodbye. And there he decided to return to Venezuela to 
explain this and many more things; in the end he didn't explain them 
all, because we told him that it wasn't necessary. We landed in Caracas 
airport at midnight of the 6 and 7 of December, I got in the car with 
him to his residency in Miraflores. We talked, he kept giving me 
instructions, as if nothing was happening. That if we didn't inaugurate 
this...that it was necessary to do this thing... he was very motivated, 
but the pains were a terrible thing. On the 7^th he rested, although 
with a lot of pain, and on the 8^th we met, we studied the situation 
from the constitutional point of view, and he talked and said what he 
had to say.

[/What he said was: If anything happens, if I'm prevented from 
continuing at the head of the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of 
Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, not just in this situation should he conclude 
the period as the constitution mandates, but also in my firm, full, 
irrevocable, and absolute opinion, in the situation where it's necessary 
to call presidential elections, you should elect Nicolas Maduro as 
president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela/.]

Later he went to be operated, and in a particular moment of the 
operation he almost left us. The people lived through that with a lot of 
pain. And the right-wing? The right-wing didn't stop provoking the 
people for even a moment. They wanted, if there were a fatal outcome, 
for the people to come out into the streets like crazy, that Venezuela 
would enter a spiral of violence. We worked on removing the hate that 
was being promoted by the right-wing. In those circumstances, and as I 
was carrying out two positions, as vice-president -- he had named me 
vice-president before he left, in October --the proposal came up to name 
Elias Jaua foreign minister, which he [Chavez] approved of immediately, 
and from there Elias took on the foreign ministry and me the 
vice-presidency, in the middle of those painful circumstances, with such 
uncertainty, when the /comandante/ would improve, and other more 
difficult moments that we had to face. And we had to prepare ourselves 
for what we never thought would happen. Until the last second on that 
day 5 March we hoped that he would overcome those circumstances.

*We are already outside Caracas. At a pedestrian crossing a large group 
of people are crowding around, held back by traffic police, who have 
been warned that it's about the president's car. But he stops and tells 
the police to allow the people to cross. A little bewildered, the police 
let them cross. We resume.*

The right-wing were preparing to start a process of economic 
destabilisation that would be finished off with social and political 
destabilisation. Imperialism and its Venezuelan allies were always 
anxious to end with the revolution, and they tried to end with Chavez 
through all the possible ways; coup, assassination, elections. But they 
couldn't do it through any of those ways. But now they planned, knowing 
the seriousness of the/ comandante,/ to take advantage of the situation 
to organise chaos. And effectively they caused a lot of damage. We are 
still getting over some of the effects of the brutal economic sabotage, 
something that would be difficult for other countries to bear, with 
hoarding, speculation, an economic war against the country. A war that 
was unleashed in November and continued in December, January, February, 
March...When /el comandante/ died and elections were called, the level 
of scarcity was terrible and a result of the economic sabotage. They 
sabotaged the electricity system, which is vulnerable in all countries. 
And they used a range of mechanisms of psychological war to provoke rage 
and hate in people. We confronted every one of these elements by saying 
the truth to the people, calling them to battle, to permanent 
mobilisation. The electoral victory that we obtained on 14 April 
happened in the middle of mourning for the tragedy. A paralysing 
mourning in the middle of an electric war in which I arrived in one 
state without electricity and I left it without the electricity having 
returned. We suffered a brutal economic war. We mobilised the people and 
we had a victory.

And later we implemented a methodology of popular government that we 
have called Street Government. The aim of the street government is to 
mobilise the people and be able to identify the fundamental problems and 
commit resources and to actions for their solution. With this 
methodology we have approved, in the first 100 days of government, over 
2000 projects which came out of direct contact with the people as we 
travelled the country. We have invested in these street government 
working days over 16 billion dollars in projects for economic 
development, infrastructure, roads, housing, agro industry, education, 
health. It's a revolution within the revolution. A profound change in 
the methods of leadership of the Bolivarian revolution, with the 
construction of collective leadership, because it was substituting such 
a powerful leadership, such an organiser like Chavez is almost 
impossible. It can only be done with a great collective military, 
civilian force. What I have done is this: activate a new collective 
political leadership of the revolution. We have activated a great 
collective civil-military leadership. The armed forces, you yourselves 
have been able to see it today, constitute a revolutionary force, a 
revitalising force of the socialist revolution. A force that is 
committed to anti-imperialist socialism, committed to the homeland. 
Consciously committed, with discipline. Maybe one the most comprehensive 
rules that /comandante/ Chavez left us with for the continuity of the 
Bolivarian revolution.

We have managed to neutralise and defeat the right-wing plot. Now we are 
stabilising and consolidating the revolution into a new stage. Creating 
new mechanisms to deepen the construction of the socialist economic 
model, of the social model that guarantees free public education, free 
public health, the right to food, that guarantees the right to work, 
fair pay... A revolution that guarantees development and economic 
prosperity, social prosperity, and social equality, that's the objective 
of Bolivarian socialism.

*The car stops in front of the door of the president's residence. We get 
out. We have been recording for almost two hours, but there are so many 
things unsaid. We enter. On a table, photos of Chavez, a little statue 
of the singer Ali Primera, an image of a saint. Maduro points at them.*

This is Saint Benito, a black saint. And this is Ali. In one way, Ali 
built with his song, with the cultural movement that he lead, the ideas 
of the Bolivarian revolution. He was a working class leader, a great 
agitator. Ali filled a stadium when the left couldn't mobilise anyone. 
And he drove people crazy, enthusiastic, when he talked and sang. He 
always sang the national anthem, and in the middle of the anthem he 
talked to the people.

Chavez didn't meet Ali, but patriotic militants listened to him. It was 
daring that an active soldier listened to him, Ali was harassed by the 
system. But he was the first man on the left to arrive at the people 
through his songs. He had a personality similar to Chavez.

*We sit down for one last question. It's nine o'clock at night; it's 
been a long day. We ask about Spain, about the European Union, about the 
possibility of an alliance that leaves neo-colonialism behind, about 
multipolarity.*

The European Union was a great hope because it seemed that a bloc of 
countries capable of constituting an counterweight to the hegemonic 
power of the United States was arising. No one doubted that the United 
States constitutes an imperial, hegemonic project; it's a country that 
has almost 1000 military bases distributed about the world. No one has 
doubts about the imperialist calling of elites who run the US. 
Unfortunately the elites who run the majority of governments in Europe 
have succumbed in terms of their foreign policies, to a strange 
dependence on the US. It's strange because there's no economic nor 
traditional policy-based explanation. The elites who govern Europe act 
against the interests of the people of Europe and the interests of 
humanity. What they have done recently, get down on their knees before 
the US government with the case of young Snowden, has no comparison. 
What they did to president Evo Morales, a Latin American head of state, 
desperate to comply with the US government in its craziness for 
capturing Snowden, marks a before and after.

There is a great struggle in terms of what you called multipolarity, a 
multipolar world, and this struggle implies a transition. Every 
transition is made up of advances and setbacks. Sometimes it can seem 
like we are going backwards towards a unipolar world, when the US 
subjugates countries as powerful as those in Europe. But the worst is 
that it subjugates them through the WB [World Bank] and the IMF, taking 
them towards an economic policy of self-destruction. There shouldn't be 
any doubt, they are destroying Europe from the inside. They are 
destroying its economic base, its social model. They are getting close 
to a serious implosion, that could be uncontrollable. How long are they 
going to take to get to the point where there are large outbursts by the 
masses? I don't know, nobody knows. But the situation is unbearable for 
the people. The economic packages that they are imposing on the vast 
majority of the European countries are unbearable. Latin America 
couldn't take them, it exploded in a thousand pieces and this revolution 
arose.

The natural alliance for a world of peace would have to be established 
between Europe and Latin America. An alliance for respect of democracy, 
human rights, of cultural exchange, cooperation for economic 
development, to share the big advances in science for the collective 
good, to share this beautiful cultural and human diversity that Latin 
America has, with open doors to Europe. Latin America has shown itself 
to be a very friendly continent. Giant contingents of Spanish, 
Portuguese, and Italians came here in the thousands over a hundred years 
ago. They came here in the '40s, '50s of last century practically 
without anything, and they prospered here. Latin America is the 
continent of hope, and Europe should be a continent of peace, of the 
future. If only.

Here there is a saying that goes there's no bad that for good doesn't 
come [when bad things happen take the best thing out of them]. It's 
possible the bad of neoliberalism can make a good in the end, waking up 
the peoples of Europe, who lived in a state of well being, forgetting 
that the rest of the world existed, and they could see that in the South 
the opportunity to have there their brothers. Don't see us with contempt 
or distrust. The revolutions that there are in Latin America have to be 
seen with interest, with sympathy. Because we have discovered perfectly 
valid formulas for building truly democratic, educated, free, and truly 
prosperous societies. One doesn't understand why Europe abandons its 
right to economic development in order to hand itself over to the hands 
of financial capital. Can financial capital do more than the people and 
the social movements with a democratic tradition and struggles for 
equality of Europe? I don't think so. Can the financial power of four 
European banks, of four theirs, do more than society? What does European 
society think about this? What do the intellectuals, the universities 
think about this? What do the European soldiers think about this? Are 
they going to allow their countries to be destroyed? What do the people 
think? Are they going to allow an operation of total dismantling of the 
social and economic structure to be culminated? And what will the future 
of Europe be? Misery? Emigration? They are questions that sound like 
catastrophes, but we are really facing them. When one sees Greece 
paralysed for three days, in a desperate gesture of all of society 
because they shut down the television on them, because they got rid of 
thousands of public employees, because they do whatever they feel like 
every day, reducing wages, pensions... is this the message, is this the 
future? After these economic packages, how to glimpse hope?

The peoples don't resign themselves to being annihilated. Spain has a 
glorious history of struggle for democracy. A glorious history that even 
lead them to defeat Napoleon. The peoples don't resign to be colonies, 
nor to being vassals, and least of financial capital. Because he who 
never goes badly is financial capital, it swallows the people, 
countries. But, well there's no bad that for good doesn't come. Maybe 
the practice of neoliberalism will end in a big awakening, in a big 
rebirth of the real Europe, the Europe of justice and freedom. Of 
revolutionary Europe. Because the idea of the revolutionaries to 
re-found humanity came from Europe. The republican idea came from the 
French revolution and was taken up by the liberators. They put it into 
the concoction of Latin American blend and converted it into a native 
revolution.

Europe needs to take up its flags again, those of real humanism, and 
find its path. I don't have any doubt that Europe will find its path. 
This youth that is now unemployed in the streets, the professionals 
whose rights are being stolen, will start it, a working class, the 
left-wing intellectuals will take up its historical flags again, hoist 
the genuinely humanist and left-wing flags. I am totally sure that 
Europe will build its alternative. Each in their own way. Pushing 
towards the future. Because those who don't dare to push hard into the 
future, doesn't have a right to it.

*We would have liked to have asked many more things; the relationship 
with Spain specifically, with Colombia, with the US. To talk about the 
efforts that are being carried out in the fight against corruption. The 
measures that are being taken for security, sending military patrols 
into the barrios. About how inflation is going to be fought, about so 
many things... but it's already late, and we have to finish. Maybe in 
the future we'll be granted the opportunity to formulate all these 
questions. If only.*

/Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com/

Source: El Viejo Topo <http://www.elviejotopo.com/web/revistas.php>
-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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