Interview with Venezuelan Vice-President Josť Vicente Rangel
This is an edited version of an
interview by Ibrahim Nafie
that first appeared in
The full interview is available here:
What is Venezuela's position on
the issue of terrorism?
How would you distinguish between
terrorism and the legitimate opposition to foreign occupation?
Venezuela's position on terrorism is totally different to that of the US and
some other countries. To the current US administration there are good terrorists
and bad ones and good terrorism and bad terrorism. Good terrorism, of course, is
the kind that benefits American interests. To us when one country occupies
another that is a terrorist act, not to the US. To us when one country blockades
another for more than 40 years as the US has done to Cuba that is a terrorist
act. Clearly the US does not think so. Nor do we believe that it is terrorism
when people fight foreign aggression. The French resistance against the Nazi
occupation, for example, was not terrorism. We regard any terrorist type of
action as repugnant, but we cannot condemn acts committed by a people in
self-defence against outside aggression as terrorist. As for terrorist acts
perpetrated on the pretext of fighting terrorism, that is totally unacceptable.
Venezuela and Brazil have insisted on many occasions that the real threat to
world peace and security is not terrorism but poverty and hunger. And while many
in the South may agree with this proposition, the world's sole super power and
the greater part of the rich nations of the North continue to identify terrorism
as such a threat. What, in your view, needs to be done to make the fight against
hunger and poverty the world's first priority?
begin with, this has to be the position of a larger number of Third World
countries. Capitalism is an inherently distorted system that will always foster
hunger, poverty and deprivation. The general structure of capitalism perpetually
reproduces misery, and this is particularly the case with the current
neo-liberal phase of capitalism. The battle against poverty and deprivation,
therefore, is connected with the battle to establish a just and deeply
democratic order that guarantees the effective participation of the people in
the decision-making processes of government. In fact, here is where we find the
real roots of anti-Americanism in Venezuela. We have never done anything against
the US. We have never invaded it or taken any form of hostile action against it.
We never nationalised US companies or deliberately antagonised the US in any
way. So why has it been so hostile towards us? For the simple reason that it
cannot accept this type of government: a government that is working to transform
Venezuela into a just and humane society.
Venezuela has accused the US administration of continuous attempts to
destabilise and even overthrow its democratically elected government. Are these
attempts still taking place, and if so, what form are they taking?
is. As you know, they were directly involved in the 11 April crisis (the
attempted coup against Chavez in 2002). They were complicit in the attempts to
sabotage our oil industry in 2002 and 2003. It is an ongoing policy. They are
still funding the opposition and waging a campaign against Venezuela
internationally. They want to get rid of Chavez by any means possible, even
assassinating him if necessary. However, we have learned valuable lessons from
this confrontation. The first is how powerful the people's voice is; the second
is that the Venezuelan armed forces are deeply loyal to the Constitution; and
the third is that Venezuela cannot easily be put in an economic stranglehold --
we are not a banana republic.
addition, we are fully convinced that the democratic process is the government's
greatest safeguard. Chavez won nine elections in six years, which is why
Venezuela has won increasingly widespread international support and why US has
failed in its attempt to pressure other countries into isolating us. We are
poised to enter any debate with the US without fear. If they want to talk about
human rights, we are fully prepared to talk about human rights. If they want to
talk about the separation of powers, we are fully ready for that too. In short,
our democracy is deeper and more advanced than democracy in the US. We have not
unjustly attacked another country in the world. Our Supreme Court is appointed
by parliament and not by the president, as in the US.
There are those, however, who charge that the Chavez administration deliberately
provokes the US for domestic political purposes. Would you comment?
don't need to play that kind of game. The latest opinion poll conducted in
Venezuela shows that President Chavez has the support of 75 per cent of the
people. In the referendum held over his presidency in August last year Chavez
won 60 per cent of the votes. In other words, since then his popularity has
risen by 15 per cent. But not only do we not have to play that kind of game to
win popularity, we truly want to have good relations with the US. We do not want
bad relations with any country in the world. We have not, nor will we, touch our
petroleum exports to the US. The problem between us is political: they want to
force their policies on us. We have repeatedly asked them to sit and talk with
us calmly and rationally. But they don't want that. They don't want to
understand. Still, they cannot accuse us of refusing to supply them with
petroleum. On the contrary, whenever they have a deficit in their reserves we
increase our exports to them until the crisis is over. Nor can they accuse us of
being lax in the fight against drug trafficking, because this government has
done more than any other in that battle. The problem is that they don't like
Chavez. However, they should respect him because he is the democratically
elected president. I personally do not like Bush, but that doesn't mean that I
will set out to get rid of him.
successful have the government's efforts been in achieving its declared goals of
empowering the dispossessed sections of society, who form the majority of the
Venezuelan people, and would you elaborate on future plans in this respect?
made numerous inroads in this domain. By the end of next month we will have
succeeded in eradicating the illiteracy of 1,300,000 Venezuelans. In previous
years, the figure was 17,000 per year. In three months, we will be able to
announce that not a single illiterate is left in the whole of Venezuela. We
succeeded in bringing school dropouts back into the educational system. Some
600,000 children and adolescents have re-enrolled in the schools. In health we
have succeeded, with the help of Cuba, in bringing healthcare to poor districts
that had no services of this kind before. We have also raised the minimum wage
and set up a network of cooperative societies.
important to stress here is that the government has worked to reach out to the
deprived and forgotten and bring them back from the darkness into the light. In
the past, no one would remember them until elections time. But it was one thing
to get them to vote and another thing to let them take part in the social,
economic and political decisions that affected their lives. During the feverish
activity of the opposition, the people said, "now they remember us. But if they
succeed in getting rid of Chavez they'll soon forget us again."
great achievement is that for the first time those people have become real
citizens, with the power to take part in making the decisions that affect the
various aspects of their lives. They are still poor. They are getting a better
education, better healthcare and a higher minimum wage. But they are still poor.
However, the difference between the poor under the fourth republic and the poor
under the fifth republic is that in the latter they have had their dignity
restored, and that is extremely significant.
view of the Venezuelan experience, could you explain the challenges of balancing
a socially-oriented policy under a democratic political system and a largely
free market economy?
in a transitional phase. Our major challenge right now is to be able to maintain
the harmony between democracy, equality and social change. We can never
sacrifice democracy and the values of liberty in favour of social change. We
hope that the experiment that failed in Chile will not fail here. We believe
that we will succeed.