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Interview with Venezuelan Vice-President Josť Vicente Rangel 

This is an edited version of an interview by Ibrahim Nafie that first appeared in Al Ahram.

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.

Both 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?

To 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?

Yes it 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.

In 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?

We 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.

How 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?

We have 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.

What is 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."

The 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.

In 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?

We are 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.


April 2005


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