In the first interview with the foreign press since his victory, the new Venezuelan President tells Le Monde that he will carry on Hugo Chavez's policies, both at home and abroad.
CARACAS - In this exclusive interview with Le Monde, his first for any international media since his recent victory in the April 14 Venezuelan presidential election, former union leader Nicolas Maduro, 50 years old, does not waver.
The hand-picked heir of Hugo Chavez had served as the Comandante’s Foreign Minister, and you can hear it in his speeches as he preaches radical “Chavism:” no mercy against the opposition's disputing his election, endless references to the Bolivarian revolution's legacy, hero-worshiping of leaders, and a strident anti-American stance that echos Gaddafi and Iran’s dictatorial regime. Maduro apologies for none of it, and only seems open to foreign investors such as China, referring to the very Chinese “special economic areas” concept.
Nicolas Maduro - sporting a colorful tracksuit - received us in the hall of his modest presidential residence, located on a military base as the capital Caracas saw its streets filled with May 1st demonstrators, both opposition supporters as well as the “Chavists,” deprived of their iconic leader who ran this oil state for 14 years.
LE MONDE: Brawls in the parliament, violent incidents in the streets resulting in seven dead: Venezuela is a very tense and polarized state. How do you intend to prevent such events from recurring?
NICOLAS MADURO: The country is not polarized, it’s mobilized. It remains so thanks to our revolution against economic dependency, poverty, impoverishment, inequalities. It’s a revolution against the same capitalism that devastated our homeland in the past. We have a democratic socialism. When groups of people decide to fight against us –- it happened 200 years ago during the struggle for independence, it’s happening again, this time for our new independence -- it always creates tensions. We rely on our constitution and institutions to move forward, and we can trust them. I can guarantee you peace and democracy. Whatever threat is made against us, we shall overcome it. Europe needs to understand this for the Europeans still trust their stereotypes. People think Venezuela is a dictatorial regime.
Are you willing to open a dialogue with the opposition?
I have called for a sit-down with everyone, but the opposition’s leadership is composed of very extreme right-wingers, they won’t let the political parties have peaceful negotiations. This group wants to hijack the government. … I’m calling upon Europeans to open their eyes. Chile had Pinochet. When (Salvador) Allende was attacked, everyone was shocked by the violence. The same ideology is emerging here. If I make any comparison with Mussolini, Franco or Hitler, people say I’m exaggerating. But I’m sounding the alarm here in Latin America. All the ingredients for an extremist right-wing project are there. If those people happen to take over – it won’t happen - they would destroy democracy in Venezuela and enforce a totalitarian regime.
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Maduro in his colorful tracksuit - Photo: Joka Madruga
The opposition convinced 49% of the Venezuelans. Do you believe all of its members are “fascists” as you call them?
Not all of them are but what we call social democracy or Christian democracy is on the verge of extinction in Venezuela because of these extremists on the right. We won 17 out of the 18 elections these last 14 years.We just faced the most difficult of them all for we had to run without Commandante Chavez, the soul of the Bolivarian revolution. I was a candidate who started with nothing and I won. Chavism was fluctuating between 50 and 60%, sometimes 63%. It’s a very strong and solid historic movement. My message to France and Europe is that we will make sure Venezuela won’t witness the rise of another Pinochet. And we will do it the democratic way.
You see yourself as Hugo Chavez’s heir. His stance on the international stage was the one of a “resistance” against an alleged American imperialism and through alliances with repressive regimes – Gaddafi, Al-Assad, Lukashenko, Ahmadinejad. Are you willing to take a step back from all this?
You say “an alleged imperialism.” Imperialism exists! The US has practiced worldwide imperialism. They had already invaded half of Mexico in the 19th century. During the 20th, they accomplished a total hegemony, an economic, military and political empire. The 21st century was the start of a new era. On one side, you have a unipolar imperial world and on the other, an emerging pluripolar, multicentric, and balanced world, which in fact follows the path of our libertador Simon Bolivar. We believe in a balanced world without empires. Venezuela has coped with a century of oil domination, American companies sowing misery, this is why we have an anti-imperialist program.
As of our friends… Gaddafi was friends with Sarkozy and Berlusconi. They attended banquets together. He was financing their campaigns. As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, we have always been friends with Libya. President Chavez has always been a loyal friend of Gaddafi, assassinated in the crudest way possible. Europe should think about the bombings and the destruction of Libya that filled the country with terrorists. Who’s truly ruling Libya’s military and sending thousands of armed men to fight in Syria? It’s Al Qaeda.
The Syrian president is bombing his own people with planes and tanks. Why aren’t you condemning these actions if you’re preaching democracy?
The foreign intervention in Syria has created a civil war. We have a good economic agreement with Bashar Al-Assad. We need to draw a line here anyway: Venezuela is a democratic country. And in Latin America in general, everyone’s looking for its own economic model after the 1990s neo-liberal disaster. As a matter of fact, what’s happening now in Europe echoes what occurred here during the 1990s: every social indicator was pointing downward, and it led to a political explosion and revolutions. This is the reason why Chavez, Kirchner, Correa and Lula came to power. Europe, be advised.
You speak of a multipolar world. Who should be Venezuela’s ally in the 21st century? Europe or China and Russia?
A group has been formed: the BRICS. This is the global core which may bring balance through great changes. It comprises 3 billion people: China, our Brazilian brothers, India, South Africa…It brings great hope to the world, just like Europe once did. The problem is Europe let itself get dominated by the American policies. Europe needs to join the BRICS to form a great global alliance for a new kind of coexistence in order to end interventionism and war.
What would it take for Obama’s United States and your country to normalize relations?
Respect. Respect for Latin America. They don’t respect us. It’s an old grudge. Two doctrines. The Monroe Doctrine used to mean “America for Americans,” that is the United States of America. And then there was Simon Bolivar saying “the union of America, former Spanish colony.” These are two different doctrines. One is imperialist and the other is preaching liberation. I know for a fact that there is a group of ultra-conservatives and terrorists within the US. Look up Roger Noriega, John Negroponte, Otto Reich…Each of these men are planning the violent destabilization of Venezuela. Sometimes, the US government tries to control them, sometimes it doesn’t. The United States are ruled by a financial, media-centered, military-industrial apparatus. Behind Obama’s grin, he orders bombings. He just displays a different image than Bush. That’s how he expands US global domination. We just appointed a new chargé d’affaires. We are willing to work on a more positive relation. We will see.
Oil has been Chavez’s great tool of leverage in his regional policy, with the social programs. However, your country’s production is stagnant. How are you going to open this sector for foreign investments? How are you planning to diversify an oil-dominated economy?
In Venezuela, the oil belt hosts 27 multinational companies from around the world, including French ones. We welcome everyone who hasn’t invested in our country yet to do so. We are creating special economic areas to favor investments and technology. We have studied the Chinese experience of the municipality of Pudong in Shanghai. On the other hand, Venezuela has 33 million hectares of arable land available and only use 3 million. We have all it takes to be a major power in agriculture.
You speak of liberty. When you go to Cuba to talk with Raul and Fidel Castro, which you recently did, do you tackle the subjects of political prisoners and detained journalists?
We are proud of Cuba and we will continue to show our support for this noble and united people. Fidel and Chavez had a special bond, like between father and son. Fidel Castro represents the dignity of the South American continent against empires. He’s a living legend, an icon of independence and freedom across the continent.