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By Hector Bujanda. This article was first published on Venezuela Analysis.
He arrives punctually to the cafe of the Alba Hotel in an off-white guayabera. As soon as he sits down, the minister Navarro, as he’s been known since the very beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution, begins to talk. Some people in the cafe, who know him from when he used to circulate the exalted hallways of government power, seize the opportunity to greet him warmly, most of them from a slight distance.
One girl however falls upon our table with the force of a downpour and introduces herself with the bright cadence of the gochas [Westerners, of the Andes] as the assistant of deputy Rosalba Vivas Briceño, “you know?”
She insistently asks Hector Navarro to be the godfather [official patron] of her graduation event from the post-doctorate program of Educative Innovation of the Pedagogic University in Caracas (UPEL). “You are an educator, aren’t you?” she asks.
“No,” Navarro corrects her with courtesy, “I’m an engineer.”
His response produces a weighty silence that lasts only an instant, but the girl proves unwilling to lose the opportunity. “That’s not important. I know you know about education. We have also asked the president of the National Assembly [Diosdado Cabello], but he hasn’t given us an answer. Surely you are not so busy, professor. Please, accept. Give me your phone number.”
Professor Navarro suggests that she insist on Diosdado, and lets loose a phrase that will hang over our table for the remainder of our interview: “I’m tainted. Do you want the joke to be on you?” His friendly smile doesn’t falter.
As the girl disappears, professor Navarro confides, “Why should I be the godfather of their graduation? They could end up failing them, or even turn off the lights in the middle of the event. That has happened, in a Luctec event in Coro, and also in a building in Central Park. But that’s all anecdotes, it’s part of the mediocrity of middle functionaries.”
Tainted. This is the feeling of the man who during four uninterrupted years, from 1994 to the electoral triumph of the MVR party in 1998, sat down once a week with Comandante Hugo Chavez, Jorge Giordani, lieutenant Rafael Isea and the ex-governor of Apure, Jesus Aguilarte, to discuss the tactical and strategic steps needed to construct a new popular majority in Venezuela.
The death of Chavez, in March of 2013, has unleashed more than a few storms upon the rank and file of chavismo(s). The most notorious, stemming from the exit of Jorge Giordani from the Planning Ministry, and along with him the almost immediate explosion of ex-minister Navarro from the National Management of the [governing socialist party] PSUV, emitted precisely by Diosdado Cabello, for the crime of having asked that Giordani’s position be discussed, in a letter publicized by the website rebelion.org in August of 2014. Today, his case has been brought to a Disciplinary Court, which prevents him from participating politically in the ranks of his party.
Navarro wrote the prologue for Jorge Giordani’s latest book, Encounters and Unencounters with Bolivarian Construction (still not for sale). In the second paragraph he says Giordani could be considered many things, but never a traitor.
The ideas of these “tainted” men who have been removed from the government train seem to revolve around ethics, a crusade that has brought Giordani himself to declare that such erratic decisions have “almost made us the laughingstock of Latin America.”
What is the role of Hector Navarro in this moment?
I’ve been part of the revolution since I was 14 years old, since 1963, when I was in high school. We organized a student center when they were outlawed by the Ministry of Education. We’re talking about the president Romulo Betancourt. Afterward I was a student at the Central University, during the time of the guerillas. Then, as a university professor, and as a member of the school board, the faculty council and university council, I became linked to Hugo Chavez. I needed no ministry role to do any of that. I did my political work then and will continue to do it now. In what way? I meet with communities, collectives, and the grassroots of the party. I am interested in collective organizing.
What is the message that you transmit to the militant chavista?
Basically that the bases of the party must recuperate their control of the party. Even president Chavez, in various discussions and speeches, invited collective formation to be considered. And that’s what I’m doing, inviting the grassroots of a revolutionary and socialist party to be the democratic internal example of no COOPTACION, where people can express themselves the the crime of opinion does not exist. I am encouraging a rebellion of the bases of the party, to continue making revolution, so that revolution is not lost.
What is the state of the PSUV at this time?
It was a grave error to disregard the demands of some militants such as Ana Elisa Osorio and myself that the party management must meet. After the death of president Chavez, they became more distanced, and even months would go by without the leaders meeting, when it used to be that we would meet weekly. [The weekly meetings] is what Chavez had commanded, to avoid decisions being taken without consultation and the use of people only for electoral mobilizations.
Do you think the party is separating from the people?
They have become more separate. It’s not just Hector Navarro saying it, Hugo Chavez also said it in January of 2011. Since 1994 we were meeting with the Comandante and speaking of the necessity to win elections. A party must win elections, but when a party only wins elections that doesn’t necessarily make it a party of the Revolution. Democratic Action [opposition] saw themselves as great, winning all the elections, but they were not a revolutionary party. A party that only seeks to win elections without making revolution bureaucratizes itself. And I think that, in many ways, that is what is happening in the PSUV.
Is there a need to distinguish between the government and the revolution?
In conceptual terms, the government is not the revolution. A revolution does not emerge from a government, it emerges from below, from social sectors, who later reach power. A power that is never whole, in fact. PDVSA today is not revolutionary nor was it ever. Some spaces were occupied, but the corrupt PDVSA we are seeing today, with functionaries who have been jailed, senior functionaries who have participated throughout these long years, I don’t think we can call it revolutionary.
One of the things that Jorge Giordani says is that the government should relate to the people by way of the truth. If we have difficulties, we have to tell people there are problems. If we have to buckle our seat belts, the government has to warn the people, especially the president- we must buckle our seat belts. It’s not possible to sweeten the pill, no good to try to hide grave problems.
Why do they obscure the crisis?
It is a political error, a mistake.
Do you think that they fear a certain faction of the people?
We must understand that there are a series of external factors that contribute to what you have accurately called a crisis. We are under a kind of economic aggression, which does not only present itself financially. The question I ask myself is up to what point did we ourselves contribute to the external economic aggression, thanks to a combination of errors, inefficiencies, misunderstandings. We have helped (and I place myself in the ranks of the revolution and the government here) to create this situation. I say it with responsibility, and the commitment to defend our revolution and avoid its fall, because I want there to continue being revolution in this country.
Will the revolution end if this government falls?
No. That’s like asking if Christianity died with Christ. Christianity began to die when Constantine appropriated the religion, when Christianity itself turned into a power, and abandoned its bases; the people.
And isn’t that what’s happening?
Yes, exactly. I will not criticize the use of Chavez’s image, because that is the revolution’s capital. But I am worried about the excess of its use, what we could call a prostitution of Chavez’s image. When the campaign was launched to associate the legacy of Chavez with the blue book, that was a mistake. The blue book corresponds with stage of Chavez that was romantic, passionate, Bolivarian, independent, in the military style of Nasser, Velasco, Alvarado or Torrijos. But in that time Chavez never spoke of socialism or capitalism, of the struggle of classes. What I mean to say is that Chavez evolved. So, what is his legacy? The blue book or the Strike at the Helm [speech] when he said that the commune had not yet been achieved and calls out Rafael Ramirez and other ministers?
This was when Chavez confessed that the government had used the word socialist in a fraudulent manner?
Now there is an even bigger problem occurring. The problem isn’t only using Chavez’s image, but in the misuse of his thoughts.
In the Strike at the Helm speech, Chavez admits that the revolution had only achieved isolated pieces and had not created realities. So. Is the problem the longstanding model or is this crisis the product of the current government?
Chavez criticized digressions then, not the model itself.
I repeat: Is this crisis product of our [political] model or is it poor management of the government today?
The fear we all have, the danger that people see is that we return to the 4th [republic, previous neoliberal rule]. One thing is the model, what we want, and the other is what we have put into practice. The government is like a car; if you let it go, it bolts So I wonder, is there socialism here? No.
The model has provided a manner to manage public finance. At some point that model generated certain stability. And we should have the obligation to continue guaranteeing it. I insist, we have the factor of external aggression, but for example, the announcement that Giordani made regarding 22.5 billion dollars missing. What has happened? If there hadn’t been a list of phantom companies, the majority of which are still hidden, it would have been different. Only two or three companies have appeared on that list, which represent about 2 or 3 million lost dollars. Of the rest, nobody knows.
You’re asking me? That’s a question about corruption, not about socialism as a model. It’s the problem of those people that left for the US and are enjoying those dollars they stole with them. We’re talking about bankers, public functionaries, and Rafael Isea, who sat every week for four years at that little table where Chavez, Giordani, Aguilarte and I would talk about how to build the Bolivarian project, and today he’s in the United States. And the lieutenant Alejandro Andrade? He’s also in the US enjoying his fortune. And they’re not being accused over there [on the White House list of sanctioned authorities], why would that be?
Nor are they being accused here of traitors.
Well I think they are traitors.
And Hector Navarro?
Here I am. I came here in my own car to this interview. I’m here, showing my face, at the front of the revolution, defending the legacy of Chavez.
The crime of opinion is not a new matter within the party.
I’ve never been seen talking about internal problems outside the party. But they took that space away from us. Now I don’t have any space. Ana Elisa Osorio doesn’t have one either. Rodrigo Cabezas is another who doesn’t have one. And we won’t talk about Giordani.
And Vanesa Davies [a pro-Chavez journalist isolated from PDVSA after expressing numerous objections to policy]?
Well, the truth is that she stopped coming to meetings a long time ago. Mario Silva as well. But I can tell you that Rafael Ramirez never went to them and he’s been ratified anyway. That should explain itself.
But Ramirez was removed from PDVSA and different vice presidencies. He was even removed from Venezuela, and is in New York now.
I think that’s an important advance and I’ll recognize it. How can I criticize that? What I will criticize is that amount of time they let him stay.
PDVSA continued to be a black box for chavismo?
What just happened with Gladys Parada is very grave. Within the black boxes of PDVSA is the internal commercialization. Ships of gasoline that claimed to be transporting 200 thousand barrels when in reality they’d have 300 thousand. The numbers regarding consumption and commercialization of combustible do not coincide. I’m talking about gasoline and diesel. David Paravisini says that 49% of our internal gasoline product leaves the countries borders. That amount could only be transported by ship, not by land.
The reality is that Rafael Ramirez no longer controls PDVSA. Where does Giordani fit in in this story?
I don’t know, Giordani is there. Doing his thing… One of the problems of the revolution is that we are living out a moment of ungovernability. I have completed the exercise of asking between 200 and 300 people how many ministries there are. Nobody knows. There are like 27. Rafael Ramirez, in fact, held a long list of etc. after his title.
Can you trust a government like this?
It’s not a question of trust. The truth is that I don’t know very many of the ministers, I don’t even know who they are. Who will the people complain to? Who will history judge for these decisions? President Maduro said recently that he was going to take charge personally of the economic situation, at least he is putting himself at the front of it.
How do you see the balance between the civic-military alliance with this government?
If you ask me, it doesn’t matter if who’s in charge is a civilian or from the military. What does worry me is if you put someone in a position because they’re from the military. That’s not a guarantee of anything.
Don’t you think that the campaign for a rise in the price of gasoline appeals to a neoliberal way of thinking? The issue becomes reduced to a problem of the costs of production?
One must study, otherwise your kite will get tangled. That’s what Chavez did. He had a great hand for strategy. That is why criticisms were heard regarding the socialist areperas [low-priced arepa stands], for example. To convince people that gasoline needs to rise you must follow a strategic path of reasoning which helps to continue building socialism. It can’t simply be a question of how much it costs, because under certain circumstances it could even be given away, such as health and education is. The issue is to continue educating toward socialism.
Is it just a problem of [political] formation when our argument dovetails with the preachings of Cedice [a neoliberal organization]?
If you don’t place the necessary care on the details… Chavez said that the devil was in the details. It seems insignificant, but those details begin forming consciousness. Beyond that, when president Maduro says ‘however-so-many millions for whatever need- approved!’ And then there’s difficulty for the project to get underway- what is the message there? Are they preparing us for a circumstance like the one we’re currently experiencing? Or are they saying, “we have money saved,” or even, “God will provide?”
The situation cannot be resolved by delivering nonexistent resources, or not enough. You have to socialize the rationalization of expenses and choose priorities with an ample base of social support, genuinely represented in the bases of the party. With clear and transparent conversation.
Do you perceive the situation as delicate?
I have friends, high-level functionaries and governors, who are very worried about what’s going on. If the right-wing comes into government, mine will be among the first heads to roll. I am aware of that. I don’t want the right to be in power, but above all I want us to continue working toward socialism.
I’ll repeat to you what Aristobulo once told me: if we’re going to do things as they Adecos [members of neoliberal,”social democratic” party Democratic Action] did, it’s preferably that they do it themselves. We’re not going to match them. Corruption? There’s no way we’ll equal them in that, they’ll do it better. It’s not worth the effort, or the sacrifice, it’s not worth sacrificing Hugo Chavez, to end up doing things the way the Adecos and Copeyanos did.
Is the revolution still possible?
The revolution is feasible, but it requires sacrifices. We should not seek only the material satisfactions of the human race, because those are infinite. What’s important is subjectivity, the conciseness to improve upon ourselves. That is what Chavez worked on, that is why he would harp on certain ideas.
There is a legal project against corruption which we drafted when I was president of the Public Spending Commission. It was approved at first mention and then put on the shelf. It has a very important chapter about conflict of interests. It refers to three elements, and we even include recommendations from the United Nations on the subject. In the first place, if you are the director, minister or president, upon leaving your post you cannot appear as an investor or employee of a company that you would hire while in government. There’s also the question of presumptive taxation and the third, which I think is vital in this moment, is that of nepotism. It is difficult to find a case of corruption that doesn’t have the element of nepotism; there is always a son, a nephew, a brother, a wife, a parent or brother-in-law. There is no possible socialism as long as there is nepotism, because there can only be corruption.