Interview – in Spanish with English subtitles – with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who speaks about the likelihood of war with the US, the impact of the sanctions, and the way out of the conflict between Venezuela and the US and its allies in the opposition and in the region
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, this time from New York and in Spanish.
The situation in Venezuela continues with much tension. Recently the self-declared and supposed interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, said he was open to the possibility of US military intervention in Venezuela. In the meantime, officials of the Trump administration put more international pressure on the government of the elected president, Nicolas Maduro, in the form of sanctions and messages in Twitter and in other media.
I have the pleasure now, to be in the UN Mission of Venezuela, in New York, with the Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza. Thank you very much, foreign minister, for being here with us today.
JORGE ARREAZA: Thank you, Gregory, it’s a pleasure.
GREG WILPERT: My first question is, is there any progress with regard to the proposal of the so-called “Montevideo Mechanism”, where the governments of Uruguay and Mexico, which said they would like to see a negotiation process, perhaps with Pope Francis as facilitator, to have a negotiation, with international mediation? Has there been any progress for advancing this Montevideo Mechanism?
JORGE ARREAZA: Yes, thank you very much. I’m always pleased to be in the United States, whose people we respect and love. Last week there were two meetings in Montevideo. One was February 6th and the other was February 7th. The February 6th meeting was with the governments of Uruguay, Mexico, and the 14 governments of the Caribbean Community. They created the Montevideo Mechanism. It’s a very simple methodology so that the government of Venezuela and the Venezuelan opposition get in touch with each other, via individuals who are involved in this process, then we sit down and elaborate agreements, and then there is a follow-up of these agreements, with the international accompaniment with the countries that are involved in the mechanism. This was a great advance. And we have received this [proposal] as a great contribution. President Maduro accepted it immediately, in all of its aspects, with the facilitators that they propose as well. There were various names. We are now waiting that this week they will send one of these individuals or a group of people, so that they discuss with the government, with the opposition, and we all sit down. We would sit down with them also without facilitators. We could sit down for 15 minutes with the Venezuelan opposition, with Mr. Guaidó, and with much more than Mr. Guaidó, who just arrived [on the scene], with others from the Venezuelan opposition, and look for a solution. The only condition, for any Venezuelan, is that it’s within the context of the Venezuelan constitution. And of course, not with this embarrassment of Venezuelans who are calling for the United States to invade their own country, to bomb their country, to take control over their country. This is an unpatriotic gesture, a terrible gesture, which the majority of Venezuelans are rejecting with much vehemence.
GREG WILPERT: As was mentioned, President Trump and his advisors have expressed themselves in favor of a military intervention, as well as Juan Guaidó, as mentioned. But perhaps this is just a bluff, to motivate the Venezuelan military to rise up against President Maduro. My question is, how seriously is the threat of US military action being taken within the government?
JORGE ARREAZA: If Commander in Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known in its history threatens you with a military action, you must take it seriously. We take it very seriously. And we are preparing ourselves for all eventualities. The last scenario, the one we would least like to see, for Venezuela or for any country in the world, is that interference reaches the level of an invasion or a war, so that Venezuelan blood runs, that the blood of US marines runs on Venezuelan land. We do not want that. But we are preparing for it. We do not underestimate the Trump administration. Hopefully rationality, dialogue can be brought about. Hopefully the government of the United States respects the sovereignty of all countries of the world, but respects the sovereignty of Venezuela in this case and allows that Venezuelans, with our own capabilities, our own constitution, our own capacity for dialogue, we manage to find our solutions and don’t try to impose solutions from the outside.
GREG WILPERT: Of course, in addition to the pressure of these threats, there is the pressure of the sanctions, from the United States, but also from Canada and the European Union. But I think the most serious and important sanctions are the ones from the United States. My question is, what have been the effects of the sanctions for Venezuela, from your point of view, and what is the government doing to lessen the impact of these sanctions?
JORGE ARREAZA: This blockade that the United States has imposed, which looks a lot like the blockade that the United States imposed on Cuba, but adapted, “reloaded,” to the 21st century, has many consequences. Fundamentally, the system of international financing has turned its back on working with Venezuela. The international banking system has turned its back on working with Venezuela – not because they want to or not, but because they are afraid that the United States will sanction those banks, sanction those multilateral financial institutions. They are trying to box Venezuela in. What is the purpose of these sanctions? That there is suffering in Venezuela, that there is hunger in Venezuela, that there is pain in Venezuela. So that the Venezuelan people betrays their principles of many years and turn their backs on President Maduro, that they turn their backs on the bolivarian revolutionary government. This will not happen.
The other effect of these sanctions and of everything that the United States is doing, is to achieve a military coup in Venezuela. Mr. Bolton, Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Trump, are permanently, along with other members of Congress, some who are a bit insane, such as Marco Rubio, are permanently calling for a military coup, calling on the Venezuelan military. This is the first time in the history of Latin American history that the spokespersons of the United States government, from its highest levels, confess that they are in front of the coup, that they are leading it, not behind it. Usually you have to wait 50 years for documents to be declassified by the CIA, etc., which show that the United Stated was behind the coup all along. No, this time they are in front of it. They are giving order to the Venezuelan opposition. They are giving orders to the right-wing governments around the world, so that there would be a military coup in Venezuela. This is not going to happen.
Look, the effect of the sanctions exceeds, according to one of the more conservative estimates, over the past year and a few months, since August 2017, some 23 billion dollars, which we, the government, could have had, these resources could have bought medicines, food, infrastructure, everything that signifies public life, the economic situation of the country would be very different from what it is now. Then, they stole from us – because it is a theft, an assault – our oil company in the United States, Citgo. What they have done violates United States law. From a legal perspective, this is a private enterprise in the United States. So, they have confiscated a private company in the United States. This creates a lot of legal insecurity for investment in the United States. This is crazy. Nonetheless, they do this in their obsession against Venezuela. The value of Citgo’s assets exceeds 10 billion dollars. Also, the repatriation of the dividends of Citgo, which is being prohibited since two years now, was money that went towards social investment in Venezuela. Despite this, we have, together with our allies and our own capabilities, our allies in the region, such as with China, with Russia, with Turkey, with India and other allies around the world, we are designing alternate routes for satisfying the needs of the Venezuelan people. This doesn’t happen from one day to the next. But we have advanced a lot in this sense.
GREG WILPERT: Another issue that has come up a lot, which is the issue of the legitimacy of Venezuelan institutions. Specifically, the two that are mentioned in this context are those of the Presidency and of the National Assembly. I have a question about each of these. That is, the government currently does not recognize the National Assembly, due to the presence of three opposition representatives whose legitimacy is in dispute. My question is whether there is some way or path for changing this, for reestablishing the legitimacy of the National Assembly.
JORGE ARREAZA: Of course there is. In the agreement of last year, almost exactly one year ago, in Santo Doming [Dominican Republic], one of the parts of that agreement, in addition for the opposition and the government to proceed to go together to Washington to ask for a suspension of the sanctions, to eliminate the blockade, in addition to having an electoral calendar, which was approved and agreed to by both parties, also, one of the points that was agreed to, was a method, a methodology, for getting along between the National Assembly – which is the Venezuelan parliament – and the National Constituent Assembly – which is not a parliament, but which is one of the most democratic provisions in the constitution, which has the ability to modify the constitution and to make laws and executive orders, which was elected by the people – where the opposition did not participate. That’s not our fault. The opposition did not participate in the presidential election because there was a plan for not recognizing the government. This is not the fault of the Venezuelan people. But of course there was a method for the getting along of the powers.
The National Assembly, since 2016, should have complied with the sentence of the Supreme Court of Justice. As in any system where there is an equilibrium of powers, one must obey the Supreme Court of Justice. This is the body that in the end interprets the constitution, which in the end makes unappealable decisions and brings order to the other powers. Well, they decided not to obey. It was necessary to dismiss five deputies and to repeat elections in one state of Venezuela. We decided, of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, to remove our two of the five deputies, because they were ours. The other three are of the opposition. They didn’t do it. Then they proceeded to legislate against the constitution, to privatize Venezuela’s social programs, etc. The Supreme Court of Justice also called them on this, to be coherent with the constitution, to respect the social rights of the people. And what they did was to turn their backs on the court. If the court, two years ago, or tomorrow, dismisses those three deputies and we have elections in Amazonas state – perhaps they win all five or just one, I don’t know – the people of Amazonas state would decide. That’s where the failing they have with respect to the Supreme Court of Justice and its decision would end and they would enter into full competence and legality. But they won’t do that because it’s convenient for them to say, “thanks to the dictatorship, thanks to the dictator, the narco-trafficker” – and whatever other lies they invent – they are being subjected and cannot make decisions, cannot approve laws. It’s a lie. This is, just as this Mister declared himself president, the National Assembly annulled itself. They know what the path is to get out of this nullification and to return to activity, but they won’t do it because it’s convenient.
GREG WILPERT: The other institution that is in dispute is the presidency. So my question is whether there is some sort of plan or proposal from the government, to resolve this dispute.
JORGE ARREAZA: The dialogue. The dialogue. In Venezuela there is one government. A constitutional government, elected by the people almost a year ago, with almost 10 million votes, who participated in the election, despite the boycott of the opposition, despite the government of the United States calling on the people of Venezuela not to vote, the right-wing governments of the world. The European Union said, before, well before, that this would be a fraud. That they would not recognize the results. It’s something completely unheard of. Despite all of these circumstances, almost ten million people voted in that election [of May 20, 2018]. There is only one government that has effective control. We are a real government. We have control not only over the armed forces, over the forces of public order, of the institutions, of the legal procedures. The Supreme Court, the judicial power, is acting. Of the five branches of government in Venezuela – there are not just the three traditional ones, but also the citizen branch and the electoral branch – four of these are fully functional, according to the constitution. There is one that is going against the other four branches. It’s a conflict of one branch, not between various branches. A conflict of one branch against the constitution and the people of Venezuela. There is one government.
Now, politically, internationally, the plan for a coup, has decided to recognize an imaginary government. A Mister who calls himself president, who could be from Narnia, is president because he has no power, no effectiveness – this is part of the international game. This does not affect the people of Venezuela. Despite this, that there is a legal government, that has legitimacy through elections, the president has called for dialogue yet again. President Maduro has tired himself out calling for dialogue, over 400 times in public, and surely hundreds of times more in private. This past December he participated in another, where we were on the verge of a confidential agreement for reactivating the National Assembly, based on a mutual recognition with the Constituent Assembly. But when the extreme right-wing party consulted with Bolton, with Pence, with Pompeo, this agreement was not possible and they decided to go with the coup, for the self-proclamation [of the president] in a public plaza, to go for craziness. Of course, all of this with the international support of their fellow believers of the extreme right. We have reason on our side, the law on our side, legitimacy, and the people. Nonetheless, we are calling for dialogue. I insist, if the opposition wants to meet within ten minutes, we will meet, with all of them, a part of them, it doesn’t matter, because we believe politics is the art of dialogue, of agreements, to represent together the national interest. This is only possible if there are negotiations, if there is legitimate dialogue. Hopefully the opposition will stop its insanity, of looking for war, of looking for an invasion, so that blood would flow, that the United States puts a puppet government in place, supervised from Washington. Hopefully they become independent. Venezuela is an independent country already, but it has an opposition that is dependent on the United States. What is needed is an independence of the opposition. And this dialogue process of Montevideo is a good opportunity for that.
GREG WILPERT: Let’s leave it there for now. Hopefully we will have another opportunity at another time, to have another interview. But many thanks.
JORGE ARREAZA: Always, at your service, always willing. Thanks to you.
GREG WILPERT: Many thanks to you, for participating, for viewing The Real News Network.
Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded Venezuelanalysis.com, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.