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In an exclusive interview with TRNN, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza says Guaido has not accepted the Pope’s offer to negotiate since he is being directed by Washington

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from the Venezuelan Mission at the United Nations in New York. And I’m joined by the foreign minister of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza. I thank you so much for joining me.

JORGE ARREAZA: Thank you very much for your invitation.

SHARMINI PERIES: Minister, let’s take up the most contentious issue Venezuela is facing at the moment, and that is that Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, has indicated that he might be willing to invite an intervention, invite the United States.

What is the plan of the Venezuelan government of President Maduro to challenge this kind of intervention talk that’s going on?

JORGE ARREAZA: Thank you, Sharmini. In the first place, we’re very happy to be here. We admire, and I should say we love the American people. We respect the American nation. Of course we have differences with the administrations, with the governments, with the dominant elite in Washington. But apart from that, we are always happy visiting the U.S. And I must say that it’s quite astonishing that a Venezuelan-born–whomever he is–calls for an intervention of his own country. How many people would die? How many bombs would fall in Caracas, or in Maracaibo, or wherever in Venezuelan geography? What is it they want?

So what has happened in recent weeks is that this man, as you said, he’s a member of parliament, a member of the assembly in Venezuela. He’s from a right wing party, very extremist right wing party. And he’s self-proclaimed himself as president, using–trying to use the Constitution. But there’s nothing here that can justify someone saying that he’s the president when he has not been elected for the post. And he has not the support from the Venezuelan people, but the support from the U.S. administration. And after he self-proclaimed self, or he self-proclaimed as president, as so-called president, immediately after that, Mike Pence tweeted, and he recognized him as the president in charge, interim president of Venezuela, he said. And after him, so many countries of right wing governments in Latin America, and after them, countries from Europe, as well.

So this was a long-planned issue. It has been happening for over–more than a year. Last year we had elections in Venezuela, presidential elections. The Constitution calls elections every six years, and they have to be done the last day, the last year of the constitutional term. And this was agreed with the opposition. They wanted to make them in advance. Not in December, but before. They wanted to anticipate the elections. And they went to a dialogue process which was hosted by the Dominican Republic. The president of the Dominican Republic took part of that. Former president of Spain, Zapatero. Some ministers of foreign affairs of Latin America, as well. And they asked for elections, presidential elections, in advance.

So finally we agreed. And the only thing that was pending was to set a date. And they said between April 22, and we agreed. President Maduro agreed. And then when they had to sign the agreement, we believe they received instructions from Washington, and they decided not to sign. And finally they didn’t register–some of the parties of the opposition, important parties, didn’t register for the elections, and they said it was going to be a fraud in advance before they happened. The U.S. administration said there would be a fraud in the elections before they happened. The European Union said so. And they prepared this scenario, the inauguration of President Maduro, January 10, as the Constitution says, because Maduro won the election. And then this self proclamation of this man, who is supposed to be the president of the National Assembly in Venezuela. And all this recognition of him as interim president which is absurd, it’s a fiction, it was prepared, was planned, was designed months before it happened.

And what they want is to create this crisis in Venezuela. In Venezuela everything is still. Everything is calm. People are going to school, to universities, to their jobs. I mean, the streets are calm. It’s not like in 2017 and 2014 where there was political violence in the streets, and there were riots. No, everything is OK in Venezuela. But they’re trying to create the perception that there is chaos, that there is almost a civil war in Venezuela, and that this man and the U.S. administration the saviors of Venezuela. And that is not true at all.

SHARMINI PERIES: The 2018 elections are being highly contested, and many people are arguing that it was not legitimate because the opposition did not participate in it. But some opposition members did participate in it. They had initially, as you said, agreed to participate as a result of Zapatero’s negotiation process. Were there are international observers at that election?

JORGE ARREAZA: We had more than 200 observers from all parts of the world. But I must say that I myself, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, traveled to Brussels, and I invited Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for International Relations of Europe, because they have experience in these observing processes. And we invited her. President Maduro invited her. And she said she wouldn’t come visit Venezuela, she wouldn’t be here for the elections. And then I traveled to New York, and I asked the Secretary General of the UN Mr. Gutteres to travel to Venezuela, or a delegation from the UN. But none of them accepted the invitation. That’s why I’m telling you this was planned long before it happened. And if the EU were to travel, and be a witness of transparency of the process, or the people from the UN, then the American plan, North American plan, would be, of course, out of of any kind of reality.

So they were pressed not to do it, not to witness the elections. And of course, in some cases it was already part of the plan. So they couldn’t witness something, say that the elections were fair, and then not recognize the result of the election. So they said–they didn’t say that the fraud happened after the elections. They said it months before the elections. So that’s–that’s something that is kind of absurd and crazy, but it did happen in the Venezuelan case.

SHARMINI PERIES: OK. Now, knowing that, which is that this plan is in place now for a long time, and they have all the key countries in Latin America, in Canada, in Europe all lined up to accept Juan Guaido as the president of Venezuela. Now, my original question was to you, what preparations are taking place knowing that intervention is pending, in terms of the Venezuelan government? What Diplomatic means, what negotiations, and of course, what military preparations are underway?

JORGE ARREAZA: The last thing we want is an intervention, an invasion, whatever you call it. We want our people to be in peace. The Venezuelan people deserve peace, deserve free development of their economy, of our economy. And not sanctions and blockades. But it is also true that the U.S. administration. Has said and ratified many times, even the President, that they don’t discard a military intervention. So we have to be ready for a military intervention, as well; a military operation from the U.S. Army against the Venezuelan people. And our military, our training, they have been training for over three years, because this has been in the table for many years. And we are ready for that. That’s not what we want. We don’t want Venezuelan blood, you know, rivers of blood, or Americans’ blood, also. Because we know how to resist. We have military professionals, over 200,000 professionals, almost 2 million [militias]. So we have people–and we have the Venezuelan people; even those that don’t support the Bolivarian revolution, that didn’t vote for Maduro. They would be willing to defend their homeland, happily.

So, that is not supposed to happen. So we hope that the least that the Trump administration can do is discard that option, the military option. But if it were to happen, we’re ready to resist, and even to win, in such a case.

This is a matter of respecting the only empire that can exist, the empire of law, within the international relations and in Venezuela. So what we really know is that we have the support of the law, and we have the support of the people. And most Venezuelans want to solve this by our own means. So the only thing we are asking these countries that are interfering in the Venezuelan internal issues is to leave the Venezuelans to solve their own problems. It is to … let’s let it happen.

In Montevideo there were two meetings. One was amongst Uruguay–the governments of Uruguay, Mexico, and the 14 governments of the Caribbean community, CARICOM. And they created, established, the Montevideo mechanism, which is very simple. They want to make contact with the Venezuelan government, with the Venezuelan opposition. They want us to sit down together, to negotiate some political options, always in the framework of our Constitution, and to follow up those agreements with the help of the international community. That’s great. We accepted. We can meet with the opposition in 15 minutes if we want to. We have contact with the opposition.

The day before the self proclamation of Mr. Guaido, he met with the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Mr. Diosdado Cabello, and other ministers of Venezuela. And he agreed, or he said he would or wouldn’t do certain things, and 24 hours later he did the opposite. So we believe in dialogue. We believe that this is the time for dialogue. President Maduro has called publicly for dialogue more–and I am not exaggerating the figure–more than 400 times publicly, on TV, in addresses to the nation. But in private, probably more than a thousand times. And we can sit down with them whenever they want, of course. They say that this is a strategy of Maduro to gain time. And that’s stupid, because we had negotiations, as you asked, in the Dominican Republic. We were there November, December, January, part of February. And we were ready to sign. Everything was ready. The president of the Dominican Republic was there, former president Zapatero was there, the ministers of foreign affairs, the cameras, the agreements were printed and ready to sign, the lights. And when the delegation of the opposition arrived, they said they wouldn’t sign. Them. We lost time because of them, not the other way around. So they must learn to respect the agreements they reach, and they have to be committed to new negotiations in order for the agreements that we reach to be complied, and not what happened last year.

SHARMINI PERIES: The Vatican and the Pope, after considering the Venezuelan crisis, has offered to negotiate, and mediate. What is the response of the government to this offer?

JORGE ARREAZA: Well, the, you know, the Venezuelan people are mostly Catholic. Almost–those who believe, they believe in Jesus Christ. President Maduro is a [fabulous] Christian, and he’s also a Catholic, and he admires the Pope. So as soon as the Pope was asked by the press, he said that he would be willing to facilitate dialogue in Venezuela if he was asked by both parties, as soon as that happened President Maduro sent a letter to the Pope asking him to get involved. And he has an invitation from the government to have his blessing and his help.

So we’re waiting for the Pope. Probably the best thing would be that the Pope joined the mechanism that was agreed in Montevideo by Uruguay, Mexico, and the CARICOM. It would be another actor there, and he would make things even easier. And this would be a positive pressure for the opposition to stop saying that there is no time for dialogue, that the only option is war, that the only option is invasion, and sit down as civilized persons, and let’s talk and let’s find a solution for our country.

SHARMINI PERIES: Why was the Constituent Assembly necessary, in the government’s point of view?

JORGE ARREAZA: OK, let me tell you this. There have been 25 elections over 20 years, no, in Venezuela. We have won 23 out of 25 elections. Only twice we lost, and we immediately recognized that we had lost, including this election of the National Assembly in 2015.

Seconds after the National Electoral Council announced that the opposition had won the elections, President Maduro himself addressed the nation and said we have lost. They have won. I respect this National Assembly. The Constitution says that the president has to be invited, or has to go to the National Assembly, before January 15 each year to give an address to the nation about the last year’s evolution of the government. So he went there. And he recognized the new president of the Assembly, which was Henry Ramos Allup. And everything was going institutionally correct. But suddenly these men and women in the Assembly said the only reason they were elected was not to pass bills, to approve laws, but to oust the President. And they said in six months, President Maduro would be ousted. Still, nothing happened.

Then there was a case in the Electoral Council that went up to the tribunal, the high tribunal in Venezuela, the Court of Justice. And the Court of Justice ordered to remove five members of parliament from the Amazonas state because they had been elected fraudulently, by fraud. Because that is the only state where we don’t have the very qualified and [technified] system that we have, the electronic system in Venezuela. It’s manual. And there was fraud. Two of those members of parliament were Chavista, and we removed them immediately. But the other three were not removed. And then it happened that the National Assembly became in contempt of the tribunal, in contempt of the Constitution.

So they self-, how would I would say that, they self-annihilated as as a branch of government. And the only thing they have to do since 2016 is to remove these three men, and immediately new elections will be called in the Amazonas. And maybe they can win five out of the five deputies, or maybe only three, or maybe two. But that’s the only thing they have to do. They have not done it, because they don’t want to. Because it’s convenient for them to say that they cannot pass bills because the dictator avoids that from happening, because there’s no democracy in Venezuela. So it’s very convenient for them to say that they are absolutely dominated, controlled by this dictator, and they don’t do what they have to do.

So this is the real version of the story. And I mean, they could have done this, February or March, I don’t remember, 2016, or they can do it tomorrow. And they will be not in contempt, but they will be, like the rest of the branches of government, they would obey the tribunal. And like in every country, the tribunals here, if the court here says that something should happen, they say the executive branch should do something, or the Congress, or whatever, you have to do it. Because there are rules for the Democratic game in every single country, and this is our rule. So they are in breach of the Constitution. That is the real version of this issue.

SHARMINI PERIES: Minister, a quick response to the issue of aid at the border. Now, the Canadian government has committed $53 million. The Colombian government has offered $40 million in aid. And the U.S. has offered $20 million in aid, and packages of goods and so forth is waiting at the border to relieve the pressure that the Venezuelans are experiencing at the moment. Why is the government denying this aid?

JORGE ARREAZA: Well, it’s not an issue–this is all a stunt for public opinion, public relations. I mean, if your unilateral coercive measures–so-called sanctions–are having an impact in our economy that has cost more than $23 billion–with a B, billion–dollars, now, how can you tell us that you’re going to send $20 million. Of what? That is maybe what the restaurants in Caracas need for three days.

I mean, that is all a spectacle. That is a show for public opinion. Venezuelans, we are doing our best in spite of the sanctions, in spite of the blockade. We’re doing our best in order to distribute tons and tons–I mean, the consumption in Venezuela of food is over 1 million tons per month. What is this, of 60 tons of what? I mean, that is only for CNN to broadcast live, and CBS, and Fox News, and the right wing media all over Latin America and Europe. But the reality is that we–if the United States unblocks our economy, if they waive the sanctions, we have enough resources to satisfy and oversatisfy the needs of our people.

SHARMINI PERIES: There’s an image of a bridge between Colombia and Venezuela which has also become quite a media frenzy. And this is used as a symbol of how Venezuela is preventing aid from coming in. Tell us what this bridge is about, and whether it is a functional bridge, and is it the border we’re talking about?

JORGE ARREAZA: That’s the border. But that bridge has never been used. It’s been closed. That was built by Venezuela, but then, because we have had so many differences with the Colombian government, it has never been opened. So it’s never been in use. They’re trying to make it part of the … They needed a symbol, they needed a photograph, a picture. So that was a good one.

You know, in the Dominican Republic, one of the many interventions of the U.S. in Latin America happened in 1965 in the Dominican Republic. The administration then of the U.S. went to the OAS, the Organization of American States, and they said, they decided, that there was a humanitarian crisis in the Dominican Republic because there was a government there, a left wing government from Mr. a very important man. Juan Bosch. And they wanted this man out of power. So they decided, and they controlled all of the OAS, then. So in fact, some boxes got into the Dominican Republic. Some nurses, some doctors, some food, and behind them 8,000 Marines that overthrew the president, the government; took control of the power there, of the government; and imposed a dictatorship. And that is part of the Latin American history.

And they have done it in other places as well. But this is the most obvious one. In this case, this is the first coup d’etat in the history of Latin America where they’re telling us that they’re in front of the coup. It’s not Guaido or whomever in the opposition. It’s Bolton, it’s Trump, it’s Pence. They are leading the coup. And they don’t discard an invasion against Venezuela. So we are not going to let this show have success. We have enough independence and enough dignity as to defend our people and to protect our people by ourselves.

The most democratic figure in this Constitution is the Constituent Assembly, because it has the power to change the Constitution. And it can rule even over Maduro, the president, whomever his name is, or whatever other branch of power.

What happened is that in 2017, the opposition was in the streets burning Venezuelans alive; 29 Venezuelans, all masculine, all male, all with dark skin, like yours, were burned. And nine of them died. Like the Ku Klux Klan. And many people were killed. Over 120 people were killed during four months of riots, demonstrations, looting.

And what President Maduro did was to say we need–of course, in such a time they discarded dialogue. I mean the opposition discarded any kind of dialogue. So Maduro conveyed the election for a National Constituent Assembly, and he called the opposition to participate. Of course, they believed that they were winning the battle, and with the violence in the streets. So they decided not to participate. So I mean, we cannot stop because they don’t want–it’s the same as in the presidential elections last year. So finally we went to the elections, and although I thought that with such violence, with barricades, with people, with guns, only maybe 5 million people or something, the Chavistas, the core of the Chavismo will vote. It was over 8 million people. That surprised me. I wasn’t expecting. And with the opposition not participating.

And finally, this, the last day of protests, violent protests, the last day that a Venezuelan was killed by these people in 2017 was the day of the elections. They burned electoral centers. They came almost–they hijacked some of the electoral officials in different places. And they burned the machines, the, you know, the voting machines, ballot machines.

And the final–that was the last day. After four months, the National Constituent Assembly brought peace back to Venezuela. And even the National Constituent Assembly called for the opposition to sit down. And because of that reason, the Dominican Republic dialogue process began, as well. And then the National Constituent Assembly conveyed the elections for the gubernatorial elections for the 23 states in Venezuela. And the opposition participated. All of the parties. But they lost 19 out of 23 states. So then they said, OK, we are divided. We lost with the violence. President Maduro now with his assembly had a democratic exit to all of this mess that we made. So let’s not participate in the upcoming elections.

And it is not–the National Constituent Assembly is not another National Assembly. No. As I told you, it is on top of the other branches of government. It can change the Constitution. And it will be in place as long as there is a threat of military operations against Venezuela. It will be in place as long as there is a coup d’etat in process in Venezuela. And it would be very useful if the opposition were to sit down and we could have a dialogue. The National Constituent Assembly could be a very useful tool in order to make the–whatever solution we find happen, because it has the power to do so. Thank you very much.

SHARMINI PERIES: Minister Arreaza, I thank you so much for joining us and explaining some of the very important junctures that Venezuela is in at the moment, and I hope some relief is on its way.

JORGE ARREAZA: Thank you very much. Gracias, Sharmini. Gracias.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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