‘Venezuela to stay on Chavez’s course no matter who next president is’

Venezuela will remain on the course set by the late Hugo Chavez, even if his anointed successor Nicolas Maduro fails at the presidential election, Professor of Latin American Studies Miguel Tinker Salas told RT.

Chavez passed away on March 5, losing a lengthy cancer battle, with those nations depending on Venezuela’s oil supplies and the US, which always opposed his regime, keenly watching how the event will unfold next.

But Tinker Salas told RT the breakthroughs in Latin America have been so fundamental in the last decade that one shouldn’t expect drastic changes in the policies in Venezuela or the continent as a whole.

RT: Venezuela's oil reserves are vast, but production is falling, what's your take on the future of its oil industry?

MTS: Venezuela, actually, has a lot more than 297 billion barrels [of oil]. It has proven reserves and exploitable reserves of 500 billion barrels – far surpassing Saudi Arabia. In fact, oil production has remained pretty constant. It’s right now between 2.9 to 3 million barrels a day. Significant to that is the fact that it used to sell the majority of its oil to the US – and today it sells a million barrels to the US, but 600 barrels to China as well.

I think that with the vast reserves, Venezuela is a key player in the international oil market. And the question of increasing production really has to do with how to gauge how much oil Venezuela should produce. The stated policy is try to produce about 5 million barrels a day, but again market pressures and the price of oil also sustains current development with 3.5 million barrels a day. So again, there has to be a transformation of the industry and its expansion of the industry to reach the 5 million barrels, which is the stated goal of the national oil company.

RT: With the death of such a charismatic leader what will happen to the ‘Bolivarian Movement’ in Latin America?

MTS: I don’t think it’s necessarily the charismatic leader. Chavez sure begins the process, but the process really is one of discontent with the political, social and economic policies that have been adopted in the 1980s and ’90s under what was called the Washington Consensus. When Chavez first takes the national state and the international stage in 1998, he was a lone voice. By 2002 you had [Luiz Inácio] Lula in Brazil, the Kirchner's in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, [Rafael] Correa in Ecuador, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay – and the entire South American continent had turned from neo-liberal  economic policy towards opposition largely to this policies and to the inclusion of those who have been excluded historically from the national narrative.

So we saw a dramatic transformation, and within Latin America there’s new leadership. It doesn’t depend simply on Chavez. We have institutions like the ECLAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations, the UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, the ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas – there are now institutions, which have an independent leadership that were sparked initially by Hugo Chavez and the proposal for regional integration, but today are significant on their own.

And in addition to that we have a tremendous amount of South-South relationships between South American and Africa, Latin America and Middle East countries as well. So in many ways the political landscape has been transformed in the last 14 years.

RT: Chavez pursued a policy of supplying allies like Cuba with cheap oil. Is the next leadership likely to continue with that? What would be the impact on those economies without cheap crude supplies?

MTS: It’s not just Cuba, under Petrocaribe [oil alliance] oil is supplied to with long-term credit rates to the Dominican Republic, to Haiti, to Cuba, to Nicaragua, to El Salvador and that really builds on what Venezuela had done in the 1970s with Mexico when the international oil crisis hit with the accords of San Jose.

So it builds on past policy and also creates new spaces. And I think that if the leader that is elected is [Nicolas] Maduro we’ll see the continuity. And even if Maduro isn’t elected, I think, that there will be real difficulty on the part of the new president to alter this relationships that have integrated Venezuela so closely with the region. There’s also Petrosur, which is an arrangement with South American Nations to promote oil and energy in the region.

RT: The US was hostile to Hugo Chavez – what is likely to be Washington's next step?

MTS: I think that Washington will advise to not get into Venezuela. The least they can say at this point the better. This is a process where you are going to see very heated election. And any intervention on the part of the US – even a misstep on Obama – would be taken as hostility towards Venezuela and would play into the election in Venezuela in this context. But after the election of a new president, I think that there are good conditions for an effort to reestablish relationships.

But I think we should understand that it’s not just Venezuela that has had difficulties with Washington. Also Ecuador has no ambassador from the US; Bolivia has no ambassador for the US. And the WikiLeaks reports really indicate how the US attempted to play country against country in Latin America and have really provided a revealing look on the US foreign policy, and how little it has changed either from Bush or Obama.