US behind undemocratic chaos seen in Ukraine and Venezuela - Adres Izarra, Venezuelan cabinet minister
The death of Hugo Chavez has broken the calamity of Venezuela’s political life. The opposition, backed by the politicians in Washington, has stepped forward and cannot be ignored anymore, as even Maduro has won the presidential elections with just a small majority. The nation is split. What the future holds for Venezuelan people? What are the interests of those who oppose the Bolivarian revolution? To find out, Sophie Shevardnadze is joined by the minister of Maduro’s cabinet – Andres Izarra is on SophieCo today.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Mr. Izarra, Mr. Maduro has said “what we’re seeing in Kiev is now being repeated in Caracas.” What does he mean, exactly? What is happening?
Andres Izarra: This is not widespread violence as we are seeing right now in Kiev. It’s very limited to certain focuses. Of course the US would like to create a situation like the one we’re seeing in Kiev, but it is not near what is happening there right now, it’s very hard to compare.
Venezuela just came from the recent election, local elections. We’ve had four electoral processes in the last two years. All of them have been with the wide participation of people, over 80 percent participation in these electoral processes. The Bolivarian revolution has won all four of them. We have very solid popular support, and this not the first time we are facing this kind of disruption in our democratic life. Remember that in 2002 we had a coup attempt, following a very similar script like we are seeing right now, with violent protesters in the streets, trying to topple our government.
SS: But like you’ve said, your country has just come out of the presidential election little over a year ago. President Maduro won this election with a very small margin. Doesn’t that really mean that your country is divided, and he has a real opposition?
AI: President Maduro won with 1.5 percent difference. It was a very special kind of election, because the people were very sad, very hurt by the loss of President Chavez and we had a diminished participation of our people, who were very, again, touched, very hard-feeling with what was happening, emotionally, to the country, with the loss of president Chavez. But again, no matter how big the margin, if it was small or large, we are in democracy and a democratic country respects the will of the majority.
After that, after the election of President Maduro, we had a second election, this [last] December, and the forces of the Chavista movement, of the Bolivarian movement came out of it with a very wide majority again. So the Venezuelans have had a chance to express their will over and over and over again. Over the last 15 years we had 19 elections, Sophie. There is no country in the world that has had so many elections as we have.
SS: I want to get back to what’s going on right now in Caracas. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez surrendered to the authorities. He said he wants to wake the people up. Why do you think he handed himself in?
AI: He handed himself over because there was a judge that… the justice system was claiming him for his crimes against democracy, his involvement in all the violence that we’re seeing right now. Remember that, although we had elections this last December these people – Leopoldo Lopez, Henrique Capriles – they were also involved in the violence that we saw in 2002. These are people from the wealthy classes of the Venezuelan society. These are the oligarchy of the Venezuelan society. These are the political expression of the oligarchy of Venezuela. This is the ruling class, the privileged class that is against democracy, that is against the popular democracy that we are moving forward in Venezuela.
So when the justice system claims Mr. Lopez for all the violence that he directed during these last days... it is a crime to do it, it is a crime to attend against people and against the democratic system in a way he has done it, especially in a political context so democratic, as open as ours. He is now in jail and he will have to face a trial with all the guarantees that our justice system gives to anyone that is being charged with the charges that he’s’ facing.
It is important to notice that Mr. Lopez gave himself up after the negotiation with the government that protected his life, he went to the justice system by the hand of the president of the National Assembly, who is one of the Bolivarian leaders, Diosdado Cabello, and that came because of the threat to the Mr. Lopez’s life, the threat of his life by the ultra-right factions of the Venezuelan political spectrum.
SS: I need to as you this – who are these far-right movements, who are these people, who are these fascists that you and president Maduro are talking about?
AI: These are people from extreme right related with the paramilitaries in Colombia, related to Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the head of the paramilitary, the ultra-right in Colombia, and of course behind all of this is the interest of the US to create a situation that brings up a regime change – which has been their policy all the time against the Bolivarian revolution, regime change. They are using factions from extreme right to try to provoke the regime change.
SS: But don’t you fear that if he’s put in prison he could become a sort of a martyr for the opposition?
AI: Well, the opposition is very divided, the opposition in Venezuela tends to throw away whoever doesn’t work for them anymore. They’ve done that in the past. They had a labor leader that they’ve used in the past to try and promote a regime change, they’ve used governors, they just threw away Henrique Capriles because he didn’t work for their interest anymore. Now, they have this new leader in Leopoldo Lopez to try to bring to bring about these extreme policies that try to, again, spread violence all over the country.
SS: You keep bringing up Henrique Capriles, who almost won the presidential election against Maduro and is also seen as one of the main leaders of the opposition. But he’s trying to distance himself from the opposition on the streets, right? Why is he doing that this time?
AI: Well, it is surprising to me too, I have to confess, because Capriles led the violent revolts after the April elections that led to the death of 11 people, 11 Chavistas by the way. So this opportunity…he has distanced himself from the violence especially because he’s a governor, he governs one of the states – it’s not of his interest to promote violence, because that will turn against him. He’s a governor, he has to guarantee a peace of the state he rules, so he can continue in power in his state, so in contrast to Leopoldo Lopez who doesn’t rule anything, he’s just an agitator, he’s just a political activist, Mr. Capriles has a lot to lose in the situation of violence.
SS:Most of the protesters on the street are university students. As I know, the universities in Venezuela are affordable – why then do you believe they are out there, on the forefront of the protests?
AI: Well, because, the universities, the young people in the universities is where the US has chosen to promote this kind of extremist groups. We just expelled from our country three US diplomats, because of their involvement in training, organization and financing of these extreme groups that use the university as their place to gather.
SS: Do you have evidence about those three US diplomats, that they were actually doing that?
AI: Oh yes, that’s why our government expelled them. We had counter-intelligence, plenty of counter-intelligence over their activities and a lot of support that shows how they were involved in this kind of organization of extremist groups.
SS: So these students who are on the streets, are they mostly from private universities or public ones? Or does it even matter? Is there a difference?
AI: Again, the people who are protesting are not only students right how. We find, by the people who have been detained, certainly young people, but there are many that are related to these extreme groups – Russia knows very well the experience of the color revolution, the velvet revolutions. This is the scheme that’s being reproduced here. More than students, many of them are professional political activists; some of them are trained for over two years in this kind of violence, of political actions to try to topple the government. Again, it’s the same scheme that you’ve seen in the past in Ukraine and other countries, promoted by the US, following CIA directions. This is a political operation towards the regime change that is going on in Venezuela right now, financed and directed by the U.S.
SS: Mr. Izarra, the world press emphasizes on the economic problems in your country, citing very high inflation, lack of goods in stores, also extremely high crime rate, as roots of the protests. What are you doing to deal with these issues?
AI: All government, all countries have problems, have issues. We are dealing with them with different strategies, even yesterday night the president signed the new exchange law – another measure to try to solve all these problems and bring the economy back to equilibrium. We faced an economic war, also promoted by these groups of the opposition, but nothing, no matter how big the problems might be - this is a democratic country - nothing justifies the violence that we see in certain part of certain Venezuelan cities.
This is a democratic country, we just came from election, and we will have elections next year again, for the National Assembly. Nothing justifies the loss of life and property that we’re seeing right now in certain areas of Venezuela.
SS: You’ve said many times that America is behind all this unrest in your country. But from what I understand, the US is the biggest oil customer – how does it benefit from chaos in Venezuela?
AI: Well, not only that. For the last 50 years we’ve had this relationship with the US, or lack of it. What is curious is that the level of our economic activity does not correspond into our political relationship. Not only is the US our main oil buyer, but also we import from the United States most of our necessities that we have to import, it’s our main importing market, so it’s a paradox that our level of economic relationship does not correspond into a political relationship.
Again, the US – first, they lack a policy towards Latin America, that is widely recognized by all the US ‘intelligentsia’, so to speak. And towards Venezuela the only policy the US has is the regime change, nothing besides that, although we tried in the past, we tried to establish a relationship with the US to bring it to a level of dialog, of mutual comprehension, to work together towards [solving] problems – that has not been possible.
The only policy that the US has towards Venezuela in its vacuum of policy towards Latin America is regime change. And that we do not accept. We demand from the US to respect our sovereignty, we are determined to be independent and sovereign. We will not accept any more US intervention in our country anymore. We have been a US colony for too long, we have decided to be free and independent.
SS: So, you are saying what the US should do in order for the relations to improve. What concessions Venezuela ready to do in order to improve relations with the US?
AI: Concessions? No. We are determined to be free and independent, the only thing that we ask for is respect.
SS: What should be done? I mean it always goes both ways.
AI: No, no - the only thing they have to do is respect us, respect our sovereignty, respect our political process, respect our democracy. That’s what we demand. We are not asking for mercy or asking for anything else but respect for our institutions, for our political system, and for the will of our people to be independent and free of foreign domination.
SS: But what do you think their main problem is with Venezuela? Why do you think the US is lacking respect towards your country as you say?
AI: Oil, Sophie, oil. This is the largest oil reserve in the world that is now in the Orinoco oil basin, now called Hugo Chavez oil basin. It’s the largest oil reserve in the world, so, the US is greedy, like a vampire to get their hands on that oil. That huge reserve, certified as the largest world oil reserve, is in the interest of the US to put its hands on it, and we’ve said “No”. The oil in Venezuela, the resources of Venezuela belong to the Venezuelan people, not to the US government, not to the imperialism.
SS: Sometimes I feel like when you are fighting an almighty enemy, like the US, it somehow in a weird way helps you inside the country to consolidate people around the regime that some might not even like. Do you feel like the US is helping you in a way by being your enemy to consolidate people around you and your government?
AI: It’s hard for me to answer that question. This is an objective situation that we’re facing. We have the US involved in all this regime change policy, and we have denounced that and we faced that and we have confronted them over the past years. It was a permanent struggle of President Chavez that we have continued to be free and independent. Our people are very conscious of that, our people have grown a lot during this Bolivarian revolution in terms of consciousness, and they know pretty well who is their enemy, who is the enemy of the people here.
SS: So you’re saying the constant interference from the US into your country’s affairs actually helped raise consciousness and awareness of Venezuelans - is that what you’re saying?
AI: Well, yes. All the political struggles that we’ve had to do in the past, to gain that independence, to gain sovereignty over our resources, to build a more democratic society of inclusion, to fight poverty, we had to struggle against many obstacles, one of them is the US, the oligarchy is the other one. The cultural media hegemony has been another one.
So all these obstacles, enemies that we’ve had to face, in order to create a democratic society of inclusion, of sovereignty, of independence, of liberty- in terms of the advance of our struggle, people have been growing in consciousness , as we have been moving forward with our revolution, with our process.
SS: You were close to President Hugo Chavez. For the last 10 years the country was calm and peaceful – but then the new president is facing challenges from the opposition. What is President Maduro doing differently from President Chavez?
AI: Nothing. President Maduro is our first Chavista president; he is the president that is continuing the legacy of Hugo Chavez. We are following his policies strategically; it is the same objectives that we’re following. Of course, we are adjusting tactics based on the situation, but it’s basically a continuation of the Chavez government – that is what people voted for.
SS: What’s the problem then?
AI: The problem is that we’re having an opposition that does not recognize the sovereignty of the people, that does not recognize democracy. They’ve tried once and again to topple our government trough violent ways. We had a coup d’état in 2002, it was followed by a business lockout by the end of 2002-2003, and they always looked for a shortcut, since democracy doesn’t favor them, since the vote ballot doesn’t favor them.
They’ve tried to come to power trough violent means, and what’s they are pursuing right now again. Unfortunately we do not have a democratic opposition, we have a violent and undemocratic oligarchy-led opposition in our country.