Madam Claudia Salerno Caldera and Mohsen Abdelmoumen. DR.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What's going on in Venezuela?
H.E. Ambassador of Venezuela in Brussels, Madam Claudia Salerno Caldera: This year was very special and complex. Some opposition parties have taken an anti-democratic path and have resorted to violent street protests and demonstrations of force against public order for several months, attacks against the security forces and acts of sabotage of certain public services like most of the main transit routes of the population. These demonstrations affected several cities. So, for about four months, the country was very affected by these protests, which were ordered, coordinated, and financed by a radical sector of the Venezuelan opposition. Contrary to what people expected, they wanted to create the conditions for the abrupt change of the legitimate and constitutionally elected government. The President presented a very important political proposal by appealing to a National Constituent Assembly, on the basis of Article 347 of the National Constitution which gives him the power and after consulting the Council of Ministers and obtaining his absolute agreement. This proposal was to be submitted to the public, and thus to the electorate, and elections were held in July of this year. Contrary to what the opposition was waiting for, these elections were held in peace and had a huge turnout, namely more than 56% of the Venezuelan electorate, and the proposal obtained a significant majority of more than 8 million people who voted in favor of the Constituent Assembly proposal. This Constituent Assembly was set up from August 1st and that day meant an end to violence in the street.
The country has returned to calm, and since August, people have the feeling that they still have the legislative elections to meet the needs of the population and to allow the country to continue to move forward and find solutions for critical situations like the economy. Given the situation, the Constituent Assembly decided to advance the regional elections of December to October, after consulting some less radical opposition sectors. So, on 15 October, regional elections were held in which all political parties of the opposition and the government coalition were freely involved. The result was 18 of 23 States were acquired by the government, while five States were won by the opposition. Finally, after a broad discussion within the opposition as to whether or not it recognized its victory in these five states, 4 of these five governors decided to take an oath before the Constituent Assembly, so to recognize this legislature as the higher authority and the Constitution establishes and only a governor who won the elections for a radical opposition party in a border State of Colombia decided to not recognize the result of the vote. Elections will be repeated for this State in December. The electoral management body has decided to organize also the municipal elections on December 10th.
Today, the country has regained the calm that we are used to living and the population has the feeling that things are dying down. The two most radical opposition parties have moved away from the democratic path since April. They participated in the elections of October but after they did not want to recognize the power of the State. They have remained isolated and in a minority compared to the rest of the opposition, which is willing to go to the elections and so their hunger for power, so to speak, must be channeled through elections and not through street demonstrations or through violence. The country is in a completely different situation and the dialogue, which is a very important thing, has been maintained. Opposition members who rose from the negotiating table hoping for a violent change of power finally decided to return to dialogue in response to the constant appeal throughout the year from the President of the Republic. When the opposition realized that the people repeated twice its willingness to keep and support its government and the political party of the Government with the election of the Constituent Assembly and with the election of the Governors, it understood that there was nothing more to do but to return to the negotiating table and to understand that the electoral route, thus citizenship, is the only one that can decide the future and political organization of the country. The opposition therefore returned to the dialogue table on 15 November, provided that some countries could participate as observers, and both parties, the opposition and the government, each chose three countries to accompany the dialogue. The first meeting with this new configuration will take place on December 1st and 2nd in the Dominican Republic, which is the country that will remain a kind of facilitator of the dialogue, the President of the Dominican Republic taking direct responsibility for the process.
As a mediator?
He is not quite a mediator because he does not have the power to make decisions. The role is different. It is rather a facilitator of the dialogue, so the person who helps the process but who is not going to meddle with the substance of the matter. Normally, a mediator has the power to evaluate things and to take or suggest solutions. Here, this is not the case.
Did the opposition refuse to sit at this table of dialogue in Venezuela?
No, it's just that they thought it was better to do it outside. This is a methodology that has been used before. It is better in this kind of situation, there is no pressure from the media, and we can talk quietly in a neutral country. So these countries are Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic. These are the six countries that will accompany the dialogue without meddling in the heart of the matter. It is a kind of good faith sponsorship to really help with the advancement of the situation. Presidential elections are planned for next year in December and we are on the way to solving the problems. The country is quiet at the political level but keeps a stress on the economic side.
Do you think President Maduro will run for the 2018 presidential elections?
We do not know yet. He did not say anything; he only made a few jokes recently to the press. We'll see. On the other side, in the opposition, there is nothing yet. It's still a bit far. We will know more next year during the election campaign. It is hoped that the opposition will understand that democracy demands respect for people's voices. Democracy can not only work when the opposition wins the elections. The habit of the opposition is to claim that there has been fraud when it loses. According to it, the electoral council works just when it wins the elections. In 2015, it was the best electoral council in the world while when it loses, it's because there is fraud.
On the economic side, why Venezuela, like some countries such as Algeria, did not diversify its economy to get out of the total dependence of hydrocarbons?
Venezuela, it's no secret, is a country highly dependent on oil. It is an oil country whose internal income depends on 90% of oil. This economic model was decided a hundred years ago and is not part of the decision of the current government. If we count the period of President Chavez, it is a government whose ideology is governing for 18 years. We can not make a radical change and a total diversification of the economy in just two decades. Despite this, for the past 18 years, we have made all the necessary steps in the constitutional order and all the legislative orders to promote a substitution for oil dependency and a diversification of the economy. It's a huge transformation for any country and it's a part of a debate we've had under the climate change convention in which oil production has been put in the more general balance of energy use in the world. We can not talk about producers without talking about consumers. Thus the United States alone consumes about 70% of the world's oil production. Generally, there are developing countries on the producer side and it is no coincidence if the side that puts the scales on the exaggeration of consumption is developed countries. The debate has been going on for twenty years at the United Nations.
You think that it is the consuming countries that favor this dependence of the producing countries?
We can not understand an economic problem without seeing both sides: supply and demand. There is no offer if there is no demand. So we need to talk about development in a broader sense and economics by considering both sides. That's why we started for twenty years now and I think it was in Rio in 1992 where we took the first steps towards the transformation of everything that was designated under the title of "right to development ".
At the Rio summit?
The Rio summit that had its corollary 20 years later in Rio +20 during which we made the balance between what we had could achieve and what we had not could do. There is a very important chapter in Agenda 21 that we decided in 1992 called "the factors of sustainable production and consumption". These criteria of global sustainability must be seen both on the producer side and on the consumer side. In the context of energy consumption, it's quite complex because you have to see all the sources of energy and there are sources that have a limit so that will not exist indefinitely. We know that it is a model of development, if we can say, that can last 100 or 200 years, no more.
So, in your opinion, this is a debate that concerns everyone and the solution must come from everyone?
Yes, it is a debate that concerns all of us, including the citizens. Because citizens make decisions. From the moment a person goes to buy a yogurt at the supermarket, and instead of taking a yogurt in a glass jar, she decides to take the one that is in a plastic pot, she chooses the oil. Oil is a problem that exists in all economies. For example, the bags we do the shopping with. So you really have to look at the problem as a whole, and you have to think about all levels of action. A country can not decide by itself that it will not produce oil anymore, because it would be economic suicide. All countries need to organize for this transformation, which is now called diversification, and that is what is being discussed at the United Nations level today.
You think that can be done within the framework of the United Nations?
Absolutely. This must happen there because it is the only place where there is a global representation of States, local governors and also citizenship, because a government can not make a decision without its people, and because it is a decision that will affect everyone. This is what we do. Venezuela has been very active in the COP 21 climate debate. We created the Like-Minded Developing Countries bloc (LMDC) with countries having similar thoughts and we formed a bargaining group where all the oil-producing countries are listed, but also China, which is a major consumer of oil and a major producer of other products on which the entire economy of the rest of the world depends. We are about 30 united nations negotiating together on climate change, some of which being less developed and having very high economic vulnerability because they produce nothing and depend entirely on oil, their economy being based on oil. We have all our debates with a criterion that is "justice", so any economic decision that will have environmental consequences for the good of the whole planet must be taken within the framework of justice - what is called climate justice - and also in the context of respect for the sovereignty and economic vulnerability of small developing countries. If industrial countries already have such a level of technological and economic development that they can say “now I do not need any more oil, I'm going to use the air”, because they hold this economy and technology and they decide to who they're going to sell this technology to replace oil, this becomes a trade issue that affects trade rules and the rights of everyone to access technologies that allow for the substitution of other natural resources.
According to you, everyone has to start on equal footing.
Of course, the fundamental principle of international law is that we are all equal. And the right of the United States, England, France, to reach this level of development that now allows them to say "I can make some decisions" that can not necessarily take a small country of Africa, must be accessible to other countries that have the right to develop. Because of the current economic situation and the level of consumption that is brutal in developed countries, because the overall consumption of oil does not take place in less developed countries - we do not consume what we produce, we sell it -, there is an inequality that makes rich countries pollute while asking all countries to make egalitarian decisions to substitute oil.
Is there not some hypocrisy in the discourse of the rich countries?
Of course, it's a hypocritical debate because they do not want to change anything to their consumption.
According to the figures we have on renewable energy, it does not exceed 2%.
The efforts they made are minimal. For example, gas emissions are rising even after the Paris agreements that we managed to achieve in 2015 - it is besides the bests that we could obtain with the global economic conditions, because the economy is not only in crisis in Venezuela, the economic situation is serious everywhere and it always affects the poorest. A poor person in Spain has the same hunger as a poor person in Venezuela and perhaps even worse because the Venezuelan socialist framework allows a certain type of protection that is not available in rich countries.
In some countries like Germany, wages are 300 Euros.
It is true that being in a state of need in so-called rich countries is worse than in socialist countries where people are protected. In less than six months, we went from a barrel of oil at $ 100 on the market to $ 25 or even $ 15. Now it is starting to go up and we are happy with the agreements we have recently concluded by opening the OPEC debates to other oil-producing countries including Russia and China, which are very large consumers, which are powerful and important and can change the balance. China is a fundamental player and no one can deny that its economy is the most powerful and the one that creates the greatest dependence - it's not the United States -, so the whole balance of economic power is completely turned towards China and towards countries that still have natural resources to be able to cover the growing demand, because it is necessary to know that this demand continues to grow. Even if the moral debate in Europe and the developed countries is to stop consuming, they consume more every day. We arrived at the COP 23 in Germany with the highest emissions figures in world history. It's a real disaster. And we already have Paris agreement, so there is no excuse. We have the framework for action and the climate change convention. Despite this, emissions continued to climb. So they do not reduce emissions since they are increasing.
This is a pretty serious situation, but I can tell you that having been involved in the debates on climate change in the OPEC countries, very great efforts are being made in the oil countries to change the energy matrix of their countries. They are making impressive efforts and the United Nations has acknowledged the efforts that have already been made: for example, by the United Arab Emirates, Algeria in reforestation and Venezuela with the protection of a large forest. Regarding Venezuela, it must be said - and this is something that few people know - that it is one of the main producers, we are the largest exporter to the United States, but Venezuela's carbon emissions are less than 1% of global emissions. We are an oil country but we are not a polluter country. So we have the right to continue as we are a country that is completely sustainable in terms of emissions. There is no direct link between oil production and consumption. Pollution occurs elsewhere, and is a problem of developed countries and unsustainable consumption patterns as well as the way of life of rich people in rich countries, of the lifestyle of the wealthy class who do not want to change anything. I have always taken as an example that when I will attend a UN meeting in which I will see that produced the technology to the Ferrari ride with the wind; I will know that we are on the right path. But so far, a Ferrari needs oil to roll. The war also needs oil. I do not know of a single airplane or military craft that moves with solar energy. It's the same with the airlines.
You are not optimistic about this renewable energy that some developed countries want to sell?
I always keep hope because it is necessary. This transformation must happen because reality shows us that if we continue this path, we will all die. As a mother, I remain hopeful that these transformations will be made. They must be done, but we must not displace the debate and we must know exactly what to change and when. It's right now. We should have done it ten years ago but we did not do it. It's never too late and it's better now than ever, but we're starting to see the consequences. We have seen some pretty serious disasters this year in the United States, the same year that Trump made the decision to get out of the climate deal. A typhoon is not going to ask if you are a developed country or not, it affects everyone the same way. We have seen hurricanes in Caribbean that have crossed entire countries including Dominica which is 90% devastated. It is not possible because we already have the agreements, we just have to make the decisions and the decisions are ready. But we have to take them.
There is no political will?
There is more and more political will, but it depends mainly on the capacity of States to be able to economically assimilate this information internally. And there is no government willing to say to its citizens "we will change everything and it will cost you so much". This one is sure to not win the next election. I'm not talking about developing countries; I'm talking about developed countries. I can tell you in any case, because I saw it with my eyes, all the efforts that the oil-producing countries are making.
So, in your opinion, to diversify the economy, there are several factors that need to be taken into account. It is not a speech that can do it, it is necessary that the developed countries make the effort not to consume.
That's right. It must be done on both sides and we have to move together. The agreement must be made in cooperation between all.
In the UN framework which is the most appropriate?
Yes, because the agreement must be made by everyone together. And that's why what happened in Paris with COP 21 was so important. We were all agreed. It's going to be expensive, difficult, very hard, but we have to do it and we all voted together. There is only one country out of the agreement, it is the United States. But what happened in Bonn, which is a good signal, is that, on the one hand, even though the US government has made this decision, the decision takes four years to materialize legally, and the United States continue discussions, and on the other hand, as the Paris agreement also establishes citizen and local governments participation, there has been a very important demonstration of the governors of the various States of the USA, including California, which is economically very important for the United States, and his governor who was there said "We are still in".
Do not you think that Trump is a hostage of the oil lobby?
I do not know. I am an oil country and I can tell you that I know the position of the OPEC countries. We all agree to make the change. But I think someone sold him the idea that it was not profitable. He did not have the opportunity to know enough about it to know we were all going to win. He was badly advised. We were all under the same roof in Paris, there was the Obama administration represented by his Minister of Foreign Affairs, and when we did the accounts together and we made the decision, we saw that it was even profitable. People agreed, they created a Momentum and they were ready to do the right thing. It was extraordinary.
Why did the COP 23 in Germany fail?
People do not believe that the Momentum they created is still there. They will continue to wait for the next four years to find out what the United States is going to do, because it is still the second largest consumer in the world, and it is very important that it is present. China and the United States are the biggest consumers. The good signal is to see that more than twenty governors from the United States were present at the conference and said "we are here and we will continue to act locally." It was a very important signal.
Do you think we should expect nothing from the Trump administration in the short term?
In the immediate future, I do not think the Trump administration will change its position. If he wins his reelection, it will continue four years more but if the government changes, I am sure that the first decision of a Democrat president will be to return to the agreements.
You think there is a difference at this level between Democrats and Republicans?
Absolutely, yes. It's yes on one side and no on the other (laughs).
Do you think that with Trump there will be a change of policy towards Venezuela or will there be a continuation of the destabilization via the opposition and the NGOs linked to the CIA?
I thank you for this very important question. Trump did not change the position of the United States. President Obama issued a decree in 2015 that "Venezuela was an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States." This decree, which he signed again in 2016, was taken over by Trump, who aggravated the situation by creating a whole regime of economic and financial sanctions that he put in place this year, in 2017. Trump not only continued Obama's policy, but he worsened it through this decision of economic, commercial and financial sanctions against Venezuela. Since Obama's decree, we face a cruel action by the United States that meddles in our internal affairs by promoting and funding a radical opposition and we have evidence of contacts between the American Embassy in Caracas and the various actors of the radical opposition in Venezuela, such as Julio Borges and others. This is not the first time and it is not Obama who invented this policy. This was done in Allende's time and even before. We have seen the role of the CIA on progressive governments. Documents and memoranda to overthrow the Allende government dating from 1970 were published by a journalist showing the involvement of the US Embassy in Chile. A sentence in the memorandum said clearly: "we must put pressure on the Chilean economy until it suffocates". There is no difference between this phrase and what the United States is doing now with the Venezuelan economy. It is about crushing the economy of a sovereign people just for the fact - what is the sin that Venezuela has committed? - to have won elections with a progressive government and say that we will not be passive face to the United States. It has been said since Chavez won the elections in 1999 and we continue to say it with great pride. If economic measures are urgently needed now, it is because the United States is aggravating the economic crisis with economic sanctions.
How do you explain this relentlessness of the United States via these agencies such as the CIA against Venezuela?
I think the United States is not used to seeing a people decide its own path. That's what we did, and despite the sanctions, we continue to live and partner with other countries around the world that have come to our aid. The United States thinks it has all the power to crush an economy. One week after the sanctions, one of the concerns of the President of the Republic was to maintain the capacity of the State to cover its international debts, so to pay all that was necessary to pay and not to accumulate debts. We kept all the payments up to date, and we did a meeting the second week of November with all the holders of the debt bonds, to ensure the ability to pay. Our creditors are not afraid. And even if - and there you see the double face of the economy - Venezuela is up to date, the note of Venezuela has been degraded by the rating agencies. The cost of Venezuela loans are the highest in the world, we pay debts at 12, 13, even 15% interest. It's a real economic war. There is no need to move soldiers; one can suffocate a country by the economic war. All measures taken against Allende before to do the coup are applied today against Venezuela. When you read the text of the sanctions, you notice that the measures are very similar. Obviously, there are differences with the Chilean economy of that time, but the process is the same.
Are you not afraid of an American military intervention?
There is always a risk, of course. They have military bases in Colombia; it would be very easy for them to intervene. They say it is a cooperation to fight drug trafficking but the fact is that they are right next door and certainly not for planting flowers. And Trump said expressly in a press conference that he could intervene militarily. Venezuela is under pressure from the United States and other powers just because they do not like the political system that has been established. They do not like progressivism.
Which other countries?
For example, last week, the European Union released sanctions against Venezuela by bowing to Trump's appeal.
What do you think of the relations between Venezuela and Algeria?
Algeria is a friendly country. I was very young at the Foreign Ministry when President Chavez came to power but I remember very well when the President ordered to reopen and strengthen relations with Africa. I remember at that time, the oldest diplomats did not see too much the importance of these regions but for Chavez, Africa was so dear to his heart. He has gone on tour in almost every country in Africa and Venezuela is the only country in the world to have diplomatic representation in all African countries, even in Lesotho, Mozambique, and Swaziland. These are small countries that President Chavez cared so much about. I had myself the opportunity to make an extraordinary trip in South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho, because we wanted to do cooperation with Africa on the African experience of water management. Chavez always said "if there is a place where they know how to manage water, it must be in Africa, because it is a continent that has a lot of water in some countries and very little in others, so if it is necessary to make cooperation, it is not with the Europeans, they do not know how to manage the water. It is Africa that must teach us”. And he sent a commission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the Ministry of the Environment to see the social management of water in Africa. It is this model that we have taken over in the management of basins in Venezuela. The relationship between South Africa and Venezuela was a very strong relationship throughout President Chavez's period. It was extraordinary. He loved Africa with all his heart, especially Algeria.
I remember for example having had the opportunity to take a taxi here in Brussels and the driver was Algerian. He drove me to the residence and as soon as he saw the flag, he said: "Chavez!" I wondered but how can a Belgian know? He asked me for permission to take a picture in front of the flag and told me that he was going to tell his wife that he was on Venezuelan territory in Belgium, and he was moved to tears. I told myself that, really, Chavez touched the heart of Africa.
We loved Chavez very much and especially his position on the Palestinian question.
Yes, we are defending the Palestinian people very hard. We have taken the cause of the peoples most affected by injustice in the world. If there is an injustice that should not let the world sleep quietly, it is Palestine. And Chavez taught us to consider the case of Palestine as if we were Palestinians. I would no doubt be prepared to die for Palestine if asked. No doubt! And the Saharawi people too. We love the causes of peoples whose rights are denied. It is this strength that Chavez left us that allows us today to keep our heads high. We will not lower our heads, neither in front of the United States, nor in front of anything. Never. And that's what they do not forgive us. They know that we have this tremendous strength that Chavez left us and that any country can say "Chavez" and remember. In a country like Belgium that is not necessarily a country that has a link with socialism or with Chavez's ideas, they know that someone called Chavez passed by here. He was so great and he left us that strength.
You think that President Chavez was equal to Castro and Che Guevara? Do you believe that his message will stand the test of time?
I think History will preserve his place forever. He was an exceptional man, of those who born every hundred years. His message survives and not only for the Venezuelan people, because I think Chavez has become the light of all progressivism elsewhere as well. He left hope to others, even in Spain, for example, for all the Spanish progressives, and that is why the Spaniards are so angry with us, because we have inspired a part of Spain. We have inspired all the revolutionary causes of the world. Cuba was the first light for the world. Castro said that Chavez was his ideological and spiritual son and he was able to do things that were not allowed in Cuba because of the embargo and Chavez has somehow reversed the blockade by this economic power with PetroCaribe that allowed us to change the situation but also the dynamics of the dependence that some Caribbean countries towards the United States.
With regard to the cooperation we started with Africa in April of this year, the case of Venezuela came back in a debate at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. A small group of countries rallied to the American agenda and the Americans said that Venezuela as a member of the Human Rights Council in Geneva was a human rights offender and we had to leave our position within this organization. They provided a document signed by 11 countries stating that Venezuela should leave, and the first group that issued a resolution against this decision and which supported Venezuela was the African group. All the other countries adhered to this resolution and finally more than 100 countries said "no, Venezuela remains because it is not a violator of human rights".
All this relentlessness, and yet Presidents Chavez and Maduro have been democratically elected.
Yes. What do we represent as risk? I always come back to this statement from Obama who told us that we were "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States." In reflecting on this sentence, I think it's almost a compliment, because since 18 years, we are showing to the world that another model is possible, that socialism can work. Cuba has shown it for 60 years and we have been showing it since 18 years against all the pressure of the world, and we are holding on. And the people continue to vote for this model, so even with the economic pressure, the worst situation, people continue to believe in the socialist model. And seeing this, I think that really, yes, we are an unusual and especially extraordinary threat. And personally, I consider it the best of compliments (laughs).
And we can say thank you, Barack Hussein Obama (laughs)
Yes, thank you very much. It feels good to exercise this type of threat. A fundamentally spiritual, moral, ideological, and especially social threat, especially with regard to countries like the United States and others that crush people.
One last word, Madam Ambassador, to the peoples which resist the US imperialist oppression.
We know that it is difficult, that the path of socialism is not easy, and that's why the best, we're doing it too, because when the road is hard, it's not only the strong ones who can walk. We will show that yes, another world is possible, and we will continue to be unusual and, especially, extraordinary.
Interview realized in Brussels by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Published in American Herald Tribune, December 03, 2017: https://ahtribune.com/world/americas/2035-claudia-salerno-caldera.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.041217.htm