Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E.M./H.E. Jesus Arnaldo Perez

An Alternative Development Model

Since being reelected to serve a third consecutive term in office, President Hugo Chavez has used the Enabling Law passed this past January 31st to speed up the march towards “21st-Century Socialism”. Former Foreign Affairs Minister and current Ambassador of Venezuela to France, H.E. Jesus Arnaldo Perez, discusses the key accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution and his country’s new role on the international stage.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr Ambassador, The Venezuelan people confirmed their support for the current government by reelecting Hugo Chavez as president on 3 December 2006. Could you tell us about the key changes made in your country since the 1999 referendum that approved the new Constitution and established the Fifth Republic?

H.E. Jesus Arnaldo Perez : Venezuela has changed a great deal over the past decade. It has been the stage of, first, a major political upheaval, and, second, an incredible popular and democratic uprising. Venezuela has become a permanent forum for the exchange of ideas, where every citizen is entitled to his say.
The main change – the one that prompted all the others – is that Venezuelans are once again the masters of their shared destiny. Under the Fourth Republic, the elite excluded the great majority of the population from all democratic interplay and from the decision-making process. Thanks to the new participatory and “protagonic” democracy we are building in Venezuela, the people are now reclaiming power, day by day.
From here forward, everything is possible. There is ever greater democracy in our country, which has enabled us to cut poverty and extreme poverty in half, wipe out illiteracy, reinstate education for all, create a free public health service for the underprivileged, and launch programs for agrarian and urban-land reform. We are also working on another enormous project: diversifying our economy. We have set up a distribution network that makes low-cost food available to 13 million Venezuelans. We have jump started a massive program to build housing and infrastructures, created a network of banks that issue microloans all around the country, and increased the minimum wage and minimum welfare benefits above the inflation rate every year. It is impossible to mention here all the accomplishments that have been made, the list would be too long. The most important to keep in mind is this: the Bolivarian Revolution is a battle that has mobilized the entire country against inequalities and injustices. Every citizen has a right to dignity.

T.D.L.: On January 19th, the Venezuelan National Assembly passed an “Enabling Law” granting President Chavez the power to push forward with his march toward “21st-Century Socialism.” Could you describe this latest step in the political process launched in 1998? What is the end goal of the program to nationalize several activity sectors?

H.E.J.A.P.: By voting overwhelmingly to reelect President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s citizens gave him a clear mandate to carry out his primary election campaign promise: moving the country towards 21st-Century Socialism. The president has identified the “five motors” of this process: the Enabling Law, constitutional reform, the “Morals and Enlightenment” national project, a new geometry of power, and an explosion of communal power.
The first motor is the Enabling Law, passed on January 31st of this year. It is important to note that this law does not give President Hugo Chavez full powers, contrary to the rumors currently floating around. It merely gives the president expanded powers that enable him to pass laws by decree in eleven different areas for a period of 18 months, in pursuit of goals clearly laid out by the law. The preceding Enabling Law, passed in 2001, allowed us to implement reforms that had a tremendous impact on the country’s economic and social plans. What’s more, several Venezuelan presidents have used enabling laws in the past. This is a common legislative practice in Venezuela.
Thanks to these five motors, and the mandate entrusted to us by the people, we will be able to strengthen, expand and widen the policies we have been implementing for the past nine years in favor of social and economic change. The nationalizations you mentioned are part of that same plan. It must be recognized that strategic sectors are public property, as were all the companies that were privatized under the influence of neo-liberals. 21st-Century Socialism is something we are steadily and constantly building, a goal we will reach by experimenting with new and innovative policies and establishing true popular sovereignty. As Simon Bolivar said: “The best system of government is that which procures the greatest possible measure of happiness.”

T.D.L.: The Venezuelan government’s reform program borrows heavily from General Simon Bolivar’s philosophy. Could you summarize it for our readers? Can we rightly speak of a new “revolution”? The principle of “democratic participation” lies at the heart of the 1999 Constitution. Can you tell us how this is being applied to the daily handling of affairs, at both the local and national levels? What is the significance of the new changes President Chavez would like to make to the Constitution?

H.E.J.A.P.: The Bolivarian Revolution came at a time when other ideologies seemed headed for extinction, after a doctrinaire approach to government was made into a model and used as an instrument of domination. Today we are looking beyond the thinking of our Liberator Simon Bolivar, creating a theoretical and political model that blends the conceptual ideas of the three main precursors of our transformation process: Simon Rodriguez, Simon Bolivar and Ezequiel Zamora. We call it the “Tree with Three Roots” model. This ideological system considers the issues of governance and government, liberty and equality, education, sovereignty, and the shared destiny of our America. It is the theoretical foundation upon which we are building a new society model. The Revolution is merely the means through which we are doing this.
In the 19th century, Simon Rodriguez spoke of “self-governance.” Today, we are working towards that same end. Now we speak of participatory democracy, but the goal is still the same: transferring power to the most disadvantaged, the people forgotten by neo-liberalism, forgotten during the lost decades. We must give power to the people, to overcome poverty.
On a practical level, this involves the fifth motor I talked about earlier: “an explosion of communal power.” The goal is to work with communal councils to build a new communal state. We will gradually transfer political, social, economic and administrative power to this new state, and free ourselves from the old structures of the oligarchical capitalist state that is holding us back. And while this transformation has already been underway for several years now, as President Hugo Chavez himself has said: “it will take time ..[…].. and patience.” We started by encouraging communities to organize neighborhood committees to manage various resources at the local level. These include: urban-land committees, which can grant Venezuelans living in self-built houses ownership of their homes; health committees, which are running the Barrio Adentro mission; food kitchens; “water technical tables” which allow community management of water resources; community media outlets; etc. In June 2006, we created Community Councils by enacting the law of the same name, to tie these community institutions all together and give them greater power. These Community Councils are endowed with Community Banks that enable them to manage a participative budget. Their other duties include denouncing and fighting corruption witnessed at the local level, promoting economic activity, and creating cooperatives with a mind to spurring endogenous and sustainable development. The President has said he would like to use the expanded powers granted to him by the Enabling Law to change this law and expand the functions of the Community Councils.
On a broader level, the creation of this “Communal State” will spur other reforms in the structure of the State as well as the Constitution. By the way, there has been widespread talk about a supposed swerve towards authoritarianism in Venezuela. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic will be reformed with a diametrically opposite objective: ensuring ever greater democracy and social justice, to fight poverty and move towards 21st-Century Socialism. As President Hugo Chavez has said: “We are living in constituent times, revolutionary times.” We are in a period of accelerated social and political change. This is why the Constitution, which was born at the height of a tempest, must be reformed. The changes and improvements will be debated, article by article. The reform will then have to be approved by referendum.

T.D.L.: President Chavez has described “21st-Century Socialism” as a humanist economic system. With government social programs known as “missions” continuing to expand, what are some of the priority areas in which you want to further reduce inequalities? Have specific steps be taken to fight corruption?

H.E.J.A.P.: The battle against poverty and all its symptoms is our most important battle, because it is the only way to restore human dignity. In 1998, when President Hugo Chavez took office, 49% of the population lived in poverty while another 21% suffered from extreme poverty. Thanks to courageous policies that are redistributing our national wealth, we have managed to cut these figures nearly in half. In the first quarter of 2006, or just eight years later, these figures had dropped to 33% and 10% respectively. Our Human Development Index rose from 0.69 in 1998, to 0.81 in 2005. The recipe is simple: social expenditures have risen steadily since 1998, and now account for 44.6% of the national budget. This is one of the key principles in the alternative we are proposing to the liberal model.
We will carry on and intensify our battle against the scourge of poverty, for as long as it takes. We will do this both inside Venezuela and in other countries that are suffering and have asked for our help, because the current world situation is intolerable. We have every intention of implementing the Millennium Objectives in Venezuela. Some have already been reached, most notably as regards the literacy campaign and ensuring access to drinking water. We will push forward with our drive to reduce inequalities in every field, including education, food sovereignty, poverty reduction, access to jobs, and a better quality of life. We will push forward with these battles as long as necessary. When the year 2021 rolls around, which is the bicentenary of our independence from the Spanish Empire, we hope to be able to celebrate our second independence. This is the path we are treading toward 21st-Century Socialism. This is the promise we have made to the Venezuelan people. Our Socialism means ever greater fundamental freedoms for the majority of the people: freedom to eat, to get health care, to be housed, to get an education, to travel. In short: more democracy for our fellow citizens.

T.D.L.: Venezuela is a founding member of OPEC and the world’s fifth oil exporter. Your country has grown steadily since 2004, thanks in great part to higher oil prices. Given the handicaps of a rentier development model, is your country trying to bolster other industrial sectors in order to diversify its income sources and employment opportunities? Will foreign investors play a key role in this transition? Will “readjustments” have to be made in the energy sector?

H.E.J.A.P.: It is, indeed, imperative that we diversify our economy. A Venezuelan intellectual used to say: “petroleum is Venezuela’s lifeblood.” Our recent history is intrinsically tied to hydrocarbon production. Our economy still depends heavily on exporting hydrocarbons. A rent, of any sort, brings as many detriments as it does cash. This can be seen the world over. All the countries that are supplying the “North” with the energy it needs for its own development are developing countries. We are victims of this system of domination. Just a short time ago, we were still a petroleum neo-colony. There are several different paths we can take to diversity our economy. And despite what is being written here and there, we have already started moving in this direction.
First, we are working very hard to achieve food sovereignty. Petroleum has taken us away from our farming roots. We now depend chiefly on imports to supply us with farm products and processed foodstuffs. Yet Venezuela could become an agricultural power. It has the necessary lands and energy to do so. With that in mind, we are implementing agricultural reforms that give back lands to farmers. We are also setting up a production structure that can transform raw agricultural materials and supply the needed producer’s goods. We are bolstering this with a program that supplies microloans and technical assistance to help new farmers do their jobs. We are also encouraging the creation of cooperatives so that the farming world can get organized, in a spirit of solidarity, efficiency and respect for the environment. We are supporting small local farming, as well as the agriculture, forestry and livestock industries.
We are also developing both heavy and light industries, by creating or reenergizing a large number of firms, including production companies where workers help manage the capital goods. We are building a new city called “Steel City” which will supply, among other things, the materials needed to create a rail network that will crisscross the entire country. The Venezuelan Guyana Corporation (CVG) is the most advanced high-tech state-owned firm in the heavy industry sector. Plants that manufacture automobiles, microcomputers and cell phones have recently been opened in Venezuela as well, with assistance from foreign partners. The formula we are promoting calls for the creation of companies that are jointly owned by the Venezuelan State or public corporations and foreign partners. There is wide room for foreign investors in Venezuela, as long as they respect our conditions as a sovereign state.
In the energy sector, we believe that foreign firms have benefited for a long while from conditions that were unfair to Venezuela. Up until 2004, some of these firms paid the State a mere 1% in royalties. To rectify this situation, we have decided to create companies that are jointly owned by these foreign firms and Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, under contracts approved by our National Assembly. Some foreign companies are very pleased with this, as PDVSA has wide technical expertise and an endorsement from the National Assembly affords their investment unequaled legal security. We hope to be able to work with these partners in a spirit of friendship and mutual respect, since they could make a significant contribution to the development of Venezuela and its oil industry.

T.D.L.: Oil has become a spearhead of Venezuelan foreign policy. With projects like the Southern Cone Gas Pipeline, could hydrocarbons serve as the driving force behind South American regional integration, the way that steel propelled the European unification process? How does the economic integration model favored by your country differ from the project for the Integration of Infrastructure in the Region of South America (IIRSA)?

H.E.J.A.P.: Hydrocarbons cannot be the single driving force behind South American integration. The real driving force is the solidarity between the peoples of South America. We are, however, fully aware that Venezuela can use its energy power to help build better economic and social integration, with the aim of spurring a sustainable development.
Our president has proposed ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, in reference to Simon Bolivar and in opposition to the FTAA pushed by the United States of America. It is based on three main principles – solidarity, economic complementarity and respect for sovereignty – with an aim to fight unfair trade. ALBA now unites Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua with three Caribbean states: Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda. It offers countries in the Americas a new framework for conducting supportive technical and commercial exchanges. We are also promoting the Peoples’ Trade Agreement (TCP) within the scope of ALBA.
In the energy sector, we have created PetroCaribe and PetroSur. The idea behind these initiatives is that hydrocarbons – which have been used to develop the countries in the “North” ever since they were first discovered in Venezuela – must now serve as the driving force behind the endogenous and sustainable development of the countries in the “South.” IIRSA does not have the same philosophy. The original goal behind this initiative was integrating our transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructures. But in fact, in IIRSA these days, we talk mainly about building roads to foster trade and the extraction of natural resources. It is more an interconnection between transport infrastructures as export paths, than an example of real integration.

T.D.L.: As a geographer and former minister for the environment, what do you think of the criticism leveled at your country’s energy development policy at the World Social Forum held in Caracas in January 2006? What is Venezuela doing to achieve sustainable development?

H.E.J.A.P.: We are aware of the criticism of Venezuela’s energy development model. We hear all kinds of criticism, every day, both founded and unfounded. We believe that criticism can be positive, if it is reasonable and constructive. President Hugo Chavez frequently calls for greater self-criticism within our country, as well as our government.
As for the criticism claiming that our development model does nothing more than set up infrastructures to extract and drain our natural resources, I have to say that I do not share that very partial view. We have been accused, for instance, of not taking account of the realities of life for our Amerindian peoples. But Article 120 of the 1999 Constitution represents an unprecedented step forward in this arena: natural resources located on lands occupied by indigenous peoples cannot be extracted without consulting them beforehand. The rights of indigenous peoples are recognized more widely in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela than almost anywhere else in the world.
With regard to strict defense of the environment, Venezuela is looking for new renewable energy sources as well as ways to rationalize its energy use. We have just launched the “Energy Revolution Mission,” which has enabled us to install 31 million energy-saving light bulbs in just three months, thanks to help from Vietnam and taking inspiration from the cuban experience. We also have big plans for renewable energies, wind energy in particular. That said, most of the electricity we currently produce already comes from renewable energy sources, most notably hydraulic sources. I think it should also be pointed out that our government has banned all use and cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as a precautionary measure.
On a broader level, the requirements for sustainable development are deeply inscribed in our government’s long-term policies. To meet this goal, we must change our rentier model. We now say that we must “sow the oil.” In other words, we must use the fruit of our oil rents to diversify our economy and foster the development of new activities. Developing our agriculture sector, for instance, has become vital. Reinvesting and redistributing our oil rents will help to continue reducing poverty, which is one of the principles of sustainable development. While we are on this subject, let me recall principles one and five of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which stipulate that “human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development,” and that “all states ..[…].. shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.” The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has taken numerous steps to foster sustainable development. Wherever there is poverty, there is always a dearth of democracy. Without democracy, there can be no sustainable development.

T.D.L.: With the project to build a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in suspension, and the Andean Community (CAN) and Mercosur in crisis, President Chavez is promoting the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Two years after the signing of the Cuzco Declaration, why has creating the South American Community of Nations proved so difficult?

H.E.J.A.P.: When you are facing the powerful trade interests of the countries in the “North,” creating alternatives for trade and political integration clearly requires overcoming myriad difficulties. We have taken on these challenges because integration between Latin American and Caribbean countries is part of our strategic vision. Our goal is to achieve Bolivar’s dream of building a strong and united Latin America, a vision that has long stood in opposition to North American imperialism and the Monroe Doctrine. We have great confidence in the future of the South American Community of Nations as an instrument or framework for integration, even if there are still differences to overcome. On a wider level, we have confidence in the overall integration of the peoples of South America and the Caribbean. This may come about in a wide variety of forms, which is why we already view some of our recent battles as successes.
First, we resisted the imperialist Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) project. Latin America joined forces and stood strong at the Mar del Plata summit. Despite heavy pressure from the United States and its ally governments, the peoples of Latin America were victorious. The Free Trade Area of the Americas was buried.
Second, the alternative option that we have put forward, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, continues to make headway and has won wide support. ALBA is a project for integration between the peoples of Latin America that is based on the three principles of solidarity, economic complementarity and respect for sovereignty. ALBA was born in response to the FTAA, and was accordingly focused on creating a trade alternative. It has grown significantly since that time, and now encompasses social, political, economic, environmental and cultural issues as well. It has essentially become a new global political model for integration between the peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America, who share a geographic space, historical and cultural ties, and common necessities as well as common potential. Neo-liberal integration gives priority to trade and investment. ALBA, on the other hand, is a proposal that focuses on the battle against poverty and social exclusion. What’s more, ALBA lays great importance on the agricultural world and its traditions. Farm produce is much more than a mere good. It is the root of the drive to safeguard our cultural options. It is a way to occupy lands. It defines the terms of our relationship with nature. It is directly linked to basic food security and self-sufficiency. Farming is a way of life in our country, and cannot be treated as if it were just any other economic activity.
With all this in mind, the goal of ALBA is to foster political consensus with the aim of reexamining existing integration agreements, so that we can achieve endogenous development at both the national and regional levels. Just six years after it was conceived, ALBA already has concrete applications and seven members: Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and three Caribbean states: Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda. In addition to the Peoples’ Trade Agreement (TCP), signed in April 2004, several agreements with other Latin American countries have followed the logic and theory of ALBA.

T.D.L.: Let’s turn to regional cooperation. In February 2005 Venezuela and Colombia turned a new page by putting behind a diplomatic crisis. Have they strengthened their ties over the past two years, in particular with regard to border control and intelligence exchange?

H.E.J.A.P.: The ties between Venezuela and Colombia are as old as our two countries. Simon Bolivar liberated both nations, and played a key role in the historical and constitutional development of our two sister republics. Since the fateful separation of Greater Colombia – which united Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama – each of the two countries has followed its own historical path. They have, nevertheless, maintained very strong ties, built on cooperation and mutual understanding.
Still and all, in our modern-day world, various outside interests seem to have set them at odds. A handful of incidents – which are unrelated to the two governments’ diplomatic policies and our two brother peoples’ intentions – have given many the impression that our two Bolivarian countries are having differences. Despite all the obstacles that have risen up between us, there is still a strong political will to reinforce our bilateral ties across the board, in order to foster common viewpoints between Colombia and Venezuela. We have also signed several agreements, in a wide range of areas: trade, culture, political affairs, energy, and even concerning our 2,200-km shared border. Our respective defense ministers have gotten together several times, in working meetings, with the aim of joining forces and guaranteeing the safety of our citizens, starting with the people who live on both sides of our shared border. All of the incidents at our border – whether they involve illegal activities or any kind of trafficking or guerillas – are immediately reported to the competent authorities. This was the case with recent incidents involving guerrillas who were arrested on our territory, and with the battle against crime and drug trafficking. Colombian migrants who willingly come to our border are generously welcomed by our government. It should be underscored that the security of our border is a key theme that President Uribe and President Chavez have discussed at length. They have even signed cooperation agreements addressing the problem.
What’s more, it should be underscored that despite the paradoxes and contradictions in our two countries’ relations, they are continuing to strengthen their relations and ties. To give you just a few examples of this, let me mention the recent agreement to build a gas pipeline between Guarjira, Colombia and the Venezuelan state of Zulia, and the joint pipeline construction projects. Last year, the trade balance between our countries rose to two billion dollars, making Colombia our number-one trade partner. We have a strong relationship. The ties that bind us are the ties that History has forged between us: our two countries and our two peoples are brothers.

T.D.L.: Venezuela’s active diplomatic efforts have spurred the signing of a series of cooperation agreements with countries in the so-called “South.” This includes emerging countries like Russia, but also more modest countries like Cuba and Mali. Could you describe the “special” relations between Caracas and Havana for us? In light of President Chavez’s visit to Mali and Benin in August 2006, will Africa play an greater role in Venezuelan foreign policy?

H.E.J.A.P.: First of all, let me underscore that there has been a revolution in Venezuelan diplomacy since 1998, when President Hugo Chavez took office. Until then, we were nothing more than an oil neo-colony. Consequently, our foreign policy was simply an extension of United States policy. We had relations mainly with American countries, from the north and the south, and with the leading European countries and a handful of Asian countries. We also had ties with countries in OPEC, of which we are a founding member. But in those days, OPEC was still slumbering.
This situation has changed radically. Our diplomacy is now fully independent. We have revived OPEC. Today, we are sending out a message of sovereignty, solidarity and friendship between peoples. We are speaking with an independent and original voice, which is now recognized as such. We still have many battles to wage and priorities to pursue on the international stage: the integration of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean; cultural, political and economic rapprochement with Africa; cooperation with the countries of the “South”; promoting the creation of a multipolar world; the battle against poverty and all its symptoms; protecting the environment; and achieving sustainable development. In all of these battles, we are defending the principles of respect for the sovereignty of other countries and noninterference in their internal affairs.
We have signed cooperation agreements with several countries, on every continent. We have built strategic partnerships with leading countries, such as China, Brazil and Russia. We have also broadened the traditional scope of our foreign policy. We have joined Mercosur, and taken the status of observer country in the African Union. We have forged new diplomatic ties with several countries in the “South,” in Africa and in Asia.
You referred to our relations with Cuba. They are excellent. Cuba is another brother country. We have reinforced our ties and jointly launched a number of initiatives to fight poverty both inside and outside our two countries: ALBA, the “Miracle Mission”, the Latin American School of Medicine, and myriad cooperation agreements in a whole variety of sectors. Moreover, given the constant tension and totally unjust attempts by Imperialist powers to destabilize the Republic of Cuba, we have a duty to offer Cuba our solidarity. Cuba and its president, Fidel Castro, are a model for all the peoples of Latin America when it comes to resistance and defending sovereignty.
You also mentioned Africa. It was the forgotten continent in our foreign policy before 1998, even though our historical and cultural ties with Africa were as deep as our ties with Europe. We have an African heritage. Every one of us has a bit of Africa in us. A few years ago, we only had formal diplomatic relations with a handful of African countries, most of which were oil producers. Now we are opening up new embassies every year. We are pursuing a new policy towards Africa following the path laid out by the African Agenda, which calls for reinforcing our ties with this continent. We are determined to use every possible means to take action in Africa, using both bilateral and multilateral mechanisms to spur sustainable and endogenous development, fight all aspects of poverty, curb desertification, and improve access to health care, education and public services. We cannot allow Africa to continue to just barely survive. We want to help it find its own path to development.

T.D.L.: Relations between your country and the United States are extremely tense right now. What can be done to improve them, knowing that Venezuela is the United States’ 3rd oil supplier? Given President Chavez’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, is Venezuela still looking to expand its political dialogue and development cooperation with the European Union?

H.E.J.A.P.: It is true that our relationship with the government of the United States of America has not grown any calmer in recent years. I think there is a wide difference between the way each of our governments views the other’s policies. In the economic arena, the Bush administration’s policies are clearly liberal. On the international stage, they are brutally interventionist. Our policies, on the other hand, are profoundly democratic and socially just. We want to base our foreign policy on the principle of respect for the sovereignty of our partners and friends. The government of the United States has interfered in the internal affairs of numerous countries, trying to impose its policies and governing model on them. Ever since Hugo Chavez’s 1998 victory, when he was constitutionally elected as President of the Republic, the U.S. administration has continuously interfered in the functioning of our institutions. It has done so simply because our president, Hugo Chavez, has proposed an alternative model that stands in clear opposition to the liberal economic policies of the United States. President Chavez has used this model to promote policies that, first, meet the real needs of our citizens, and, second, foster a “South-South” dialogue.
Our president Hugo Chavez is not simply formulating anti-American rhetoric. He is instead applying a philosophy that defends national sovereignty by developing the principles of liberty and cooperation between peoples, and by acquiring the means needed to give the Venezuelan people a measure of dignity that enables them to meet their needs and exercise their rights as citizens. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela wants to give real substance to the principle of independence, by continuing to work towards the Bolivarian goal of becoming a people free from all foreign domination which lets the rest of the world know that its right to decide its own fate is nonnegotiable. In his visionary manner, Simon Bolivar said that «the people’s sovereignty is the only legitimate authority of a nation. » This is why relations between the United States of America and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela cannot get better unless the U.S. government decides to respect the principles, which we hold dear, of sovereignty and self-determination for all peoples.
And yet all this tension and all our differences of opinion have not stopped the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from supplying the United States with hydrocarbons. When it comes to energy and trade, our ties have not been hurt by the ups and downs in our relations. The only breaking of oil supplying took place, paradoxically, during the oil sabotage supported by Washington.
As for the European Union, we have excellent relations with the countries of Europe, as witnessed by the large number of bilateral treaties and agreements that have been signed. We have set up a European platform to further strengthen these ties, with an aim to consolidate and reinforce cooperation and solidarity in a variety of sectors: energy, industry, science and technology, the environment, agriculture and agribusiness.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela would like to build close ties with the countries of the European Union, in the political arena and by enhancing sustainable development cooperation and solidarity between our peoples. We believe that Europe has a very important role to play on the international stage. Its history should give it a better grasp of the future and of the best way to ensure the survival of humankind. Europe’s place is at stage front, not in the background. It must be the master of its own decisions. It must look at the rest of the world, including Latin America and the Caribbean, and build ties that are not conditioned by the United States.

T.D.L.: Your country recently launched a program to modernize its defense mechanisms which includes upgrading its arsenal and strengthening its army reserve. Could you outline the main objectives of this plan? Is Venezuela revamping its defense strategy to meet specific new challenges?

H.E.J.A.P.: The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been widely accused of entering into an arms race and becoming a destabilizing force in the region. Anyone who makes those claims is either deliberately lying, or simply misinformed. Venezuela’s defense budget is only the seventh largest state budget. Let me recall an essential principle that is inscribed in the preamble to our constitution: the Bolivarian Republic strives to build peace and promotes peaceful cooperation between nations. Venezuelan armed forces have never gone outside our territory to invade any other country. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a pro-peace power. Its history is a history of peace.
This is not at variance, in any way, with our desire to modernize our defense mechanisms. For several years now, we have been the victims of repeated attempts to destabilize our country both politically and economically, orchestrated by Washington with help from a minority group inside Venezuela. Despite our desire to pursue friendly and peaceful relations with the United States of America, we have proof of the existence of plots to assassinate the president of our republic, Hugo Chavez, and to invade the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We have a vast maritime zone and long borders that have to be monitored and protected. We also have to effectively fight all kinds of trafficking. For all of these reasons, we need to be able to count on sufficient, modern, dissuasive, capable and flexible defense mechanisms, as well as high-quality human capital. We have to be ready for a lopsided war. Most of our military equipment is ancient, which means that in order to upgrade it we need to purchase new equipment from countries who agree to sell it to us. If we bought Sukhoi fighter jets from the Russian government, it was because the United States of America refused to sell us the spare parts we need to maintain our fleet of F-16 fighters, which is now grounded.

T.D.L.: President Hugo Chavez’s official visit to France in October 2005 bears witness to a shared desire to enhance cooperation between the two countries, which take the same view on the globalization process. In what other areas could relations between the two countries be strengthened? Total has become the leading foreign investor in Venezuela. Could bilateral trade ties be expanded into other sectors as well?

H.E.J.A.P.: We believe that France, with its history and values, is a cultural and political role model for the rest of the world. The battles it has waged to promote liberty have won it wide admiration. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, France has also done a great deal to help people around the world emancipate themselves. That contribution is now part of History, and the French Revolution is taught in schools the world over. France is currently battling globalization, to preserve its own model and defend its vision in the community of nations. In our view, President Jacques Chirac’s recent stands, especially his criticism of economic liberalism and his call for sustainable development, show France’s concern for the destiny of all peoples. We share the same view on globalization, which our two countries hope will give rise to a multipolar and balanced world. Within this multilateral framework, both of our countries denounced the U.S. intervention in Iraq, and worked together within UNESCO to ensure the adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
France and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have excellent relations. They have recently been enhanced by the signing of several agreements in a variety of areas: rail service, agribusiness, industry, aeronautics, energy and education. The recent visit to Caracas by French Education Minister Gilles de Robien helped expand cooperation in the latter arena even further.
In the energy sector, we should underscore the role played by Total, which is now the leading foreign investor in Venezuela. It is working in close partnership with our state oil company, PDVSA, on several different projects: Sincor 2, Yucal Placer and the Deltana Platform, which involve extracting extra-heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt, and tapping our gas resources offshore. Despite any differences we have had in the past, we believe that Total has a role to play in the development of our country. During his 2005 visit to France, President Chavez reiterated his promise to supply France with oil and gas, in exchange for technology transfers to help our own industry and various other activity sectors. He also expressed his support for admitting France into the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which unites the countries in the region.
France is, in fact, an American country. Let us not forget that the Republic of France and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela share a common maritime border. France has a presence in the West Indies and on the South American continent, giving it a Caribbean and South American dimension. Hence, as neighboring countries, we could well imagine expanding our cooperation across the board.
We would like to work together, in the future, to protect the environment, develop the agricultural sector, fight hunger, revamp international institutions, enhance cultural ties between Europe and Latin America, increase scientific, technology and energy cooperation, and ensure sustainable development around the globe. As President Chavez said during his last visit, we need to: “erect another floor on the building represented by the ever so important relations between France and Venezuela.”

T.D.L.: You did university studies in Toulouse. What did you learn from that experience, both academically and on a human level? What can be done to extend ties between Venezuelan society and French society beyond the political and economic arenas? Does the French-speaking community play an important role in your country?

H.E.J.A.P.: My time in France was an excellent opportunity, on a human level, to share experiences and learn from other students, professors and researchers of many different nationalities, working in a variety of specialties. It also gave me an opportunity to get a better understanding of French society and its achievements, problems, conflicts, diversity, values and hopes.
French society and Venezuelan society can indeed enhance their ties. We can still get to know each better, and can do so by stressing our commitment to shared values such as liberty, equality, fraternity, solidarity, refusing all discrimination, and respecting the independence and self-determination of all peoples.
The French-speaking community gives our country an opportunity to use the French language as a cultural vehicle that lets us get closer to a legion of peoples around the globe who share our same values, within a framework that welcomes cultural diversity and dialogue between civilizations.

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