Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave an exclusive interview to Bloomberg TV’s Erik Schatzker in Caracas at the Miraflores presidential palace earlier this month. The following interview is an edited transcript of their encounter, translated into English from Spanish.
Venezuela, a country of extraordinary resources and a rich history, has been a relevant player in global dialogue and an important partner of the United States. But today Venezuela is isolated with few allies and facing deep challenges to its economy. How can this be changed?
First of all, Venezuela hasn’t been and is not isolated. It’s the perception of the global media campaign.
Venezuela has great friends and allies in the world. In Latin America, we have the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, very strong. In Africa, Asia… the world is more than the west. The west has to understand that the world is much more than that. In the United States, they have to understand that the world has grown. That the 21st century is now a multi-polar world. And we are articulated with the new emergent poles of development, with the new powers.
And we aspire, hopefully, to reconstruct the relationships with the governing elite in Washington. Because our relationships with the United States as a society is good. Our relationships with the academic centres, universities, with the social movements, union movements, intellectual movements, with the United States society, are good. Our relationship is tense, with tension and with confrontation with the elite that governs Washington. We aspire someday to recompose the ways of dialogue, of understanding, of respect. And to once again have relationships of cooperation, with the United States as a whole. And with the sector of power, fundamentally.
A major problem are sanctions. What you call “the economic blockade.” With them as tools, Trump’s administration held a policy that supported regime change in Venezuela. However, evidently you’re still here at Miraflores Palace. According to what you’ve seen in Joe Biden’s first five months in the White House, what’s your conclusion about the US goals for Venezuela now?
We always have to remember, Erik, that we faced four years of the Trump administration, which were four years of direct aggression, of cruel sanctions, very cruel, and of damage to the Venezuelan economy and society. The politics that Donald Trump installed and left as a legacy against Venezuela are extremist politics, irrational. Right? That caused a complete rupture between the United States and Venezuela. And that has been very questioned by human rights organisations at the United Nations. As politics that have seriously violated the human rights of the Venezuelan population. According to surveys, more than 84 percent of the Venezuelan population rejects all the criminal, cruel sanctions. What we call the blockade, and economic and commercial persecution. Even the Venezuelans in Florida, who are said to be an opinion group who have influence in the United States elections, there was a survey at the Miami Herald, where 56 percent of Venezuelans who live in Florida reject all those coercive politics against our country. So…
President Joe Biden has arrived, making a proposal to the world. His first speech, on January 20th, he said that we don’t have to demonise anybody, in politics. I would say to President Joe Biden to stop, from the White House, from the States Department, the demonisation of Venezuela. The demonisation of the Bolivarian Revolution. The demonisation of President Nicolás Maduro. And that, hopefully, we can find paths of proximity, of respect. Paths of mutual benefit, and paths that allow us to regularise relations between the United States and Venezuela.
Have you seen any signals that indicate a different position by Joe Biden?
Do you want me to be sincere? Very sincere? There hasn’t been a single positive sign. None. It’s five months where, okay, they’re settling into power. The only different thing… the only different thing that might be heard from some spokespeople of the White House and of the State Department, is that they agree with a political dialogue between Venezuelans. Without intervention, to look for democratic political changes in the country. That’s the only thing. But I would say it’s very shy, because the majority of Trump’s legacy is current. The financial persecution against Venezuela. The technological, industrial, commercial, oil, political persecution… is intact. There it is. The only thing that we can say, could be a small sign, is that there is a discourse that promotes that the opposition sectors who are very dependent on the United States’ money, very dependent on the USAID’s money, very dependent on the more than US$1.2 billion that have been handed over, that those sectors go to a dialogue table, a political dialogue, go back to politics again.
There are senators and representatives talking about a change in US-Venezuelan relations. Do you think they can influence the White House and its policy?
I think there is an interesting debate in the United States, about the United States’ relation with Latin America and the Caribbean. About the disastrous Monroe Doctrine, which caused so much damage in the relationships during 200 years. About Donald Trump’s disastrous legacy, of aggressions, of coup d’états, of isolationism. I think there is an interesting debate concerning the matter of Venezuela. And what I say to all the political sectors – whether they are senators, whether they are representatives, governors, opinionators, intellectuals, the media – I tell them, “you must abandon the demonisation that you make of the Venezuelan society.” They are mistaken in the way they demonise Venezuela. Venezuela is another reality, very different from the one that they intend to repeat every day, and to present in campaigns. Campaigns that cost thousands of dollars, of the taxpayers in the United States. They must abandon the demonisation that they make of Venezuela, of our revolution – democratic, constitutional, peaceful – and of President Nicolás Maduro. To create real foundations, objective, credible, verifiable, of a process of negotiation to regularise the relations between the two countries. In terms of win-win, which is what we are aspiring to for a long time.
Is it possible to have a win-win?
Absolutely. We’ve already shown that. Of course it’s possible to win-win. They know it in the financial sector, the bondholders. With whom we had an impeccable relationship, and they know it’s possible to invest in Venezuela, and win-win, as long as this whole persecution and these sanctions aren’t there. The oil sector knows it – who has invested in Venezuela, and who still maintains investments in Venezuela – that we can advance much more. The cultural sector knows it. The social sector. The political sectors know it. In the Obama era, we had permanent relations, of communication. In Obama’s last four years – it coincided with my first four years – we had permanent conversations with the Secretary of State, John Kerry. I met with John Kerry on several opportunities. We talked on the phone regularly. I spoke with President Obama in Panama, I remember, at the Summits of the Americas. The Under Secretary Thomas Shannon travelled to Venezuela regularly. So, those communication relationships allowed for a win-win, in the political, in the diplomatic aspects. Of course it’s possible.
Mr. President, I’ve heard there were several attempts made by Venezuela to normalise relations with the United States during Trump’s administration in, for instance, 2027… 2017, sorry. 2018, 2019. Please, tell me about those efforts.
Yes, we always – since before Donald Trump was sworn in, on January 20th of 2017 – the current Vice-President, Delcy Rodríguez, was the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Republic, and she was in Washington. In those days before the swearing in. She was at the Trump Tower in Washington The records are probably there. She met with many people who were close to Donald Trump. And since then, we maintained communications through different ways.
The Trump administration, from day one, was a chaos. The White House, the State Department. The Trump method is to disorganise everything and impose. To say something today and tomorrow say the opposite. The Trump method was imposed. And we always had communication with Donald Trump. I was about to meet personally with Donald Trump in September of 2018. When I went to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. We received the call from the White House. But we know about the pressures from John Bolton and from other officials around Donald Trump to avoid what he wanted to do, which was a meeting with me. If we had met, the story would have been different.
Was he going to attend?
We were going to meet in New York. We coordinated over the phone, to have the meeting in New York. But in the end, the pressures were unbearable for him, for Donald Trump, and that contact was cancelled. Then in 2019, and toward the end of his government, in 2020, before the elections, there were contacts in Mexico. The former communications minister of Venezuela, Jorge Rodríguez, currently president of the Parliament, president of the National Assembly…Jorge Rodríguez had multiple contacts with delegations that came from the White House. And, well, things were left unfinished. All of them, all of them affirmed that if Donald Trump won the elections, he was going to change the politics regarding Venezuela. That he was exhausted, stubborn, tired, of [opposition leader] Juan Guaidó. That he repudiated Juan Guaidó, and believed that he had failed. That John Bolton and others had forced him to follow those politics, and that they had made him fail, and that they were going to change him. That was the message that they always gave us in private.
So President Trump wanted to reach an agreement at the time?
That’s what his envoys said. He wanted to change the politics. What did they say? They wanted to change the politics. They considered that the regime change, and that trying to impose Juan Guaidó in Venezuela had been a failure, and they wanted to turn the page and start a new phase, that would start with direct negotiations with the government of Venezuela. That’s what they manifested. We’d have to see, well, what would have happened if they had won the elections. That’s a different story.
In the last few weeks, your administration has granted house arrest to the ‘Citgo Six.’ You’ve given the opposition two seats in the National Electoral Council and you’ve given access to the World Food Programme. Why are you taking those steps? For what purpose?
Well, first of all, each step has an explanation. The so-called ‘Citgo Six’ were sent to their homes by the court that prosecutes them. The court that prosecutes them, prosecutes them for serious cases of corruption. And prosecutes them as Venezuelan citizens. They all are born, raised, studied, and with residence in Venezuela. They have a second citizenship. The United States citizenship. And they committed serious incidents of corruption. Detestable incidents of corruption in Venezuela, which are in the hands of justice. So, it’s not Maduro’s decision. It’s the Venezuelan justice’s decision, of the court that prosecutes them.
Regarding the matter of the composition of the new National Electoral Council, I feel that it was a good political negotiation, with all the factors of the opposition, except for the extremist sectors. I think that it was chosen – in the new national assembly, in the new national parliament, which was installed on January 5th of this year, 2021 – a good national electoral council was chosen. Five rectors, which the five of them have started on the right foot, to organise the mega elections that we’ll have in Venezuela on November 21st of this year. I think that a good step was taken.
And regarding the matter of the World Food Programme, we have been working on it since three or four years ago. We’ve had a good relationship with David Beasley. You know, David Beasley is a very prominent man from the United States, who is the executive director of the World Food Programme. They’re already installed tin Venezuela, they’re working, they are very happy. I publicly thank David Beasley for everything that he’s done, and everything that he is doing for Venezuela. So, I think that… if you wanted to give an interpretation to these three events that you mention, you could say, is that the institutional and social life of Venezuela moves forward. Moves forward in a good direction.
The new US government will insist on free and fair elections to lift sanctions. What measures are you willing to take to ensure Venezuela’s elections comply with those terms?
In Venezuela, it must be known: in 20 years, there have been 26 elections. Presidential elections, congress elections, national assembly. Elections for governors, for mayors, consultative referendums, for matters of national interest, including two referendums: one to approve the constitution, and another to try to reform it. So, there are 26 elections. Of those 26 elections, we have won 24 elections. There have always been missions of international oversight. Of international observation. In some cases, even, from the OAS. They’ve said that the Venezuelan electoral system is one of the most perfect ones in the world. That oversight. At some point, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, knowing the incipient electoral mechanism -– digital, automated – of Venezuela, he said that he hadn’t seen a mechanism like this one in the world. That he considered it to be one of the most transparent and perfect in the world. That automated electoral mechanism, which has 16 audits carried out, before, during, and after the elections, has been getting better. It’s intact. Now, there is a negotiation – intense, diverse, with all the oppositions. In Venezuela there isn’t just one opposition. In Venezuela, the opposition is fragmented in several leaderships, in several parties. And today, while we’re talking, there are intense negotiations to expand the electoral guarantees. With a view to the elections, the mega elections, of November 21st. That is going pretty well, and I think that there will be good news very soon. New news, of new guarantees, for the mega elections of November 21st.
So the November elections, in your opinion, will comply with the regulations required or desired by the American government?
I can’t speak for the government of the United States. In any case, I will tell you, Erik, that the electoral guarantees to promote transparent mega elections – trustworthy, verifiable – are going to be expanded. All the guarantees are going to be expanded. Based on the political negotiation that is taking place with all the factors of opposition. From there, there is going to be a good result. Now, let’s wait, to see what the government of the United States thinks. What I can tell you, Erik, is that we don’t do this because the government of the United States asks for it. We do it because it’s a constitutional obligation. Because it’s a political conviction that we have. And we do it because the country is fit for negotiating, to achieve agreements.
Okay, let’s leave the US aside. Will these upcoming elections in November comply with international observers’ requirements?
Yes, all the factors are invited. Invitations were sent, once again, to important centres of political thought. To important centers of electoral specialists. To global organisations, like the African Union. The ASEAN, from Asia. The European Union. Well, international observers, from the United States. Etc., etc. Formal invitation has been sent. Who sends the invitation in Venezuela? Not the government. The electoral power sends it. The electoral rectors in Venezuela, there are five powers. The three classic powers of Montesquieu. The legislative power, the judicial power, the executive power. And there are two more powers. The civic or moral power, and the electoral power. So, in Venezuela, the one who governs the electoral processes, organises them, and guarantees them, is one power. That power, with the new board which was product of the political negotiations – that power has already sent diverse invitations to the world. Everyone who wants to come, will be welcomed.
Apart from that, are there any other issues you’re willing to compromise as an incentive for America to ease sanctions?
I believe that the sanctions are immoral. That’s the first thing. They are cruel. Very cruel for a country. And I think that… at a round-table of conversation, even if it’s private, the United States of America, the Biden administration, should accept it as such. Should see it as such. And… the sanctions are transformed – as the Human Rights Organisations says, the special reporter that came to Venezuela for the matter of the sanctions – the sanctions are transformed into a great violation of the human rights of the Venezuelan men and women. Furthermore, not only is it a cruel mechanism that causes suffering to the people, but it’s also a failed mechanism. Failed. Because all the sanctions, in an extremist and irrational manner, were applied by the Trump government against Venezuela, for a change of regime. And they didn’t achieve it. Nor are they going to achieve it. So, the sanctions should be recognized as illegal, irrational, extremist, cruel, and they should be lifted.
In your opinion, Mr. President, it’s still all about American policy, but I don’t think the American policy will change without a change of positions from you.
Then it’s a closed game, Erik. Because we have our principles, our constitution. We have the right to life, to economic freedom, to commercial freedom. Venezuela, and the whole world, has the right to commercial freedom. There can’t be one country, that because of the control of the currency, and of the banking system, imposes to the rest of the countries of the world, what should happen in their country at a political level. Who should govern, or who shouldn’t govern. If that was established, Erik, it would simply be the end of the United Nations system. The end of international law. No. The United States must recognise that an international law exists. That a multi-polar world exists. That another world exists. And furthermore, it must recognise – sooner than later – that what they are doing with Venezuela is a brutality, only comparable to the Vietnam War, and the massacre that they committed against the people of Vietnam. They are committing an economic massacre. Venezuela has the right to freedom to produce oil. To sell it. To obtain profits. To fulfill its international obligations. To maintain the life of the people. Venezuela has the right to produce gold, and sell it. Why aren’t we going to have the right to do that? Why is the right to economic freedom going to be taken away from us? Why? Someday, that will – I have faith. I am a man who believes in God very much. I am a man of prayer, and of action. And I have the faith, that someday that message is going to arrive, and it’s going to produce the changes that we need for a better world, a more human world. A world of respect.
That’s a problem, because you obviously don’t want to keep living under those sanctions. Aren’t you willing to make any changes? I have to ask you this.
The changes in Venezuela are produced every day. But… there can’t be a relationship in the world, where I put a gun to your head and I tell you, “Act the way I want you to, or I’ll shoot you.” You can’t put a gun to the head of the people of Venezuela, so that from the United States, they tell us what we need to do. We would turn into a colony. We would turn into a protectorate. We would kneel down, we would betray the magnificent historical legacy of these giants, like Simón Bolívar. No country in the world – no country, and even less Venezuela, is willing to kneel down, and betray its legacy.
I’m looking for a window of opportunity. Does that exist?
The window of possibility is achieved if there is a re-establishment and normalisation of the channels of communication. And through the channels of communication, the advancement in negotiations, in agreements, necessary for a win-win of both countries.
A big part of the world has a certain image of Venezuela. A country suffering a humanitarian crisis. A country as dangerous as Afghanistan. An essentially corrupted country that is losing control over its borders. With an authoritarian regime that imprisons the opposition and abuses human rights. That’s the image they have. Do you care about what that part of the world thinks?
Of course, I care very much. Because… that corresponds to a campaign that has been going on for more than 20 years. A campaign against a process that in Venezuela, was a historical process. It’s a historical process. It’s the Bolivarian Revolution. For the powerful of the world, for the powerful elites of the United States, and for the corrupt oligarchies of Latin America, the consolidation of an alternate process to capitalism and neoliberalism, isn’t convenient. Which has plagued America – as the liberator said 200 years ago – with misery, with oppression.
Latin America has searched for its own path, and that must be respected. All the countries of Latin America have a history. We have a path. We have vindications. We have banners of struggles. And Venezuela has fulfilled its banners of struggle. Now, there is a virtual Venezuela, of a permanent campaign. There is a view of Venezuela in the media, where they repeat every day, every day; it’s astonishing. Astonishing, how much money is invested for campaigns against Venezuela, in all the countries of the world. In the United States, in Mexico, in Argentina, in Colombia, in Spain. There isn’t a country in the world, Erik – it doesn’t exist – where more campaigns are carried out, to try to stain the social, political life. Now, there is a version of Venezuela in the media, of the permanent campaigns, and there is a real Venezuela. There is a true Venezuela, that exists here. That has difficulties – we have difficulties, of course we have them: if we have the most powerful country in the world on top of us, conspiring, trying to kill me, trying to fill the country with violence.
Is it new, Erik, that from the CIA, there have been conspirations for almost 60 years, against the processes of change of Latin América? That’s new? No, it’s not new. It was done against João Goulart in Brazil. It was done against Salvador Allende in Chile. It was done against Commander Hugo Chávez. They tried 300 times to assassinate the Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. That’s not new. Everyone knows that. So, we are victims of a permanent conspiracy. Both internal and international.
Now, there is a real Venezuela that I can tell you about. There is a real Venezuela. Which works, which loves his country, which fights for his country. A democratic country, a country in peace. With difficulties? Of course. That we face them every day? Also. But a country that has a future, that has hope, and that little by little, will recover the path of the construction of the state of social wellbeing that has been damaged as a product of these sanctions during these years.
Are you telling me that nothing about that image reflects the country’s reality?
I’m telling you that there is a real Venezuela which is very different from the whole international campaign. In the international campaign, they sometimes try to invent lies. They invent them, and they repeat them a thousand times. Other times, they try to magnify problems that the country has. And they magnify them. And convert it into a spotlight.
A spotlight, for example: a problem with a Colombian drug-trafficking group, in a section of the border. They come and say, “Venezuela lost control of its borders.” So, they magnify it. And they repeat it a million times. And The New York Times publishes it, El País of Spain publishes it, the Semana magazine of Bogotá publishes it, and they repeat it a thousand times. Go to the border. We have a huge border with Colombia. We’ve been victims, during 60 years, to the Colombian war. To the Colombian drug-trafficking, to the smugglers. But there is a border there, under the state’s control. Oh, in combat? Of course; in permanent combat. We’ve guaranteed, Erik, across our entire border, to declare our border free of cultivation of drugs. Free of production of drugs. Take a look: on the Venezuelan side, when barely a few kilometres into the Colombian side, it’s the kingdom of drug cultivation, the kingdom of drug production, the kingdom of trafficking. So, well, the campaign that is carried out against Venezuela tries to magnify problems, to invent problems, and to try to permanently – it’s what I tell you, Erik; like in no country in the world – magnify and stain, with that magnification, the situation of a country that has its difficulties, but also has its spirit, its courage, its strength. And that we’re in search of the future, with a lot of precision.
You mentioned your border with Colombia. Do you think those problems represent a threat to Venezuela’s sovereignty?
They have always represented a threat to the sovereignty. They form part of the project to fill with violence all the towns on the border. Take a look at what was attempted that 23rd of March of 2019. No? Almost with the presence of the President of Colombia, Iván Duque. An invasion against Venezuela, with the – through the international bridges. That has been permanent politics, to try to violate and to fill the whole border with violence. Now, that has filled our country with a great consciousness, about the need to protect our border. To exert permanent sovereignty. We have to look at – look, 80 percent of the cocaine that arrives to the United States, where does it come from, Erik? From Colombia. Has that decreased in the last years or decades? No. All that does is increase; every year it increases. The hectares of production of coca leaves. The tons of production and exportation toward the United States, of cocaine. If the United States, with that police, military power that it has, is violated in its sovereignty with the exportation of cocaine from Colombia, imagine the threat that we face every day, having more than 1,200 kilometers of direct border, territorial, with Colombia. Imagine that; just do the math.
What’s your next step regarding this conflict?
Well, our step is the permanent military, police, vigilance in the border territory. We have --
You’re not thinking of a change of strategy?
Well, with the parties involved. Principally, the Colombians, the guerrillas, others. It’s a…
Well, we’ve been very clear, and we’ve sent a direct message to all the irregular armed groups. Whoever they are, they must abandon the Venezuelan territory. It’s more than 1,200 kilometres of border. We’ve sent the message – and we are permanently in military operations. They are called Bolivarian Shield operations. We carry out large military, police deployments, to be constantly monitoring the border. The ideal thing would be for the President of Colombia, and the government of Colombia, to communicate with us. That we would have relations, for being neighbouring countries, bordering, with such a large border, and to be able to coordinate the surveillance of the border. Because the border of Colombia is completely orphaned, completely abandoned. A fact accepted by all of the Colombians. They abandoned the border with Venezuela 60 years ago. The ideal thing would be a serious communication – serious, professional, respectful – but, unfortunately in Colombia, a little Trump is in charge. A little Trump. An heir of Donald Trump is in charge. Iván Duque. A right-wing extremist. Who, by the way, carried out an electoral campaign favoring Donald Trump, against Joe Biden. And he is, well, an irrational man. Full of hate toward Venezuela, who has broken all the channels of communication, and who does not allow the coordination of such serious events as the situation of safety at the border.
It’s noticeable here in Venezuela, that there have been economic changes, a reopening. Please describe to me what you’re trying to achieve with policies, such as the elimination of price controls, the liberalisation of the exchange market, the facilitation of imports, reduction of subsidies, and the incentivising of the private sector…
Look: I believe that… we have had to react with a broad vision, to the economic aggressions. I always tell you, Erik, and I’ll say it again: if the restrictions, the sanctions, the persecution, of the bank accounts, of the finances, of the economy, of the oil production, that were applied to Venezuela, were applied to another country of the world, what would happen? What would they do? That’s what we should ask ourselves.
Venezuela has had to declare a war economy. We are acting on a war economy. And to favour the development of all the productive forces. All the productive forces that Venezuela has – which are not few – to favour. Today, we can say that we are on track for the development of those productive forces, little by little, but at a good pace. In the past, Venezuela imported 80 percent of all its food. Today, Venezuela is producing 80 percent of the food of the nation, here, in Venezuelan soil. It’s a radical change, very powerful. See? Venezuela is beginning to recover – with its own might, with its own effort – the oil production. We have big goals for this year. To reach 1.5 million barrels of oil production. Those are big goals. For the second semester, we’ll have to accelerate the process. But we’re on track. Venezuela created a cryptocurrency: the petro. And it created a system of operation of the global cryptocurrency, which has allowed – well, for many people to carry out commerce, national and international, and it’s opened a window for the consumers of Venezuela.
We’ve taken other measures, like allowing the operation of the dollar, for commercial exchange, which has been – I say – very positive. Venezuela has its currency, the bolívar, and sooner than later, as a product of the economic recovery, of the recovery of the wealth, sooner than later, the bolívar will once again occupy a strong and preponderant role in the economic and commercial life of the country. But, this measure that you were able to interpret, of liberalisation of the use of the US currency, and of the foreign currency in the commerce, has been a useful escape valve for the consumer. For the entrepreneurs. For the economy. So, we’ve had to swallow hard, to cool our heads, and develop a group of policies that allow the productive forces of the country to take a path, and take us to a situation that, hopefully, is consolidated in the second semester, which is to return to economic growth. Go back to the path of economic growth. All the elements that we are analysing in the economy indicate that this year, Venezuela goes back to the path of economic growth. And from here, with the new post-income economy that we’re building – without depending on the oil income, but with the integral economic recovery -– that we can have an economy that generates wealth, and that invests in the recovery of the state of social wellbeing of the nation of Venezuela.
So those policies, those reforms only exist because of the sanctions, and they wouldn’t exist without the economic blockade?
The economy is a reality. There are things that exist as a product of the sanctions. And that once they are overcome, like the currency matter – well, the principal currency of Venezuela, the currency of legal tender and constitutional, the bolívar, will prevail in the commercial functioning. It’s an economic reality. At the moment that Venezuela recovers its revenue, its wealth, the currency – and the foreign currency, as always, will continue circulating, at different levels. And cryptocurrency. Because we have to take into account that Venezuela was a pioneer in the path of setting out that cryptocurrency is a monetary reality, commercial, financial. We were pioneers in that, three years ago, with the creation of our cryptocurrency, the petro. So, there are measures that are explained, as a product of the economic suffering. As a product of the economic war. And that once we start overcoming some of those elements, well, the same economic reality will change the situation.
Why don’t you accept Bitcoin as money just as El Salvador did?
No, bitcoin circulates in Venezuela. In Venezuela, all the cryptocurrencies circulate. You can calmly combine currency and cryptocurrency. You can, from Venezuela, calmly have euros, dollars, yuan, Russian rubles, or bolívares, and buy any cryptocurrency. You can have petros, and change them to dollars. Or you can have petros, and change them to bitcoin. So, bitcoin was received in Venezuela. We are the pioneer country of the world, upon receiving bitcoin in the commercial and economic operation of the country, in the year 2018. Three years ago already.
How far are you willing to go with this reopening?
Well, we have a well-defined economic model, in the Simón Bolívar National Project. And in the Fatherland Plan 2025, which is the government programme that I presented in 2018. There, we have a model for the integral development of the productive forces of the country, which also involves the operation of all the private investment. We have reinforced this, you must know, Erik – I don’t know to what point, how well-informed you all are about the anti-blockade law. Last year, we approved a law that favours the presence of international investors from all the countries of the world, in all the sectors of the Venezuelan economy. The anti-blockade law is a liberating law. And it’s a guaranteeing law, that gives – sorry for the repetition – guarantees to the investors, to go deeply into the investment and the economic growth of Venezuela. About that matter, well, you know that it’s not much that I can inform, for reasons of state security. If I were to tell you now, that we have 300 investors, who… in their investment portfolios, bring more than US$25 billion, and I were to tell you who they are, where they are, what they’re like, tomorrow, the OFAC would pursue them, would call them, would threaten them, or would sanction them. What I can tell you, is that anti-blockade law already proved – in practical terms – its usefulness. And furthermore, it clearly points out a path for the development of the economy and the generation of wealth, which is the most important thing in this whole stage.
Up until now, many of the reforms are provisional or informal, if one important part of the objective is to attract capital to the Venezuelan economy, why not make them laws to create the certainty that investors want?
Right, Erik, look: your question is as if in Venezuela there weren’t guarantees for foreign investment. In Venezuela, from the constitution, to all the laws of economic character, give full guarantees to bring investment. To take care of the investment. They give full guarantees, since before the sanctions. And since before the current situation.
Sorry, I’m talking about reforms like the exchange market, or reforms that have to do with the price controls. They make up an important part of the country’s economic motor. And in total it’s the economic environment, and that’s why I want to know if at the moment you will make them formal and permanent.
The clearest message that I can give you, is the approval of the anti-blockade law in Venezuela. If an investor wants to know what Venezuela has established to guarantee the path of international investment, they should read, study it and assume the anti-blockade law. It’s one of the most guaranteeing laws there are, to open the pathways of investment, for the development of the productive forces of the country, for the generation of wealth within the framework of the social state of justice of law, that our constitution establishes. That’s why I tell you: the path we’ve already been on, of guarantees, that during 22 years the Bolivarian Revolution has given the foreign investor, including the guarantees that Commander Hugo Chávez created, the guarantees that I’ve also reinforced – to that path we’ve already been on, we’ve given a step – as a product of the economic war, as a product of the situation that we’ve faced, these cruel, brutal sanctions – we’ve given a step of creating the anti-blockade law, which has truly been a necessary step: very solid, very coherent, and very bold.
In all of this, is there a message you want to send to everyone, to specific industrial sectors?
Well, the message that I send to all investors, is to come see Venezuela. To come get to know us. To come. So that you can see the impact that you’re going to have when you cross the airport, when you get to know our entrepreneurs, when you get to know our human qualities, when you get to know the potential that we have in tourism, in oil, in petrochemistry, in refining, in heavy industry. Well, in… in iron, in bauxite, in gold, minerals. In technology. Well, and a world of opportunities. Venezuela – I tell you, Erik, and you can prove it as you go, through the years, you’ll remember this thing that I’m going to tell you – Venezuela is going to become the land of opportunities for investment, present and future. All the conditions needed are here, for the country to have a new take-off, on new foundations, for the development and for investment to fulfill what we’ve talked about: the win-win. We guarantee that here. We – I always say. We’re real, Erik. I’m here, in this presidential palace. You’re here with me, in office number one; the principal office of the President of the Republic. Behind you is the sword that Simón Bolívar used at the Battle of Carabobo 200 years ago. There is the liberator sword that the people of Lima gave to the liberator Simón Bolívar in 1825. I’m here, because I’m real, and because I express a force that is real, democratic. Nobody has given us anything. Nobody has given us – I wasn’t placed here by a marketing campaign, or a group of oligarchs or powerful men, or a foreign invasion. I was placed here by the popular vote. And Commander Hugo Chávez arrived to this presidential palace, as the first revolutionary president, he arrived from the popular vote. So, we are real. We have clear thinking. A clear doctrine, a clear programme. Any person that sees us in the world, any investor, knows what they are dealing with. Knows that we are people who keep our word. That we truly fulfill when we make an agreement.
Mr. President, I understand you’re thinking of or preparing a programme of privatisation in various sectors, and I want to know what sectors you’re focused on.
No, that doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist?
No. One thing is privatisation. And that’s not in our plans. And another thing is association in win-win investments, for the boost, the development of productive forces in economic sectors of the country. In that sense, yes, with the anti-blockade law, we have very clear proposals, where the state – with some companies – creates alliances based on economic development, on the financial development, on the commercial development of those companies.
Many of the reforms you’ve announced are radical. And they are unpopular in certain sectors of your own party. What can you say to those who don’t support your plan?
I think that we have to work for Venezuela, between all of us. And like that, we’ve been transparent. With just one face, one piece. Just one piece. To lay out to all the Venezuelans – to all of them, without distinguishing, whether they are Chavista, Bolivarian. Whether they are opponents, of the oppositions that exist, or whether they are independent. We have to work for Venezuela. For its integral recovery. Everything that we do is for the real recovery. For the real development of the country. For the emergence of a new economic model, that surpasses the oil rentier, the oil dependency. That generates wealth, and that satisfies the needs of the Venezuelan population. So, I believe that that bet – on that bet, we all have to play. Whether they are from one group, or from another group. And I act there with absolute transparency, and honesty. What I’m looking for, for the country, is the construction of a new economic model. Viable, in the midst of a brutal economic war. And I’m sure, because I’m seeing that we can achieve it. And in the course of these years that are coming up, we are going to achieve it.
The economy has produced some benefits, we’ve talked about those benefits, like in the availability of basic products. However, a majority of the Venezuelan population doesn’t earn money in dollars and the official minimum salary is still 10 million bolivares per month, it’s very little, like US$3 per month. I am talking about the basis for your support, how much would be a fair salary for them?
The fair salary would be to rescue the state of wellbeing that we had, until 2014. In 2014, Venezuela – with its economy functioning, and without these criminal sanctions – had the highest minimum salary of Latin America and the Caribbean. That was so since 2004. Venezuela had the highest minimum salary. And the guarantees of its social rights. Today, we’ve guaranteed, with the revenue – look at the fact that we had a loss of 99 percent of the revenue. No country in the world would endure this. And with barely one percent of revenue, compared to 2014, we’ve maintained and we’ve guaranteed to our people their right to a home. To the construction of a home. We have the world record per capita of construction of homes. Social. We’ve guaranteed free and quality public education. We’ve guaranteed public health. And in the pandemic, we’ve guaranteed the care for our people. And, well, we’ve been able to manage the situation, faced with the pandemic. We’ve guaranteed – still important – the generation of employment.
Now, where we are most hit, Erik – the largest hit that our nation has received, is in its revenue. And we, well, have policies that allow revenues to be increased through technology, the Fatherland card. We have policies to guarantee food, through food programs called CLAP, and we have policies to guarantee the social rights to the people. With the economic recovery, with the recovery of the economic growth, and with the recovery of the revenue, we are going to recover the state of wellbeing that we had, that we built, and we are going to recover the revenue. That’s like an obsession that I have here. And we’re going to achieve it.
Why not dollarise the economy?
No, I don’t believe that we have to hand over the economy to another currency, that like the dollar, has a very… very dominating system of control, from the United States. The countries that have dollarised lose their economic independence. They lose their capacity to manoeuvre. One thing is for the currency to be able to circulate, and be used for commerce, with a high degree of participation, and another thing is for the currency to be the official currency of the country. First of all, the constitution impedes it. The constitutional concept of economy is based on monetary sovereignty. And I think that’s the most correct thing, it’s the right thing. The bolívar, well, must be recovered. And in the moment it’s recovered, it will once again be – will fulfill the role that it has to fulfill, and the international currency and cryptocurrency will continue operating as currency of aid in the commercial operation of the country.
As you know, Covid is still a plague in this country. I went to the main centre of vaccinations at the Alba Hotel here in Caracas and they had only 1,000 doses available. How can you fulfill your promise that 70 percent of the population will be vaccinated in September or October? Because right now, mathematically speaking, that’s impossible.
We are obtaining the country’s vaccines in a progressive way. Now, facing – as you know – an unprecedented persecution. Sometimes I ask myself: does President Joe Biden know about the decisions and the persecution against Venezuela so that it doesn’t acquire vaccines? Does President Joe Biden know about the freezing of funds that Venezuela has paid to acquire vaccines through the COVAX system, to the World Health Organization?
Those are questions that I leave you with. Does the President Joe Biden know? Is he the one responsible for that cruelty? What I do tell you is, we are going to fulfill. And we are going to obtain – through the paths that we are dealt, in silence, we are going to obtain the vaccines. And just as we’ve taken care of the health of our country, in a successful way, during these 15 months, we are going to fulfill this goal that we’ve proposed to ourselves by the month of October. We are going to fulfill it.
Right now, Mr. President, Which bilateral relationship is more important, more solidarity for you and for Venezuela?
We have extraordinary relationships of goodwill and solidarity in Latin America, with our sister Cuba. Cuba really plays a fundamental role in all the social plans of Venezuela. And in the medical support, in the health support. We have – at the level of other countries – extraordinary relations with Russia, in the oil field. In the technological field. Agricultural, commercial, financial, military. We have extraordinary relations of strategic association with China. Deep. Diverse. Which really – I always say, and I say to President Xi Jinping. I sent him a card for his birthday now, and I wrote to him: the relations between China and Venezuela are truly models. They could be examples for the relations between other nations of the world, because they are relations of mutual respect, of cooperation. Of siblinghood. China is always on the lookout of Venezuela, to see what is needed. At a health level, China has been fundamental in the fight against the pandemic. We have excellent relations with India. Historical India. India which is the sanctuary of the world. Really. We have excellent relations with Turkey, as well. Well, and with many other countries of the world. They are relations based on respect. On respect for the idiosyncrasy, the identity, the independence. The auto-determination of the nations. Nobody wants to impose anything on us, from these countries, nor do we want to impose anything on any other country. That is the kind of relationship that has to be constructed. Someday, Erik, your country – the United States – your governments, and our country Venezuela, will have relationships of that kind. Someday. That will arrive.
If you are able to normalise and revitalise the relationship with the United States between Venezuela and the United States, what will happen with the relationship with Iran? Or with Russia? Or with China? Because they aren’t very compatible.
I think that that world, of the Cold War, must be left behind. Very far behind. I don’t agree with creating blocs, and putting blocs to compete in the world. I believe that the nations of the world must cooperate freely. We can have extraordinary relations with a nation of the majesty and the historical patrimony, like the Persian nation. The Iranian people. Excellent. It’s a nation of peace. A nation with an admirable culture.
We can have excellent relations with the millenary nation of China. With the nation of Russia, of India, of Turkey, of South Africa. Of Spain. And have excellent relations with the nation of the United States and with its government. We reject that from the United States, they want to force the countries of the world, the independent countries, to – in order to have good relations with the United States – to be enemies of China. To be enemies of Russia. To be enemies of Iran. That world of Hollywood, that world of comics, that world of the Cold War, must stop. It must be left in the past.
There must be a world of respect, of intercultural dialogue, of dialogue of civilizations, of political dialogue, of dialogue of religion. Another world. How much longer are they going to take us to a world of the Cold War? That must pass already. That thing which happened now in the G7, that they approved a statement against China, is truly condemnable. It’s detestable. It can’t be that the G7 meets – seven powerful western countries – to attack China. To say that Russia is a threat. Where do they want to take us? That is how wars start. That’s how they start. Seeing threats where they don’t exist.
I… if there’s something I can tell you, Erik, is that our doctrine, the doctrine of the liberator Simón Bolívar, in the field of diplomacy, it’s a doctrine of the construction of a multi-polar world. Of a balance of the universe, and of respect. Most of all, in the 21st century. Nobody can aspire – in the 21st century – to a single nation being the owner and ruler in the world. That idea of hegemonism, that imperial idea, that’s over. And you know who knows this, more than myself? More than myself. Much more than myself. You know who knows this?
The people of the United States. That youth from the United States. Who flooded to vote against Trump, and for Joe Biden. That youth, who flooded to the streets after the murder of George Floyd. Those want a world of peace. That youth doesn’t want to go to more useless wars, for oil. That youth wants a world where there is respect, not only for the culture of the world, but also respect for being from the United States. That world is going to arrive. You’re going to see it. It’s already in the conscience of the people. And I see it, very clearly. I know the United States very well. I’ve travelled a lot to the United States, Erik. I’ve driven with my wife. I’ve driven in New York. I myself have driven. New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia. The whole east. I’ve driven in Miami. I’ve had a little drink and I’ve danced salsa on Calle Ocho of Miami. I know the United States. Atlanta. I’ve gone to the place where the remains of Martin Luther King are. And all those neighbourhoods, I’ve gone through them. I like the United States; I admire them. I really admire the NBA; now I’m attentive to the finals. Of the games. Yesterday Phoenix beat Denver, and they ejected Jokić from the game. Did you see the game? It’s admirable, the game of the NBA. The Major Leagues; I don’t miss a baseball game. We admire and like the United States. What we don’t want is to be anybody’s colony. Be anybody’s slaves. We want to be free men. We want to be a free nation. And as a free nation, have successful relations, friendly, with the United States.
Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the biggest petroleum countries in the world, but production has fallen to almost 2.5 million barrels per day in 2015 up to around 500,000 barrels, possibly more per day. What level can you recover?
Venezuela can achieve up to five million barrels of production. We have the infrastructure. What we need is the investment. We’ve been pursued. They don’t lend us a single dollar, in any bank, to invest in oil. They don’t lend money to any private Venezuelan company to invest in oil. So, that’s a substantial investment. And furthermore, an absolute blockade was imposed on us, for the sale of Venezuelan oil. We lasted 14 months without being able to sell a single drop of oil, Erik. 14 months. Now, well, we are reconstructing the investment. We are recovering the wells. We are recovering the production, and we are recovering the international commerce. In the middle of serious sanctions. Because we don’t have to forget. Because it’s very easy to say in the news, “Venezuela, the country which has the largest oil reserve in the world, who used to produce three million barrels, now produces 500,000. It’s Maduro’s fault. Maduro is perverse, an assassin, dictator.” It’s very easy to say it. But nobody says that Venezuela was pursued. That it was forbidden that a single ship reach its shores. That it was forbidden to take out any ships. That we had ships with fuel stolen. Nobody says that it doesn’t receive a single dollar, in the international banks. And nobody says that Venezuela – with its own might, with its own effort, with its own little money, is recovering. And we come from producing almost zero barrels. And we’re already at 500,000. And with our own effort, and heroism from the workers of the oil industry, we are going to recover.
You’re telling me the problem is the lack of investment.
It’s the main issue.
How much would it cost to reach a level of five million barrels a day?
It’s a calculation that needs to be made. I’m not going to trick you.
Billions and billions of dollars.
There are some who say that it would surpass US$30 billion. Because, well, Venezuela also has an infrastructure that is quick to recover. An infrastructure that… with – which is what we’re doing now. We are recovering an infrastructure that was there, and that, with some basic investment – as I say, “doing a lot with little” – we have achieved that the production begin again. Venezuela has the largest global reserve of oil. And that’s what, look… the interests here. The war for oil, that they carried out in Iraq, with guns and with troops. The war for oil that they carried out in Libya, they’re doing it in Venezuela. But it’s a political war, commercial, diplomatic, with sanctions. It’s a different type of war, to try to control our wealth. Here, in the very centre of America, barely three hours from Florida. So… Venezuela is recovering, and with a lot of effort, heroic effort, with a lot of intelligence, with a lot of knowledge, and with the anti-blockade law in our hand, we are guaranteeing the investments. I’ll make an announcement, I’ll take advantage of this.
My final question. What do you think about your political future? Will you be a candidate in the 2024 elections?
What matters most to me is the future of democracy and the peace of Venezuela, the stability of the country. The future of the economic development, of the recovery. Of the independence of Venezuela. Independence with peace. Peace with social justice. That’s the most important thing. My destiny, my future, honestly, honestly, it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is a country. And that’s where our effort is directed toward.
by Erik Schatzker, Bloomberg