Friday, July 29, 2011

The Soapbox: Transcript 24 July, 2011 with Eva Golinger

President Chavez is pretty adamant about the fact that Venezuela is no longer a colony of the US.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela

CS: Cindy Sheehan
EG: Eva Golinger

CS: Welcome back to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox. I am your host Cindy Sheehan and as always you are listening at Cindy 

A lot of my friends and contacts and fans of the show have been asking me how President Chavez of Venezuela has been since he had a recent battle with cancer. So we’re going to bring on the expert of all things Venezuelan, our good friend, Eva Golinger. 

Eva welcome back to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.

EG: Thank you so much, Cindy.

CS: Well we always want to have you on whenever there is a lot of concern or things happening in Venezuela. I have so many fans of the show, supporters and contacts who have been very concerned about the health of Chavez. Can you give us an update on that?

EG: Well President Chavez is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. 

He is in Cuba where his initial cancer was detected in a very unexpected way. 

I guess nobody ever expects it and he of course certainly didn’t. I mean Chavez is very young. He is almost 57 years old and he’s never had any major health problems. There’s not cancer in his family that is known so it wasn’t an issue that was of concern in terms of his health.

However he is someone who works incredibly hard. He’s been in office 12 years, elected twice and works nonstop. Has never taken a vacation, doesn’t take sick days and is incredibly dedicated and committed to his work. I mean you know that has sort of been his rhythm for the past decade or so now it has caught up with him. It’s taken a toll on his ability to continue that level of work that he has been doing as President of Venezuela.

When the cancer was detected initially which was in June, about mid-June, what was found was a pelvic abscess, which was immediately drained, and after the infection subsided they found a mass of malignant cancer cells and that was immediately removed. It was a very intense operation that took six and a half hours. You can imagine that level of surgery, you know the cutting through all of his muscles, just the type of wound he had after that and so since that time which was the 20th of June was that operation he’s been recovering from that and waiting to be able to have another revision done, a thorough revision of his body and to start the chemo.

So the latest update which was Chavez made public himself that no further cancer cells have been detected in his body so the tumor was taken out in it’s entirety and nothing seems to have been left behind. Of course the chemotherapy treatments are a precaution to prevent the cancer from coming back. So that’s what he’s doing. 

He delegated some of his administrative functions to the Executive Vice President and the (?), and to the Minister of Finance and Planning Jorge Giordani. But it is really administrative in nature and Chavez remains at the head of government.

They activated an electronic signature when he left for Cuba so he can himself still sign documents and he’s regularly involved, in Venezuela.

Cindy, Twitter is a real big deal, Chavez is one of the leading Tweeters and everyday since he has been in Cuba he has been tweeting several times a day starting in the early morning hours cause now he is getting up at five in the morning so he is sending out Tweets from that time on and throughout the day. And you know it makes people feel and believe that of course he is following everything that is going on and he is still fully capacitated to remain as President.

CS: Well, there is always, well not always but for quite a while there’s been a very active opposition to the revolution and the administration of President Chavez. How is the opposition trying to take advantage of this illness?

EG: Well it’s really grotesque, I mean from the beginning first they were really doubting that he was diagnosed with cancer, was sick, thought it was a ploy, a strategy for his reelection. 

Venezuela has Presidential elections in 2012 so the campaigns, some of them have already been started. President Chavez’ candidacy has already been launched by his party the PSUV and so you know the opposition were trying to make up stories, myths and rumors speculation about his health. One saying that it was false and then the other side saying he was terminally ill and going to be out of the picture soon, which isn’t true either.

And on top of that there has been external aid to try to urge opposition figures, groups and organizations to try and promote a climate of chaos and destabilization in order to permit another coup d'tat to be executed against President Chavez and in fact just this week the Miami Herald Spanish language version, the Nuevo Herald, published a front page article basically calling on the opposition to organize conditions for a coup and also asking for help from the US government to assure that it happens and is successful, saying that this is the time to take advantage of the situation, take advantage of Chavez’s weakness and execute the coup before it is too late.

You know, making up all kinds of stories about session, that Chavez is preparing a double, I mean they are really fantasizing about things that are not happening and that have never happened. This has been an ongoing situation in Venezuela with an unfortunate opposition that has not been willing to work within the framework of democracy.

So that’s what has been going on and at the same time there is another sector of the opposition saying, “well since Chavez is sick and undergoing treatment that he should just be inhabilitated from being President and should delegate all his power and authority to the Vice President who should temporarily take over." Which is ridiculous because Chavez is not incapacitated mentally and he is fully in front of government affairs and involved in everything as he always has been and will continue to be. They have also been trying to say his absence from the country which has been authorized by the Parliament, the National Assembly, is something illegal, even thought it is not since it’s been authorized in a legal way. But the opposition says, "well he is out of the country so he’s not governing so therefore there’s a power vacuum." Which isn’t true either.

It’s not the first time. I would remind our listeners for example that US President Reagan had three cancers during his Presidency. He underwent major surgery for colon cancer right before he was reelected in 1985. There’s some evidence to show that his treatments and surgeries were conducted in Germany. So they didn’t even take place in the United States. So it’s not unusual. 

There have been several times when Presidents in Latin America for example, recently the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had lymphatic cancer and he’s been cured and that was recently while he was in the Presidency, he still is. Then Brazil's President, Dilma Rousseff, also had the same type of cancer. Before she was elected President she underwent treatment and was successfully elected President. So the treatments are out there as long as you catch it before it is too late which is what appears to be the case with President Chavez. He should fully recover and there is no reason why the opposition should try to convince public opinion internationally that Chavez isn’t governing and that there is a power vacuum.

CS: Has there been any response from the US about his illness or the calls about helping to overthrow his government?

EG: Well, the United States government is being incredibly cautious in this scenario. Chavez is considered a foe by the State Department particularly, but by of course all of the US government. So they’re playing this one pretty slowly, patiently looking at the scenario, seeing what’s going on and besides that’s in the public light. 

In terms of what is going on behind the scenes I would say certainly there are efforts and negotiations going on with the opposition groups the US has been funding now for years with US tax payer dollars. Trying to promote Chavez’s overthrow. So yeah, I mean certainly there is a sort of unspoken encouragement of anything that could remove Chavez from power. 

The fact that the Miami Herald was citing Roger Noriega who is a known figure very closely linked to the US government now for decades and was part of the Bush administration, a part of the Reagan administration. Unfortunately, even though he has incredibly ridiculous concepts of what is happening in Latin America he tends to have influence over those in power. So he is one of the ones who have been calling directly for Chavez’s overthrow now that Chavez has been diagnosed with cancer in saying that the US government should immediately send support, not just financially but militarily to insure that that happens.

CS: What would be the difference between that and the US involvement in Libya right now?

EG: Well there’s really not much difference, I mean the case in Libya is outrageous. The fact that not only did a bombing campaign begin against a country that wasn’t a threat to anybody else. I mean in terms to being a threat to a foreign nation. Those nations that have been attacking it and bombing it now for months. But on top of that, when the US government and NATO allies were unable to kill Gadhaffi basically assassinate Gadhaffi, which was the overall objective, or invoke regime change. Now they’re installing an illegitimate parallel government. So those are the types of scenarios that are incredibly dangerous precedents being set today that can be used or applied to other countries like Venezuela. I would just remind listeners again that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and it has just been recertified again by OPEC, the Organization of Oil Producing Countries, that Venezuela is number one in terms of oil reserves so this of course makes it a huge target of the world's most powerful interests.

CS: There are similar cases and parallels between Libya and Venezuela in that both of the countries use their wealth, their natural resources and oil wealth to improve the lives of their citizens and that means that the US oil companies and British companies can’t reap most of the profits like they did before Chavez was elected in Venezuela in 1998.

EG: That’s absolutely correct. 

A lot of people don’t actually know that Libya has the highest standard of living of all the African nations. Without passing judgment on his government there have been policies that have invested in social well being over decades now. 

In the case of Venezuela, it is new under the Chavez administration over the past decade--these policies of using oil profits to invest back into the people, invest back into the infrastructure and development of the country. And as of right now a normal expected rate of income from oil sales Venezuela invests, the government because obviously the oil is nationalized, the government invests 60 percent of all profits directly into social programs relating to health care, education, housing initiatives, job training programs and then there was a new windfall tax law enacted last year which because of increasing oil prices says that basically if oil is over 90 dollars a barrel, which it is right now, then 90 percent of oil profits coming into Venezuela are going to be invested into social programs. So I mean it really is a majority of the money coming in is being used to invest back into the people and it has had a tremendous effect. Poverty has been reduced in Venezuela by over 50 percent in the past decade. I mean that’s an immense change right there.

We have universal free accessible health care for everybody. No one is asked for insurance cards, or turned away or left to die if they can’t afford to pay for health care because there are free quality clinics everywhere that have just been built in the last few years. 

Education at all levels is accessible and it’s free, you know public education. The same goes for a whole wide variety of programs including super markets that have subsidized products to combat inflation speculation that the private markets which is a big problem in Venezuela. I mean obviously that is something that is not seen in anyway as favorable to multinationals and foreign interests. Especially because in the case of Venezuela there have been strict controls implemented on multinationals in Venezuela over the past decade that existed before but were never really implemented--such as making foreign corporations that are involved in the oil industry pay taxes and royalties on their profits. I mean things that are normal anywhere else, in Venezuela which operated as a US colony, those types of initiatives were never implemented before, now they are. 

Now companies operating in Venezuela have to abide by the law. It’s pretty straight forward as long as they are willing to do it. But when they were used to acting above the law, you know, of course then they reacted to these types of policies and it is not convenient to powerful interests that try to exploit and basically take as much as they can get out of resource wealthy nations like Venezuela.

CS: Well was that one of the reasons for the first coup attempt in April of 2002? I hope it was the first and only coup attempt. I don’t want to seem like there is another one coming. But didn’t right before it happened didn’t the national assembly pass laws to nationalize more of the oil production and profits from it under the national oil company in Venezuela?

EG: Yeah, that is correct. I mean oil was nationalized in Venezuela in 1976 so way before Chavez became president. After he was in office and there was a whole initiative for constitutional reform under a new constitution that was drafted and ratified under the national referendum by everyone in Venezuela eligible to vote. 

New laws were implemented and one of those related to hydrocarbons, the oil industry, was dealing with what I was just talking about in terms of making sure that foreign companies operating in Venezuela are paying their royalties, are paying their taxes, cannot have more than a 49 percent share in any kind of joint venture with Venezuela’s state oil companies. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a nationalized product if foreign nationals can have higher stakes than the national company. So, yeah, there was a restructuring of the industry that affected foreign interests as well as those nationally of the Venezuelan elite. 

The economic elite that was running the industry like a private company pocketing most of the products and embezzling them outside of the country to buy their big homes throughout Miami and New York and the Caribbean Islands. So actually right before the coup took place in April 2002 President Chavez had changed the entire board of Directors of PDVSA which is the state oil company. That was sort of the straw that broke the camels back. I mean that set things finally into motion that had been building up anyway, you know, with support from the US of course and other interested parties in terms of trying to get Chavez out of power. 

What Chavez did in fact was, once he was back in office after the coup was defeated by the people of Venezuela and he was rescued and returned to power to his legitimate office, was that he reinstated the Board of Directors in an attempt to reconcile and extend an olive branch to the opposition. Which was a giant mistake because they weren’t looking to reconcile or work with them. They were looking to get him out of office no matter what. 

Months after the coup and after he reinstated the board back to PDVSA they initiated a very extensive and very damaging economically strike on the oil industry; where they basically shut it down and sabotaged the entire industry. 

Venezuela lost over 20 billion dollars in just a little over 2 months. Then after that happened, it was an illegal strike anyway, but they also sabotaged all the equipment. The industry had to be rescued manually. It was functioning originally in an automated way but since everything had been sabotaged, codes had been switched. There had been control remotely that was basically running the system from the United States and so everything had to be restructured entirely. All those that were involved, because they violated their contracts were out of the industry forever basically.

So, yeah, it played an immense role in the beginning years of the Chavez administration in terms of all the destabilization that was going on. Now of course the industry is pretty firmly under the control, as it should be, of the state. But there are still pockets that exist within it a very extensive company that sabotage and you know it is Venezuela’s lifeblood. Of course the most vulnerable part of the government is the oil industry. The fact that even more so today, those funds are used for social programs in the country so it’s always a target. 

That’s why in May, May 24th the state department imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA. The sanctions really have no teeth at all. They’re just sending a message to the world that it’s dangerous to do business with Venezuela which is what the state department actually declared with the sanctions.

CS: Except the US is still buying oil from Venezuela.

EG: That’s correct!

CS: So the US is (?) in Venezuela. But the sanctions were put on because of some sanctions with Iran, I guess. I think, "how rude of Venezuela to put Venezuela’s interests over the interests of the United States."

EG: (Laughing) Well actually that is precisely the mentality of those running the US government. In fact beyond that, imposing internal US legislation on other countries, which is not even legitimate under international law. US law has no jurisdiction or bearing on another country. 

Yet the US, because they have the capacity to impose pressure via economic means or political means, tend to use their legislation to influence other countries and other countries often abide by what the US is requesting. In the case of Venezuela, Venezuela is a sovereign state and has declared itself so and remains so and will remain so. President Chavez is pretty adamant about the fact that Venezuela is no longer a colony of the US. Venezuela has the right not have relations with any country in the world just like the United States does. Those sanctions as far as Venezuela is concerned have absolutely no legality whatsoever.

CS: Well absolutely. That brings up a couple of questions and I think that there are challenges to the continued viability of the Bolivarian Revolution and what’s happening in Venezuela.

The first one is, many supporters of Chavez and the revolution, their question is, if something does happened to him is the revolution strong enough to continue without the leadership that he’s provided?

EG: Well, President Chavez of course is a very charismatic and powerful leader--there’s no denying that whatsoever. Of course his leadership has been crucial in uniting different sectors and organizations of Venezuelan society to build this revolution. But at the same time the revolution was in motion before Hugo Chavez came to power. 

The Revolution in Venezuela is really something that is being built and being maintained and advanced by the people of Venezuela. So while yes his leadership is important it would be very difficult to imagine Venezuela taking a step backward instead of continuing to advance forward. Of course if Chavez were no longer President at some point, which he won’t be President forever, that’s not the objective or a possibility. So someone else will be in power in Venezuela some day. Certainly things will change in terms of that particular aspect of the revolution and that level of leadership.

One of the main objectives of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has been transferring power to the people. That entire concept is based on the notion that the people of Venezuela are going to be those that are basically running their own country and that are implementing all of the different policies and initiatives. While, yes again Chavez’s leadership is very important, there’s a whole new generation of Venezuelans that have been growing up in a different model over the past decade that have a different vision of their country, that have a stronger identity. You know their identity has been recovered, has been dignified as being Venezuelan because of this particular revolution. So, therefore, I think that there is an entire generation of leaders that are growing up in Venezuela and that are going to be the ones running the show. 

While everyone would love Chavez to be around, those that support him, as long as he can be, I don’t think it is a question of, "well if he is no longer there, there is no revolution." Then that would mean there never has been a revolution. So I think that absolutely things will continue, they will change obviously in terms of the dynamic, but there’s no question. I mean, this is a revolution of the people and the people will continue to be the ones that are changing and transforming their country.

CS: I just really want to thank you for your time and all the information that you always bring to the show. The last question would be, an economy based on oil, you know, is always very unstable. I mean it is good right now but there’s been many years where it hasn’t been good so that means that the economy fluctuates based on oil. What steps is Venezuela taking to transition itself off of an economy based on fossil fuel?

EG: The Venezuelan government has been trying to diversify industry now in the country and that’s sort of the next phase of this transformation of the revolution. You know building new industry, focusing on, Venezuela is not just oil wealthy it has a wide variety of minerals and metals in the country that are now being produced and the idea is not just to produce raw materials but also to build factories in Venezuela so that Venezuela can produce products like automobiles and a whole slew of other industries and products. So there’s a diversification in that sense of industry. And then there’s also a focus again on agriculture, which was abandoned in the early 20th century because of the focus on oil. So Venezuela is rebuilding its agricultural industry in order to reduce its dependence on imports. But also to become a power in terms of agricultural production. 

So to have a wide variety of exports as well as to supply the people of Venezuela. At the same time though Venezuela has the largest reserves and though someday they will dry up they will at least be around for another hundred years. When they are drying up throughout the Middle East they will still be in Venezuela. Venezuela also has a large amount of water reserves. Which of course many say is the next target of powerful interests around the world. So, yeah, there are a lot of initiatives going on to decrease the dependence on oil as the only product that Venezuela produces. Absolutely.

CS: Well and I think we as a people have to decrease our dependence on oil and oil based products also. Just one last thing, I would like you to talk about the housing project in Venezuela. I think that is a very exciting thing that the government and the people are getting involved in right now.

EG: Absolutely, it is a wonderful initiative called Gran Mission Housing Venezuela. It is a government program that is involving millions of people as well as in terms of creating the program itself--training those as part of the mission. 

Housing Venezuela is a mission work social program in terms of creating jobs and the idea is to provide job training to people so they can take part and build cooperatives, to create cooperatives, to be involved in the construction of the more than 2 million homes that are being built in Venezuela presently and are expected to be completed in their totality within the next 6 years. 

The idea of course is to address the housing crisis, the long-term housing crisis that exists in Venezuela. There’s a big difference for example in the way the housing crisis has been handled in the United States and in the case of Venezuela. In the case of the United States the government bailed out banks, bailed out financial institutions, insurance companies, mortgage institutions and let all the people who lost their homes, just left them on the streets--no help to them. But in the case of Venezuela it’s been the exact opposite. 

We’ve also had scandals with companies that have committed fraud, that have scammed people, real estate companies scamming people, Banks that have also committed fraud and have been mismanaging funds. Most of the banks involved in any kind of illicit activity were actually liquidated in Venezuela--were intervened by the state--were either liquidated or nationalized. Customer savings were all protected. 

In the case of the housing industry, those companies involved in any kind of fraud have been mainly nationalized or somehow taken over or expropriated. The housing programs are all continuing in order to ensure that no one loses their home, or their future home in the case of construction projects. 

There’s also been a problem last year we had heavy rains, left over 130 thousand people homeless because of the flooding. So those have been the first priority in terms of providing homes. What the state is doing is insuring homes are available so many are being built because the housing doesn’t exist. So apartments, homes all throughout the country are being built by state,  joint private and public enterprises and then the homes will be distributed on a need basis--dealing first with those displaced by the rain. It’s not something that is just a gift. They’re examining every person, every family individually. What’s their income capacity so do they have the capacity to put down a 5 percent deposit, a ten percent deposit, a 30 percent deposit, no deposit? You know, so then no down payment, I mean. So no down payment is necessary if the person or family can’t afford it and then they are given a low interest loan, a very low interest loan, under 5 percent. You know it’s to be able to pay off the cost of the housing. The housing depending also on the income if the person is basically below the poverty line or at the poverty line then the government will subsidize 70 percent of the loan will only be 30 percent which the person or family has to pay. So it’s on an individual basis. 

There are brigades going throughout the country going door-to-door visiting people that signed up for the program and are evaluating each case. It’s also applying to those who currently have homes but need renovations that have problems with the internal structure. The government will provide a subsidy to be able to do that. The idea overall is that the government of Venezuela wants it’s people to be healthy and happy and stable. Every one knows having your own home is a huge part of feeling safe in your residence and your country. So Venezuela puts people before profits. This is another sign of that.

CS: Eva thank you so much for being on Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox. We really appreciate your work and your time in coming on and sharing all of this information with us.

EG: Well thank you Cindy. Any time.

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