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Maduro: "The Far-Right is Provoking Chaos to Overthrow the Government"

03/30/2014 - 03h00

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MONICA BERGAMO
MARLENE BERGAMO
SPECIAL ENVOYS TO CARACAS

Nearly two months after the eruption of protests in Venezuela that have left 37 people dead, President Nicolás Maduro granted Folha an exclusive interview in Caracas. This was the first time he has spoken to any newspaper since the wave of violence began.

The interview took place on Friday, two days after foreign ministers of Unasur (Union of South American Nations) member countries visited Venezuela to meet with the government and representatives of the opposition.

The opposition accuses Maduro of using arrests and even torture to suppress the protests - something the President firmly denies.

The main parts of the interview follow below:

Folha: One of the Unasur recommendations after visiting Venezuela was that all parties should moderate their language, in order to facilitate a dialogue between government and opposition. What was your reaction to this?
Nicolás Maduro: We requested the Unasur visit, and it was organized in record time. Unasur gives maximum priority to the defense of democracy and the constitutional government in Venezuela, and it is against the coup d'état. The foreign ministers met with all sides. As such, they saw firsthand how difficult it is to conduct political dialogue with certain sectors of the right. They have no interest in dialogue - even after being invited to talks. They aim to hide an attempted coup by saying that these are just protests. This is not the case. It's a coup which has taken the perverse form of street violence. But if it encourages this sector of society to sit down with us to talk about peace, then fine, we will tone down our language a little.

Folha: But you haven't done so.
In Venezuela, the debate is always very heated. It's one of our great virtues as Venezuelans: we don't mince our words.

Folha: You are proposing profound changes to the country, which part of the population opposes. Polarization seems to be the logical consequence.
Polarization exists in all democratic countries. In Venezuela, this takes the form of a historic struggle between two different projects: one is patriotic, the other, not. The changes that we are promoting were debated in 19 elections, of which we won 18. Our democratic, Bolivarian and Christian socialism has been approved by a society in which poverty has fallen from 70% to less than 20%, extreme poverty from 30% to less than 7%, and unemployment from 25% to 5.6%. This model clashed with the interests of a right-wing oligarchy that has opposed it undemocratically, by trying to stage coups. Occasionally it operates within electoral and constitutional channels, but never for very long. It is clear now that it has renewed its attempts to provoke a coup.

Folha: Students active in the opposition have presented Unasur with accounts of repression and torture.
False. They are lying, shamelessly. Torture is no longer state policy in Venezuela. Five thousand people disappeared during the 1960s and 1970s, a period in which thousands of students and workers were tortured and murdered - and nothing was said. Torture ended in Venezuela with the victory of the Bolivarian revolution.

Folha: And how about the arrests of protestors?
At the beginning of the protests, opposition leaders told the vice-president that policy brutality and torture were happening. I told them to bring me the accusations. I've been waiting for them for five weeks. If here there were any kind of police brutality, those responsible would be arrested and convicted immediately. The opposition's version of events is completely topsy-turvy. They were the ones who called for the overthrow of a legitimate government. This has been accompanied by arson attacks on universities, on buses, on the metro and on the electricity network; as well as by murders and violent attacks.

Folha: The opposition says that 800,000 people took to the streets and that only a minority is violent. But the government criminalizes everyone.
In its cowardice, the traditional opposition has allowed itself to be taken over and led by sectors of the far right. They kept quiet, and then when universities and buses were attacked they said it was a legitimate protest.

Folha: You define the campaign 'The Exit', which advocates your removal from government, as a coup attempt. In Brazil, the Workers' Party (PT) carried out a campaign entitled 'FHC Out' during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and there have always been 'Lula Out' campaigns. But the governments in Brazil never talked in terms of coups.
Anyone can talk, but in Venezuela it's not just a word: it's a political project. Here, violent protests were organized in order to provoke chaos and instability, with the eventual aim of ousting the government. They haven't been successful so far, and they won't be in the future.

Folha: In Brazil, there were violent protests in 2013, including an attempt to invade the Planalto Palace in Brasília, but the government never claimed that it was an attempted coup. Don't you think your rhetoric is excessive?
You can't compare the two. The right in Venezuela has already staged several attempted coups, which were condemned internationally. They have links with the most conservative sectors of the United States, well known for their tradition of supporting the overthrow of legitimate governments. We have proof that the leadership of the Venezuelan right receives thousands of dollars to try and provoke non-constitutional changes in Venezuela.

Folha: The Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado was removed from her post without so much as a hearing at which she could have defended herself. In Brazil, a Congressman who had been convicted was still allowed to appear in Congress - albeit in handcuffs - where he had the right to defend himself. Removing an elected member of parliament is an extremely serious measure to take in a democracy.
She chose to abandon the National Assembly. As Congresswoman, the constitution prohibits her from taking other public positions, but she accepted a public position offered by a foreign government [Machado tried to speak at the Organization of American States as a Panamanian representative], which, by the way, was a government hostile to Venezuela.

Folha: Isn't some kind of hearing required, at which she could defend herself?
According to experts in the constitution, contrary evidence is not admitted in cases which are an explicit violation of the constitution. There are also mayors who were removed, convicted and imprisoned, without the right to a trial, because they did not prevent roadblocks in their cities.

Folha: Wasn't this also a form a violence?
The only violence was the attack on the people that elected them. These mayors, with their fascist, far-right mentality, led attacks, using their power to attack the electorate. One of them was responsible for an arson attack on a university, and built barricades.

Folha: Historically speaking, barricades have been used in a number of different contexts by protestors. Once again, is it not excessive to talk of a coup attempt?
In the case of Venezuela, no. Their plan is to shut down the country, blocking routes into the principal cities, just like in Ukraine. It's what they did with João Goulart [Brazilian president deposed by the 1964 coup]. They demonized Goulart. They carried out marches for the family, and for freedom. It was said they were peaceful. But behind those marches was a coup plot orchestrated by the United States and by the CIA. And this was against Brazil, which is a continent. Imagine against Venezuela! Now, fifty years later, the CIA says sorry. There are documents that prove that their principal strategy against [ex-Chilean president Salvador] Allende was to attack the Chilean economy. At that time, when Goulart and Allende were asked for proof that the CIA was planning a coup, both said they didn't have any. But I have proof that the CIA was behind the coup against Chávez [in 2002], and I have proof that it is behind the attempted coup now.

Folha: What proof do you have?
Documents of all kinds, relating to the conspiracy and how it is financed.

Folha: You've mentioned an economic war. But there are problems in the country's economic administration.
Of course, there are in every country.

Folha: There are problems in oil exportation, in food production, and with the exchange rate. There are price controls, controlling interests. Doesn't all of this jeopardize a good environment in which to do business?
Our model is a success. In 1999, our GDP stood at $90 billion. Today it is $400 billion. In the Peace Commission [which has brought together the government with part of the opposition and the business community to discuss the crisis], we are taking decisions which will accelerate the economy in 2014.

Folha: Inflation, violence and shortages are all long-term problems.
They are problems everywhere. If we took a map now, chose ten countries and studied them for a week

Folha: The highest inflation would be in Venezuela.
But it would also be the country with greatest equality. Every country has problems, arising from a range of factors, whether natural, social or political. Does that justify violence, the overthrow of legitimate and democratic governments around the world? No, though people are always welcome to protest. Chávez was a champion both of criticism and of self-criticism. And he was the champion of calling on the people to protest. Me too. I call on the Venezuelan people to protest.

Folha: If someone is in a line waiting for milk and toilet paper
That's a temporary situation.

Folha: If you weren't President, would you protest?
Totally. Totally. That's democracy. People take to the streets to say what they want and how they feel, so that their representatives do whatever is necessary to resolve the country's problems. It has nothing to do with marketing.

Folha: Has President Dilma Rousseff had the same commitment as Lula with regard to Venezuela?
[Laughs] Dilma is a great presidential comrade, a great South American leader, and a firm, brave woman. We are very fond of her. We know that she loves Venezuela, that she loved President Chávez. From Brazil, we have always received nothing but love, affection, solidarity and support.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

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