There Is Much to Do: An Interview With Hugo Chavez
GG: Venezuela has impressively reduced poverty, inequality, unemployment...
HC: We have achieved nearly all of the Millennium Development Goals. I was here almost ten years ago, in the Millennium Summit, and they even assigned me the task--I wasn't yet considered the devil, though they were undoubtedly still evaluating me--to coordinate one of the roundtables. I was there for a few days, day after day working and talking with Clinton, Fidel was there too. I remember the day Fidel shook Clinton's hand, Clinton and Fidel, and I was witness to their short conversation. We had meetings with delegates from Africa, Asia, from China, Russia. Now, we proposed some goals [to reduce poverty]. But today, at the global level, we are poorer than ten years ago. And not only in absolute numbers but relative numbers. But in Venezuela, poverty continues to go down. Unemployment continues to go down. The minimum wage is the highest in Latin America. Social security continues to reach more and more people. The standard of living has risen in Venezuela and according to the measures used by the United Nations Development Program we are in the top rank of human development. We are far from our goals, but we have left the inferno. Attention to the excluded, literacy, Venezuela is now a territory free of illiteracy. Poverty has been halved from it was ten years ago, which was one of the Millennium Goals. Access to potable water, we passed that Millennium goal a long time ago. In education, we have doubled the number of children going to school. It is possible to leave poverty, it is possibly to pull people out of misery. We call this socialism. In Obama's reflections--the ones I have heard--there are elements of this thought. We don't call it socialist, but it is a revindication of public policy.
GG: What you have achieved inspires many. But can you talk about the failures, or the concrete plans you have to address ongoing problems, such as inflation, crime and insecurity?
HC: On every front, there are failures and still much work to be done. Right now we are in the process of what we call the three Rs: revision, rectification and re-starting. In health care, in education, improving services, correcting mistakes. We are increasing participatory democracy, protagonist democracy. Delinquency is a global problem, not an exclusive Venezuelan one. Corruption is hurting us. I believe Obama talked this morning of the problem of corruption in developing countries. But here, in the US, there is a lot of corruption. In Europe there is corruption. Capitalism is the reign of corruption. Everything that happened with the big corporations, the big banks, the big insurance companies. What is it? Corruption. Corruption of values, fraud against the people, theft from the citizenry. Now, when I mentioned earlier about a new stage, 2010 to 2020, I was talking about above all a project that had to solve these problems, this weakness.
GG: But how, exactly? Can you give some concrete examples, say, in reference to violence and public security? One recent report identifies Caracas--in terms of homicide rates--as the second most violent city in the world, after Ciudad Juárez.
HC: Ciudad Juárez?
GG: Ciudad Juárez.
HC: I think there are cities in the United States that are more violent. I don't want to minimize the problem. Look, we are attacking the problem with a lot of energy, with distinct programs. For example, a little while ago we enacted legislation restructuring the National Police, because historically, going back many years, the police department was penetrated by delinquents. So we are trying to cleanse the police. But at the bottom of this is a cultural problem. Out-of-control crime, in all these countries, is part of a moral crisis. Ask yourself, how many children right at this moment are watching violence on TV, on the Internet? Music that encourages drug use and irresponsible sex? This is a product of the capitalist model, the culture of capitalism, hyper-individualism. It's part of the great crisis of the time. It requires a new world, with new values. As Jesus Christ says, "love others as yourself." If you love others as yourself, you are incapable of hurting others.
GG: One last question. Since 2003, the relationship between you and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been fascinating. Working together in the field of international relations, you have led what some have described as South America's second independence, or at least have brought about the end of the Monroe Doctrine. But in about a year, that relationship is going to end, when Lula's second, and last, presidential term expires. We are going to be in a "post-Lula" world. Have you given any thought how this is going to affect your foreign policy, since you have worked together in a very...
GG: Yes, closely.
GG: Yes, coordinated.
HC: Lula is a great person, a great compañero. They tried to create a rift between us, but it failed. I have the hope that after Lula comes someone who will continue along the same path. Lula has managed to put his own stamp on Brazil. Brazil had lost its way, it had fallen into the hands of, well, neoliberal governments. It lacked leadership. About four or five years ago, Brazil was at the point of losing its petroleum reserves. But no longer. Lula rescued [the state oil company] Petrobras, he invested resources, and recovered the independence of Brazil. The country no longer depends on the International Monetary Fund. Brazil's monetary reserve has grown exorbitant due to exports. The attitude of Brazil toward its small neighbors has greatly changed, toward Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, the smallest and weakest countries, and above all because of Lula. This is Lula's great legacy, and it is going to be difficult to change. Many things will change. Someone will take office with his or her own stamp, own style. But Brazil is now standing. With Venezuela, there will be changes, in the relationship we have, in the strategic alliance. But I have much faith that the person who comes next will be a man or woman of the left, from the Workers Party, who will continue to try to meet the challenge presented by Lula at his inauguration. Remember, the 2002 coup in Venezuela was not just against me but against Lula, who was a presidential candidate at the time. It was meant as a demonstration effect. They were telling the Brazilian people, look, if you elect Lula, this is what could happen to you. So, when Lula was inaugurated on January 1, 2003, I went. I'll never forget it. We were in a terrible battle at home, of destabilization, economic and petroleum sabotage, terrorism, threats of more coups. But I wanted to go to Brasilia. There, Lula told us that we needed a project that covered all of South America. He knew that this challenge needed to go beyond Lula, beyond Chávez, and beyond Evo. When each of us are gone, the people are left standing, and South America is South America, with its own voice.