Hugo Chavez's Future
Hugo Chavez's Future
Recently, Nikolas Kozloff, who is working on a new book entitled South America´s New Direction, about the political realignment in
NK: What is your personal background?
GW: I was born in the
NK: How did you come to be in
GW: I spent six years living in
ORIGINS OF VENEZUELANALYSIS
NK: What is Aporrea?
GW: It´s one of the main Chavista Web sites which was very important following the coup attempt because it provided a key source of information and continuous updates as to what was happening in Venezuela. It was very important for community movements here in
NK: When you say ¨we,¨ who do you mean?
GW: Myself and Martin Sanchez, who was one of the founders of aporrea.
NK: So, where does the funding come from?
GW: Well, that´s always a tricky issue (laughs) because of course opposition supporters always say, ¨that´s 100% government.¨ We did receive some funding from the Ministry of Culture, but we also get some grassroots donations. Also, we have mutual support agreements with several different groups, such as Green Left Weekly, Alia2, and briefly with Telesur, among others. We don´t have much money now, at the high point we may have had 4 or 5 people but it keeps fluctuating as people come and go. It´s kind of hard to find people to work on the site because it´s in English but you need people who know the situation in
NK: Do you plan on getting funding from other sources?
GW: Yes, we´re working on getting some advertising, and we´re looking into applying for funding from foundations.
NK: Does the government ever call you up and complain that it´s unhappy about whatever story, is there any interference?
GW: None whatsoever. As far as the Web site, I´m not in touch with anyone as far as content.
NK: What´s it like working in
GW: It varies (laughs). I actually have quite a few contacts because my wife works in the government and she was a political activist before Chavez came into office. So, that has certainly helped me. But even for me it´s often quite difficult, because no matter where you come from, and even if you come recommended from someone else, you´re generally regarded with a lot of suspicion from the government and it can be quite difficult to get information.
NK: Have you noticed any growth in anti-American sentiment over the past few years?
GW: No, not at all. Whenever the media talks about Chavez being anti-American, no one here perceives it that way. They perceive him as being anti-Bush.
IMPACT OF THE MEDIA
NK: What kind of impact has venezuelanalysis had, how many people log on to the site?
GW: I think about 1,000 people read the site every day. I have the impression that it does have an important impact; we´ve reached other journalists and academics for example. Journalists who view the site will in turn speak to other journalists who are based here and most of them are anti-government.
NK: And these 1,000 hits, do you know where they come from?
GW: I´m not sure, but I think they´re almost all from the
NK: How effective do you think internet and other pro-Chavez media have been in countering mainstream media coverage?
GW: If you do an international comparison of media coverage on
NK: To what extent are grassroots groups pressuring the government to radicalize, and what is the impact for the
GW: The problem here in
NK: What kinds of groups are we talking about?
NK: Mostly community groups that change their formation in various ways. They might have been organized as Bolivarian Circles at one point and as the electoral battle units, now in the consejos comunales and urban land committees, water committees, health committees, whatever. These groups are organized in a thousand different ways. And that´s part of the problem because it´s not coherent. You have Chavez´s party, but that´s seen as a very top down organization. So, there´s all these community groups but no umbrella organization which might channel their demands. So, I do think these groups are pushing the process forward, but in a fairly ineffective manner.
NK: There´s been some nationalizations recently, some of these have affected
GW: No, I don´t think nationalizations is a popular issue. But, I do think the government will continue them, for various reasons. The government has already announced three areas that would be nationalized, and it has proceeded to go ahead. So, it´s not really clear what´s left to do. That is, telecommunications, oil, and electricity. There´s not too much left of strategic importance. But I could imagine nationalization proceeding in various other sectors, which are smaller and less important. Nationalization is part of an overall socialist strategy, and if there was an effort to turn these companies over to worker management or co-management, then nationalization would be a prerequisite for that. I do see that happening down the line.
NK: What about the countryside, are there any
GW: One thing you have to consider is that the proportion of agriculture in the gross national product is only about 6%, so it´s really a miniscule portion of the economy. The amount of
NK: There are various
GW: If the government proposes that the compensation for the Orinoco Oil Belt production is somehow below market value, then yes relations could be affected. According to Venezuelan law, it has to be at market value and so far it seems the government is interested in doing that. The problem in the Oil Belt, and the reason the government might not give such a good deal, is that we´re talking about much larger sums of money. The foreign oil companies are saying that they invested something like $17 billion in production. I think foreign participation there is about 60-70%, so to get a majority or 60% share the government would have to buy out about half of that. Still, that´s about $8 billion, hardly petty cash. I think the Orinoco Oil Belt is going to be a drawn out process and it´s going to be difficult for the government to come up with the money.
NK: Do you think if
GW: Yes, that is probably going to happen but actually to a lesser extent in future because I think the government has completed the first wave of updating its military arsenal. Up until now, the military hadn´t received new weapons for almost 20 years. I don´t expect much higher expenditures in the near future.
NK: It sounds from what you´re saying that ironically, despite all the rhetoric, there aren´t a lot of contentious issues in dispute?
GW: I think the situation in
NK: Well, there is the possibility that we´ll have more ideological radicalization which, while it might not affect U.S. interests directly, could have an important psychological effect, through the formation of cooperatives for example. How do you see the revolutionary process deepening?
GW: I think the danger is that any effort to move away from so-called liberal, representative democracy will be interpreted as an effort to bring about dictatorship. I don´t think that´s a fair conclusion to draw, but I think the U.S. would say this as well as many people in the international community and within the international media. That could isolate
NK: How do you see that specifically?
GW: In the measures that he´s already announced. On the political level, for example, giving more power to communal councils, and giving priority to them over representative government or elected officials, also in terms of allocating budgets and making various decisions in the regions of the country. On the economic level, more nationalizations, more worker self-management at all levels. And so, these changes at the political and economic levels will be interpreted as anti-democratic, even if they´re not.
NK: But, with the opposition fractured and Bush distracted in Iraq, do you think that even if things were to radicalize that Washington would be in a position to do anything?
GW: If it´s a situation where the international community could be won over, Bush could do something. At this point however it´s pretty much hopeless for Bush to get other Latin American countries on board, I think that´s a lost cause. But perhaps Bush might try and succeed to get European countries on board.
NK: In the event that a Democrat is elected in 2008, how might this affect relations?
GW: I think it depends on what kind of Democrat. If it´s a moderate Democrat like Hillary Clinton, I could easily see a continuation in friction. Democrats like her and John Kerry have shown a great degree of eagerness to play to the Miami Cuba crowd. Whereas, if it were a more liberal democrat like Obama or Edwards then that could definitely be a big change.
UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH?
NK: Given your academic background, it occurred to me to ask: Chavez has talked about launching a so-called "University of the South." If it did take off (and he has launched a
GW: I´ve spent some time looking at the
NK: What is the specific curriculum at the
GW: It´s very interesting. Students start out even in the first year getting involved in the community and working on community projects, at the same time that they´re in class. So, it´s very centered on helping the poor and developing means to overcome poverty.
NK: The other day I was walking around and I saw a sign reading "
GW: I haven´t seen the center, but all of the new educational programs have some kind of socialist bent to them, for example the Vuelvan Caras program. And yes, it is definitely an attempt to convince a larger segment of the population to support the program. I personally think it´s a bad idea, not because I´m against that type of education but from what I can see there´s an over emphasis on this kind of moral dimension and being moralistic. To my mind that´s not what socialism is about. It´s an elaborate critique which I won´t go into now, but there´s a simplified idea about education that I feel is being propagated sometimes, that we just need to teach people how to think in more collective terms and the collective good instead of the individual good, more in terms of solidarity and everything will follow from there. I just don´t think that´s how education works and it could easily lead to a new form of dogmatism which is quite dangerous.
DEEPENING OF THE REVOLUTION
NK: Well, speaking of which, what do you see as the main obstacles towards a deepening of the Bolivarian process?
GW: The main obstacles I see are actually internal and not external. By and large, I think the external obstacles have been overcome. I think the dynamics of both domestic and international capital have been overcome. Domestic capital, mainly because it´s so weak, it´s completely dependent on the state sector and there´s not much it can do at this point. The old opposition, the old elite is another obstacle and that too has been overcome through all the electoral defeats and coup attempts. So, we are left with three main internal obstacles. One of these is a kind of in-group mentality related to clientelism. Because of the external threats, even though these threats have subsided, there´s still this idea that we need to protect ourselves and promote only those who are with us. That usually leads to a skewed notion of citizenship, where government services and jobs are given mainly to supporters, which has been widely discussed in the media. I think this is a problem which exists and could even get worse. This is a mild form of corruption but it could lead to more serious corruption.
NK: What is the logical conclusion from what you´re saying, could there be social unrest or even revolt?
GW: There´s a contradiction here in the ideology, which is supposed to be universalist, which is supposed to be inclusive of marginalized people, but in actual practice you see the exclusion of some people, of opposition supporters. So, it´s a contradiction that sort of hollows out the belief system, it makes people more cynical. The other thing is that it hardens the opposition. Even if the opposition is a minority, they become more and more willing to actively resist the government if they are completely cut out and cut off from any kind of participation in the social and political life in the country. That could lead to a situation like what we had in
NK: Chavez has been claiming recently that he´s been targeted for assassination...
GW: I think assassination is a real possibility because people in the opposition who don´t like the government, if they´re smart, they realize that everything is so dependent on Chavez that if they get rid of him they have a very good chance of coming back to power. But, they might also conclude that such a development could provoke total chaos in the country. I think analysts in the U.S. government know that, and maybe I´m being too optimistic or thinking too highly of them, but I kind of doubt they would be interested in total social unrest in Venezuela because that would threaten the oil supply. So that´s why I doubt the
Nikolas Kozloff, is working on a new book entitled South America´s New Direction, about the political realignment in