Interview with Yonatan Vargas by Federico Fuentes
November 1, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The Bolívar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ) is a radical grassroots current that operates as a public tendency of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Largely set up by activists from the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) and Simón Bolívar National Communal Front (FNCSB), it has a presence in a majority of Venezuela’s states and members that have elected as parliamentarians, mayors and local councillors on the PSUV ticket.
In this interview, Yonatan Vargas, an member of the CRBZ international relations team, outlines some of the CRBZ’s views on current developments in Venezuela, including the rise in protests over basic services, the impact of sanctions, the debate generated by the new anti-blockade law and the upcoming National Assembly elections.
What can you tell us about the protests that have been occurring during these past weeks or months, which appear to be different to the protests of previous years as they seem to be largely occurring in small cities and regions that, in many cases, have traditionally voted for Chavismo. Could you give us an overview of what are the factors behind these protests, which in many cases are focused on the issue of access to basic services or petrol, and what they represent?
Firstly, from the homeland of the liberator Simón Bolívar and comandante Hugo Chávez, on behalf of the CRBZ, I would like to send greetings to all the peoples of the world fighting for democracy, independence from imperialism and for peace with social justice. At the same time, I would like to say thanks for your solidarity with our organisation, with the revolutionary process and with all of Venezuela in the face of all the attacks, assaults and interference we have faced from United States imperialism and a pro-imperialist, violent and terrorist opposition that does not respect international law or the constitution approved by referendum in 1999, and that refuses to recognise the will of the Venezuelan people.
It is important to note that the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela respects human rights and permits peaceful protests in accordance with its precepts and existing laws. The peaceful protests that have been taking place over access to public services and petrol have a context. It is important to point out that the deterioration in basic and essential services is due to the economic, trade and financial blockade that have been unilaterally imposed by the imperialist US government on Venezuela, along with problems such as inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, bureaucratism, indolence and corruption with the revolution. These are structural problems that we have not yet resolved, but which have been fully recognised by comrade President Nicolás Maduro in his speech to open the judicial year in the Supreme Court of Justice in January this year. This is a position that we firmly support and we have been proposing to the leadership the transformation of the public powers at all levels, with an emphasis on the municipal level. This, along with transforming the oligarchic and bourgeois state into a more democratic, participatory and protagonist one; the creation of a structural and systematic plan to fight corruption; re-impulsing and deepening social oversight; and greatly expanding the horizon of empowering people to build the revolutionary democracy we need to transition to socialism.
The situation with the petrol shortages is similar. PDVSA, the heart of the Venezuelan economy, has been a victim of internal corruption and the blockade. Various directors and two ex-presidents of PDVSA have been detained and processed for corruption. Currently, former oil company president Rafael Ramírez lives like an oligarch outside of the country off the money he robbed and looted from PDVSA.
CITGO, which is located in the US, is one of the main companies of its kind on US soil. It is PDVSA’s largest affiliate outside the country. It comprises a group of oil refineries, and distributes and sells petrol via a network of 5000 service stations across the US. It also commercialises lubricants and petrochemicals. PDVSA sells oil to CITGO, taking into account that its refineries are designed for handling Venezuelan oil, and CITGO acquires additives for PDVSA that are utilised in Venezuela to process petrol in the three large refineries that PDVSA owns. In January 2019, in an act of piracy and outright theft, the US government handed CITGO over to Juan Guaidó, a puppet of imperialism and neo-colonial governments. Guaidó wants to illegally hand over Venezuelan state property to oil transnationals. After the outright theft of CITGO, the social projects started by comandante Hugo Chávez in 2005 to provide attention to the poorest families in the US were paralysed and eliminated by Juan Guaidó.
PDVSA is currently experiencing a drop in oil production and is refining very little oil, virtue of the fact that it lacks the additives it needs to process petrol; additives it cannot freely purchase in the international market due to the blockade and that also cannot be sent via CITGO to Venezuela. Moreover, the fact that the technology our refineries use is US technology means we are dependent on them for replacement and spare parts for the oil industry, which, due to the blockade, we are unable to buy. This system was set up with the objective of gaining control over Venezuela’s oil for the US market, to control and utilise our country’s large oil reserves for its own economic and financial interests, and in their imperial wars against sovereign countries that refuse to subordinate themselves to US policies.
To finalise, revolutionaries should accompany the legitimate protests and just demands of the people, within the framework of the constitution and its laws; organise our capacities together with them, accumulate forces and jointly come up with solutions within the revolution that can allow us to improve people’s quality of life, in order to continue down the path towards our definitive independence. The CRBZ, as an instrument of thought and action, remains in a state of mobilisation with the people and revolutionary vigilance, in the face of attempts by the coup plotting right to use the demands of the people to promote violence and terrorist acts with the aim of destabilising the country and deposing the revolutionary government from political power.
Could you expand on how not only the US sanctions but COVID-19 and the divisions in the opposition have impacted on the rise of these protests?
The current situation in Venezuela, in terms of the state of its economy and the social pressure it is generating, can be largely explained by the blockade and the internal contradictions of the process.
The Bolivarian government has maintained a responsible position when it comes to measures to prevent and combat COVID-19. The number of recovered cases and the low numbers of deaths demonstrate this. Nevertheless, it is vital to unite our efforts even more to improve and relaunch the public health system to allow us to provide integral attention to our people, from prevention to cure.
The political opposition to the revolution is currently divided due to the loss of support resulting from the terrorist acts of 2014 and 2017 through to its current use of the National Assembly, in opposition to the constitution and ignoring a Supreme Court of Justice ruling. Today, the ultra-right, represented by Juan Guiadó, has become a minority with no connections to the popular masses. Nevertheless, private media outlets attempt to politically resuscitate him.
The peaceful protests that have occurred within the framework of the constitution and carried out by the people demanding responses to their problems, have taken place in areas governed by the revolution as well as in areas when the opposition govern. I can cite as examples the fact that the opposition govern in the states of Nueva Esparta, Anzoátegui, Táchira and Mérida, and in these four territories there is a complete absence of social policies by local governorships to attend to the people.
The opposition seeks to use the problems people face to push its own agenda. However, it suffers from a lack of territorial and sectorial political work that could allow it to connect with the people. On the contrary, in the collective imagination of the people, negative views towards the blockade are growing and they see how the ultra-right is systematically soliciting more coercive measures that violate the human rights of the population.
The media corporations portray the protests internationally as being systemic and having a national expression, when in reality they are not connected to each other; rather, they are specific protests in certain places over particular demands and problems the country faces.
Overcoming these problems will require a vision of the future and hope that needs to be translated into organisation. In this sense, the CRBZ believes that, together with the people and in perfect alliance with the Bolivarian government and the multi-centric and pluri-polar world, we can overcome the current situation that imperialism and the bourgeoisie have imposed on our nation.
A new anti-blockade law that was recently passed by the National Constituent Assembly has received criticisms from some quarters within the revolution. We have also seen differences emerge regarding the upcoming National Assembly election in December, with some pro-revolution parties establishing the Revolutionary Popular Alternative (APR) to stand candidates against the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Could you tell us how the CRBZ views these developments.
Our country has begun a big debate over a crucial issue that, as a legal, political and economic instrument, has the potential to open the horizon and allow us to take a qualitative and quantitative leap forward. I am talking here about the anti-blockade law.
Firstly, we need to take as our starting point the circumstance we face. In this sense, we cannot say that comrade President Nicolás Maduro is a traitor or has surrendered the Bolivarian, revolutionary, Chavista and socialist project. Moreover, there are sectors that, within the framework of this project, have certain constructive criticisms about the anti-blockade law. That is part of the debate. But our analysis has to be objective, taking into account all the spheres that interact in society; that is, our analysis has to be rooted in the reality we live in.
The anti-blockade law is completely legal and legitimate. Certain sectors have tried to install a manipulative discussion to divide and confuse the people. The anti-blockade law emanates from the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which has the backing of our constitution, in Section IX, Chapter III, Articles 347, 348, 349, and in line with what is established in Article 5. Moreover, it is vital to note that the law does not violate the fundamental principles of the current constitution.
As constituent power, the ANC, complying with the fundamental principles of the constitution, has approved the Anti-Blockade Law for National Defence and Human Rights. Actions and laws are reciprocally and dialectically conditioned by virtue of the circumstances they arise in. In our country, we have been approving new legal instruments. It is important to understand that, in a revolution, laws become a political weapon that can facilitate the possibility of stabilising the economy and finances, develop productive forces and promote foreign capital investment; all of which is useful and necessary for promoting production and the development of the country.
Moreover, the anti-blockade law will allow us to strengthen the state’s capacities, uniting all the public powers behind the central objective of defending the economy, social wellbeing and the right to integral development, with the aim of overcoming the unilateral coercive, restrictive or punitive measures imposed on the entire nation. What we need to do now is continue promoting a big debate between all Venezuelans about the entirety of the anti-blockade law, to comprehend its objectives, functions, capacities, reach, limitations and controls it is subject to. Now, the fundamental subject of the revolution, the people, have to guarantee its application through revolutionary vigilance, to advance and avoid distortions.
The circumstances that the national and international scene impose on us obliges revolutionary forces to guarantee unity, both in terms of tactics and strategy. It is of no use to go to battle dispersed; doing so means running the risk of losing. An alliance has emerged called the APR. As the CRBZ, we respect their decision to do so but do not share it. We are a current of thought and action within the PSUV. Therefore, we assume as our own the three components of the party established in the Red Book. I am referring to the general principles, programmatic basis and statutes of the party. In light of this, we ratify our membership in the PSUV and support the candidates of the Great Patriotic Pole.
Winning a majority of seats in the National Assembly is the fundamental task we face within the mission of recuperating the National Assembly and returning it to its rightful role as an institution at the service of the interests of the homeland; as an institution operating within the framework of democracy, understanding that debate, dialogue, consensus, dissent, negotiation and agreements are essential pillars in the struggle for revolutionary democracy and peace with social justice, while never surrendering to imperialism and its local operators.
At the international level, it is vital to count on an institutionalised NA at the service of the interests of the homeland. This will allow us to strengthen and deepen international relations with allied countries of the pluri-polar and multi-centric world, as well as allow us to confront the economic, trade and financial policies of the elites in power in the US, expressed in the unilateral coercive measures they have imposed on us.
The new assembly has to have as a fundamental objective the structural and systematic struggle against corruption. As the CRBZ, we believe that corruption should be declared a crime of treason, not just in words but with severe administrative and penal consequences.
Together with this, we need to open more paths for the struggle to oppose violence against women for more right for other sectors of society.
We also make a call to small, medium and large producers that the time has come to overcome the current economic model and replace it with one that progressively inverts the perverse logic of being an importing country, to convert us into an exporter, not of primary materials but manufactured goods.
With Chávez, with his values, his ideas and his political practice, with his project, which is also our project, with our dreams, we are heading towards a patriotic, ethical and democratic assembly.
Federico Fuentes is a national executive member of the Socialist Alliance. He edits Bolivia Rising and is part of the Venezuelanalysis.com editorial collective. From 2007 to 2010 he reported for Green Left Weekly from Caracas, Venezuela. In Caracas he was based at the Fundación Centro Internacional Miranda as a resident researcher investigating twenty-first century political instruments and popular participation in public management. He has co-authored three books with Marta Harnecker on the new left in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay. With Michael Fox and Roger Burbach, Fuentes is also the co-author of the forthcoming book Latin America Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism. It will be released in January next year by Zed Books. His articles have appeared on ZNet, Counterpunch, MRZine, Venezuelanalysis.com, Aporrea, Rebelión, America XXI, Comuna, and other publications and websites in both Spanish and English.