Elias Jaua has been in almost every post in Chavez’s Venezuela.
Out with Hugo Chávez or with Nicolás Maduro, he has always been at the top of the power of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, in which he joined among the first.
He is one of the leaders sanctioned by the United States for what the government of that country considers the rupture of the democratic order in Venezuela.
Vice President between 2010 and 2012, has also passed through several ministries.
Of the last, the Education, was relieved by President Maduro in September, shortly after presenting at the congress of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) a proposal that demanded more internal democracy. Denies having been purged.
“20 years after the triumph of Hugo Chávez, when the country suffers a serious economic crisis and corruption scandals emerge from a time in which he was the protagonist, BBC World spoke with him in his Caracas office.
Is the country better or worse? What in 1998?
You can not do a linear analysis of these 20 years. There have been different periods. After the death of Comandante Chávez, we see that the opposition’s leadership totally ignores the rules of the democratic game and an economic aggression against the country begins that, without any doubt, has harmed the great achievements of the Bolivarian revolution. I am left with the fact that everything that the revolution has achieved in terms of rights and inclusion has never been achieved.
But Chávez also faced a lot of hostility from the opposition and a lot of international pressure, and yet the economy has never been so wrong. What has changed?
Chávez’s achievements came when we guaranteed political stability by winning the recall referendum in 2004. The Venezuelan leaders, opponents and revolutionaries have to work to guarantee a political stability that allows us to recover what has been lost in these six years. There has been almost a total war between the political factors and we have to resume the path of economic growth and social inclusion from that time.
Blame the opposition boycott, external aggressions … Is not the government responsible for any of the problems?
Of course, there have been mistakes. There is a structural problem of the Venezuelan economy, its rentier oil culture. Not having overcome it, and in some cases even having deepened it, is one of them.
The international organizations point out that, more than that economic war of which you speak, the problem of Venezuela’s economy is its mismanagement. Is the government managing the economy well?
On economic management there is always a whole debate. But there is a reality. Venezuela is currently denied access to the international market and suffers from obstacles to free trade, at least in the Western world. You have debts and frozen assets, including your gold reserves. No one can deny that we suffer economic aggression from abroad.
Another problem is the corruption that is now uncovering.
Corruption has done us serious harm. Returning to his question of our mistakes, without a doubt one was not having fought this structural scourge from the beginning.
And why did not you do it?
I will speak to you with all sincerity of those moments in the year 1999. The Commander Chávez arrived with all a matrix of opinion that assured that he was going to be a dictator. There was even fake news, as they are now called, about that. Inside the Bolivarian project, we debated whether a clean hands operation was to be initiated, but it was considered that this would affect the political stability of the new government and that our priority in that first stage was to address the emergency of poverty that existed in the country.
That is, who preferred not to get into that?
Chavez said that we should let the institutions act but that we should not put ourselves at the head of something that would appear in the world to be a witch hunt against the leaders of the past …
But Alejandro Andrade, treasurer of the Republic recently condemned in the United States for admitting bribes, was one of your own. It seems that you put people in front of the institutions that were not entirely reliable.
I am talking about 1999, when the institutions were still in the hands of the elite of the Punto Fijo pact (the pre-Chavismo system). It was a political decision and I think it was a mistake. Because we left intact the structure of corruption, especially the private sector, which is the great corruptor in Venezuela.
The cases of corruption millionaires in PDVSA, the state oil company, are they also the fault of the private sector?
Everything is from private sectors. The entire corruption structure of the private sector remained intact and its contacts within the State quickly corrupted weak officials. Now we are paying the consequences of these deviations.
You sat in that council of ministers. Were not they aware that this tremendous embezzlement of Venezuelan money was taking place?
In some cases, no. In others, when the president found out and there was evidence, he fought them. For the first time, Venezuela saw governors, generals and senior officials prosecuted. If we had known more, we would have acted, as we often did. In multiple times I had to inform the president of corruption and deviations, and I always found in him the disposition to dismiss these officials and let justice act. Chávez was always very respectful of the actions of justice. He never wanted to be an inquisitor.
And what failed? Because today we see that these characters are being judged in the United States, Spain and other countries, not in Venezuela.
They fled the country and were protected by the government of the United States, as happened with Andrade, the last case. Spain has also protected others with serious acts of corruption. We should ask ourselves about the responsibility of those governments that have protected the corrupt just because they declared themselves to be opponents. I wish we could prosecute them here and confiscate all the assets to create a large fund to overcome part of the difficulties facing our people today.
Six years ago Chávez appointed Maduro as his successor. Would he be satisfied with his management today?
That can only be answered by the commander and he is no longer with us. I can only answer for me, not for the commander. I do value Nicolás Maduro.
So do you think Chávez was right with him?
I value the effort that Maduro has made. In January, he will have achieved the constitutional term for which he was elected for in 2013, and he have done it against all odds, against all attempts to avoid it.
It is evident that he has managed to stay in power. I ask you if you thinks that his management is being beneficial for the country.
Each period has its own conditions. Let’s ask ourselves what things would have been like if Maduro had not been subjected to the whole process of destabilization in 2014 when he reached out for a national dialogue and found himself in response to the violence of that protest process called La Salida, if he had not suffered the foreign aggression … Governments must be valued in their context.
Again blaming others. Don’t you think that Venezuelans are tired of this speech?
I have mentioned some mistakes that have been made, the failure to overcome the oil rentier culture, the deviations of a group of officials that has caused much damage by corruption. Many times we have acted inexperienced in some areas of management. I recognize all that. But the essential problem is that Venezuela has been subjected to a great confrontation in the last six years.
Do you believe in Maduro as you believed in Chávez?
He’s been my fight partner for 25 years.
And also your leader?
Of course. He is the leader and the only political leader of the Bolivarian revolution, and I recognize him as such. This was stated by Chávez and also by popular vote twice.
That way of choosing a leader, in which the previous one appoints a finger to his successor, do you think the most healthy?
Chávez did not have time and in those circumstances it was the only thing that guaranteed the unity of Chavismo. But in the future, new leadership would have to come from the grassroots.
Did he choose Maduro because he was running out of time?
He made the decision to choose his successor because, in front of a surgery in an operating room, he had to leave a clear message to the revolutionary political force he had built. I do not know the reasons why he chose Maduro. I can imagine them. As he had been Chancellor [for several years], he was the one with the greatest international projection and one of the founders of the movement that had good relations with the entire political leadership. But it’s my interpretation, the commander never told us why he chose it.
Should not a new leader be elected in a more democratic way now?
Not right now. We have an acting president-elect and will soon assume a new constitutional term. New situations will come and then the chavism must choose his leadership by the bases of the movement, not only from the party. But that will be in the future. Maduro is now the leader, I want to make it clear.
You proposed it without success at the last PSUV congress. Why did not they listen to him?
I proposed it, not for President Maduro, but for the rest of the management. He told himself that it was not the time and the discussion was not allowed. I accept it, but it has always been an aspiration of most of the bases.
It does not seem very tolerant to close the door to debate, right?
Our party is in a situation of war and has rules to act in a situation like this.
I listen to you and it seems that democracy is suspended in Venezuela because he is at war
In Venezuela, democracy is not suspended.
In the PSUV?
No, the secret, direct and universal election is suspended. But there is internal debate.
But you proposal was not even discussed
It was said that we could not go to grassroots elections because we faced superior aggression and most of the national leadership shared that argument. I am in the PSUV and I respect its discipline.
Today, even some Chavistas affirm that the Maduro government is curtailing freedoms. Was that the reason you launched that proposal?
Do not mix things. In Venezuela there are elections, there is freedom of the press and of demonstration.
The elections are somewhat sui generis, so much so that the opposition does not accept to participate, and the United States and the European Union say that they do not fulfill the guarantees.
The elections are in accordance with the laws of Venezuela, and in the last ones, opposition candidates grouped around the candidate Henri Falcón participated, with a proposal totally contrary to ours.
But many opponents are imprisoned or out of the country.
A part of the opposition did not participate because they did not want to. Another one gathered around the candidate Henri Falcón with a proposal openly opposed to our project.
It raise suspicions that you stopped being a minister shortly after having presented that proposal at the PSUV congress. Did it have anything to do with you leaving the government?
Absolutely not. The president and I know why it happened.
Did you explain the reasons?
Let’s say it was an agreed decision. There are no ruptures. There are times when one wants to assume another role. The important thing is not me, but that the country closes the fracture between the political factors and builds a minimum program of national unity that recovers the political stability to be able to begin to recover the economy.
Does Maduro do enough to close those fractures with the opposition? He calls them “terrorists” and says they are “the extreme right”.
In the last year he has made many efforts for dialogue. I was a member of the commission that closed an agreement in the Dominican Republic that was positive for the country. The president acceded to almost all the points that the opposition demanded and the response there was to get up from the table and boycott the elections. Then Maduro called again for dialogue and released many people who had been arrested because of the political violence of 2017. The answer this time was a drone loaded with explosive C4.
Why do you blame the opposition if there has not yet been a court ruling?
It is public and notorious that the president burst an explosive charge in front of him.
We do not have a sentence on who placed it, but Fernando Albán, opposition councilor, died in strange circumstances while he was detained for his alleged involvement.
A drone full of explosives explored in front of the President of the Republic. I do not know what is more serious. They are two human lives and have the same value. What happened to Albán was a serious, sad fact, because if we have been involved in anything since the revolution, it has been to turn around the whole history of human rights violations in Venezuela. The mechanisms of inquiry and honest chavism were activated …
Is there an honest Chavism?
Chavismo is an honest force and we are most interested in absolute clarity.
The Attorney General said a few hours later that Albán had committed suicide. How could he know in such a short time?
It will have its elements, we should ask him. I talk about the feeling of Chavism.
And as a Chavista, do you think the government has given a satisfactory explanation?
The government immediately reported and activated the attorney general’s office.
But could the investigation be completed in such a few hours?
I do not have the legal elements or the evidence, but the prosecutor Tarek William Saab is a recognized defender of human rights and I have to trust him because I know his career.
What was the need for a National Constituent Assembly like the one created by President Maduro? Venezuela already had a National Assembly.
They are two figures provided in the Constitution. The country suffered in 2017 a strategy that sought to take it to civil war and in that strategy two fundamental public powers were occupied: the National Assembly and the Office of the Prosecutor.
Occupied? The deputies of the Assembly were elected at the polls by the Venezuelans.
It was occupied by a tendency that sought civil war, by an exclusive, racist and fascist elite that used the majority in the assembly to try to overthrow the president outside the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly was the only constitutional mechanism left to restore institutionality.
Do they have any activity now? There is little news about it.
It fulfilled its fundamental objective of preventing them from leading Venezuela into civil war.
I thought that a Constituent Assembly was formed to make a Constitution. Is not it going to be like that?
You can make a specific reform, ratify the current one or make a new constitution. In any case, it would be submitted to a referendum.
Again: will there be a new Constitution?
That is a decision that corresponds to the members of the Constituent Assembly.
And you, what are your plans for the future?
I will do a new postgraduate program and I will teach again. I’m a university professor.
I’m not leaving Venezuela. I am also santioned everywhere, I do not have many places to go (laughs).
Translated by JRE