Venezuela and Europe: Towards a Different Kind of Politics

October 23rd 2007, by Liza Figueroa-Clark and Pablo Navarrete –
An interview with Rodrigo Chaves, Venezuela’s former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe. Conducted in June this year during a visit by Chaves to Europe.

How would you evaluate the Venezuelan government’s relationship with the European Union since Hugo Chavez came to power?

I think one has to understand the contexts within which the Bolivarian process has been developing. Principally, it has concentrated on Latin America and the Caribbean and that is where most of the effort has been directed. Secondly, one needs to understand that until 2004 we lived through a very complex and difficult period where the United States and countries such as Spain in Europe were directly involved in the conspiracies to destabilize Venezuela. Therefore, at the time, to think that Venezuela had a clearly defined policy towards the European Union is probably not the case. I think that beginning in 2004/2005 Venezuela began to overcome the aggressive conspiracy of the [April 2002] coup d’état, the business-owners strike, the [2002/2003] oil-strike, and it entered a new stage, a pro-revolutionary offensive where it began to move forward from a social, economic and cultural point of view, and in specific areas such as health, education, and employment generation. A real national development plan began to be created – irrigation system, roads, the construction of homes, the creation of human resources, and all the government ‘missions’ were created that deal specifically with each of the areas which had to be developed. It was intense work.

And from that moment the Bolivarian process also projected itself outwards. It was probably from the moment that the domestic opposition was defeated in the country, and with the recovery of the Venezuelan peoples’ social conscience, a very aggressive international media campaign began, as another means of attacking the Venezuelan process, and the Latin American and Caribbean processes. Therefore one could focus on that latter period. Beginning in 2006 we created a work plan for Europe which includes plans for individual countries and for the European Union. I can tell you that today, at this moment, we can say that many spaces have opened up in every country and in the European Union itself. We have focused on bilateral relationships, trying to identify people within the European Union but who are active in their own countries and who mainly act politically in their country, for example the European Members of Parliament themselves.

A recent report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in Washington D.C. says that by remaining neutral on the issue of Venezuela the European Union might be losing out on what could be important benefits emerging from a sharpening divide between the U.S. government and a progressive bloc of Latin American countries. What do you think about this?

I think that there are undoubtedly countries in Europe which are strongly influenced by the interests and opinions of the United States. But there are also a string of countries that have a capacity for constructive criticism, that have a capacity for self-determination in their decision-making. And we think that until now, in the European Union they have managed to – we’re talking about the European Commission and European Council, whose decision-making is made by consensus, not the Parliament- properly discuss the issues in debates about Venezuela or any Latin American or Caribbean countries. And we could say that until now what has been achieved is that even though they plan to write something on Venezuela, the discussion, the subject matter and the way things are approached has had a radically different focus between different countries, and that has allowed for the balance which today exists in the European Union with regard to Venezuela and many of our Latin American and Caribbean countries, to be in one way or another not biased towards a pro-U.S. position.

So the Venezuelan government isn’t worried that France’s new President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has openly expressed his admiration for the U.S., will try and make Europe take a more confrontational approach with Venezuela?

Venezuela has had a relationship with France regardless of Presidents. We know that President Chirac has a very close direct relationship with President Chavez, one based on a common understanding. We hope that with the new President of France this relationship is transferred with the same conditions and that we can continue to advance a respectful bilateral relationship such as the one we have had until now.

Now, President Chavez often speaks of working towards a multi-polar world. How does Venezuela’s relationship with Europe fit within this wider foreign policy strategy?

Multipolarity for us is a central element of our foreign policy. From the outset we define ourselves as anti-imperialists, and if we are anti-imperialists we must promote multi-polar relationships between peoples and governments. We feel that we have made a lot of progress in this area. Venezuela was a country where over 90% of its relationships in different spheres were with the U.S. Of course that was a totally perverse, unequal and unjust relationship. Today Venezuela has redefined its relationships with all of the world’s countries in a totally egalitarian and respectful manner. And today we are strengthening South-South relationships with entire continents such as Africa, with our own continent, Latin America and the Caribbean, and of course with Asia, with whom we have a close relationship today, with Eurasia, with countries such as Russia, Belarus and with Europe – and of course Eurasia is part of that great Europe. I would say we are intensifying our relations and alliances in an impressive way and I think that the balance at the moment is very positive in the relationship between Europe and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. And the role that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela plays within the process of Latin American and Caribbean integration, whether as a member of MERCOSUR, or as a friend of the Andean Community and CARICOM, is a very important one, fundamental even, in the construction of multi-polar relations.

Finally, does the Venezuelan government have a policy towards Europe’s social movements?
Yes, and I can give you concrete examples. In Great Britain one of our closest relationships is with the trade unions, with intellectual movements, with the university sector, aside from the political sector and the productive sector of the country. And that is how we are trying to develop things. Of course we are trying to respect the specificities and idiosyncrasies of each country. We don’t want to promote the construction of an artificial social movement, rather we want to strengthen and get closer to social movements that already exist in each country, be they worker movements, student movements, women’s movements, anti-imperialist movements, anti-globalization, or environmental, ecological and green movements. And that is the direction we are trying to move forward in, to build solidarity networks – not only for Venezuela, but for Latin America and the Caribbean, for all the processes that are taking place today in the South, that are trying to build a different world and create mechanisms for conducting a different kind of politics in the world.

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