Venezuela President Maduro Talks Sanctions, Economy: Transcript

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro spoke to Bloomberg TV’s Erik Schatzker in an exclusive interview in Caracas at the Miraflores presidential palace. The comments have been translated from Spanish.

Q: Venezuela, a country of extraordinary resources and a rich history, has been a relevant player in global dialogue and an important partner of the United States. But today Venezuela is isolated with few allies and facing deep challenges to its economy. How can this be changed?

A: First of all, Venezuela hasn’t been and is not isolated. It’s the perception of the global media campaign. Venezuela has great friends and allies in the world. In Latin America, we have the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, very strong. In Africa, Asia… the world is more than the west. The west has to understand that the world is much more than that. In the United States, they have to understand that the world has grown. That the 21st century is now a multi-polar world. And we are articulated with the new emergent poles of development, with the new powers. And we aspire, hopefully, to reconstruct the relationships with the governing elite in Washington. Because our relationships with the United States as a society is good. Our relationships with the academic centers, universities, with the social movements, union movements, intellectual movements, with the United States society, are good. Our relationship is tense, with tension and with confrontation with the elite that governs Washington. We aspire someday to recompose the ways of dialogue, of understanding, of respect. And to once again have relationships of cooperation, with the United States as a whole. And with the sector of power, fundamentally.

Q: A major problem are sanctions. What you call “the economic blockade.” With them as tools, Trump’s administration held a policy that supported regime change in Venezuela. However, evidently you’re still here at Miraflores Palace. According to what you’ve seen in Joe Biden’s first five months in the White House, what’s your conclusion about the U.S. goals for Venezuela now?

A: We always have to remember, Erik, that we faced four years of the Trump administration, which were four years of direct aggression, of cruel sanctions, very cruel, and of damage to the Venezuelan economy and society. The politics that Donald Trump installed and left as a legacy against Venezuela are extremist politics, irrational. Right? That caused a complete rupture between the United States and Venezuela. And that has been very questioned by human rights organizations at the United Nations. As politics that have seriously violated the human rights of the Venezuelan population. According to surveys, more than 84% of the Venezuelan population rejects all the criminal, cruel sanctions. What we call the blockade, and economic and commercial persecution. Even the Venezuelans in Florida, who are said to be an opinion group who have influence in the United States elections, there was a survey at the Miami Herald, where 56% of Venezuelans who live in Florida reject all those coercive politics against our country. So… I believe that something like, can’t constitute a legacy that should continue. Hmm? President Joe Biden has arrived, making a proposal to the world. His first speech, on January 20th, he said that we don’t have to demonize anybody, in politics. I would say to President Joe Biden to stop, from the White House, from the Department of the State, the demonization of Venezuela. The demonization of the Bolivarian Revolution. The demonization of President Nicolás Maduro. And that, hopefully, we can find paths of proximity, of respect. Paths of mutual benefit, and paths that allow us to regularize relations between the United States and Venezuela.

Q: Have you seen any signals that indicate a different position by Joe Biden?

A: Do you want me to be sincere? Very sincere? There hasn’t been a single positive sign. None. It’s five months where, okay, they’re settling into power. The only different thing… the only different thing that might be heard from some spokespeople of the White House and of the Department of State, is that they agree with a political dialogue between Venezuelans. Without intervention, to look for democratic political changes in the country. That’s the only thing. But I would say it’s very shy, because the majority of Trump’s legacy is current. The financial persecution against Venezuela. The technological, industrial, commercial, oil, political persecution… is intact. There it is. The only thing that we can say, could be a small sign, is that there is a discourse that promotes that the opposition sectors who are very dependent on the United States’ money, very dependent on the USAID’s money, very dependent on the more than 1.2 billion dollars that have been handed over, that those sectors go to a dialogue table, a political dialogue, go back to politics again.

Q: There are senators and representative talking about a change in U.S.-Venezuelan relations. Do you think they can influence the White House and its policy?

A: I think there is an interesting debate in the United States, about the United States’ relation with Latin America and the Caribbean. About the disastrous Monroe Doctrine, which caused so much damage in the relationships during 200 years. About Donald Trump’s disastrous legacy, of aggressions, of coup d’états, of isolationism. I think there is an interesting debate concerning the matter of Venezuela. And what I say to all the political sectors — whether they are senators, whether they are representatives, governors, opinionators, intellectuals, the media — I tell them, “you must abandon the demonization that you make of the Venezuelan society.” They are mistaken in the way they demonize Venezuela. Venezuela is another reality, very different from the one that they intend to repeat every day, and to present in campaigns. Campaigns that cost thousands of dollars, of the taxpayers in the United States. They must abandon the demonization that they make of Venezuela, of our revolution — democratic, constitutional, peaceful — and of President Nicolás Maduro. To create real foundations, objective, credible, verifiable, of a process of negotiation to regularize the relations between the two countries. In terms of win-win, which is what we are aspiring to for a long time.

Q: Is it possible to have a win-win?

A: Absolutely. We’ve already shown that. Of course it’s possible to win-win. They know it in the financial sector, the bondholders. With whom we had an impeccable relationship, and they know it’s possible to invest in Venezuela, and win-win, as long as this whole persecution and these sanctions aren’t there. The oil sector knows it — who has invested in Venezuela, and who still maintains investments in Venezuela — that we can advance much more. The cultural sector knows it. The social sector. The political sectors know it. In the Obama era, we had permanent relations, of communication. In Obama’s last four years — it coincided with my first four years — we had permanent conversations with the Secretary of State, John Kerry. I met with John Kerry in several opportunities. We talked on the phone regularly. I spoke with President Obama in Panama, I remember, at the Summits of the Americas. The Under Secretary Thomas Shannon traveled to Venezuela regularly. So, those communication relationships allowed for a win-win, in the political, in the diplomatic aspects. Of course it’s possible.

Q: Mr. President, I’ve heard there were several attempts made by Venezuela to normalize relations with the United States during Trump’s administration in, for instance, 2027… 2017, sorry. 2018, 2019. Please, tell me about those efforts.

A: Yes, we always — since before Donald Trump was sworn in, on January 20th of 2017 — the current Vice President, Delcy Rodríguez, was the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Republic, and she was in Washington. In those days before the swearing in. She was at the Trump Tower in Washington The records are probably there. She met with many people who were close to Donald Trump. And since then, we maintained communications through different ways. The Trump administration, from day one, was a chaos. The White House, the Department of State. The Trump method is to disorganize everything and impose. To say something today and tomorrow say the opposite. The Trump method was imposed. And we always had communication with Donald Trump. I was about to meet personally with Donald Trump in September of 2018. When I went to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. We received the call from the White House. But we know about the pressures from John Bolton and from other officials around Donald Trump to avoid what he wanted to do, which was a meeting with me. If we had met, the story would have been different.

Q: Was he going to attend?

A: We were going to meet in New York. We coordinated over the phone, to have the meeting in New York. But in the end, the pressures were unbearable for him, for Donald Trump, and that contact was canceled. Then in 2019, and toward the end of his government, in 2020, before the elections, there were contacts in Mexico. The former Communications Minister of Venezuela, Jorge Rodriguez, currently president of the Parliament, president of the National Assembly…Jorge Rodríguez had multiple contacts with delegations that came from the White House. And, well, things were left unfinished. All of them, all of them affirmed that if Donald Trump won the elections, he was going to change the politics regarding Venezuela. That he was exhausted, stubborn, tired, of Juan Guaidó. That he repudiated Juan Guaidó, and believed that he had failed. That John Bolton and others had forced him to follow those politics, and that they had made him fail, and that they were going to change him. That was the message that they always gave us in private.

Q: You mentioned some talks, what was the goal behind them? Opening a line of communication? Reaching an agreement?

A: To open a pathway of communication, regularize the diplomatic relations. Well, reach a coexistence agreement, and of exchange. Reactivate the oil investments, and the US economic investments in Venezuela. Move forward with the regularization of the payment to the bondholders, with the resulting lifting of sanctions to the oil sector. Well, to advance in all the… in all the paths of a common agenda. That was the fundamental objective.

Q: In your opinion, did those efforts fail because of John Bolton’s influence?

A: Well, it was what they said, in private. They said that a large part of those efforts failed. Because of the disastrous influence of John Bolton, and of other officials, they said.

Q: So President Trump wanted to reach an agreement at the time?

A: That’s what his envoys said. He wanted to change the politics. What did they say? They wanted to change the politics. They considered that the regime change, and that trying to impose Juan Guaidó in Venezuela had been a failure, and they wanted to turn the page and start a new phase, that would start with direct negotiations with the government of Venezuela. That’s what they manifested. We’d have to see, well, what would have happened if they had won the elections. That’s a different story.

Q: In the last few weeks, your administration has granted house arrest to the Citgo Six. You’ve given the opposition two seats in the National Electoral Council and you’ve given access to the World Food Programme. Why are you taking those steps? For what purpose?

A: Well, first of all, each step has an explanation. The so-called Citgo Six were sent to their homes by the court that prosecutes them. The court that prosecutes them, prosecutes them for serious cases of corruption. And prosecutes them as Venezuelan citizens. They all are born, raised, studied, and with residence in Venezuela. They have a second citizenship. The United States citizenship. And they committed serious incidents of corruption. Detestable incidents of corruption in Venezuela, which are in the hands of justice. So, it’s not Maduro’s decision. It’s the Venezuelan justice’s decision, of the court that prosecutes them. Regarding the matter of the composition of the new National Electoral Council, I feel that it was a good political negotiation, with all the factors of the opposition, except for the extremist sectors. I think that it was chosen — in the new national assembly, in the new national parliament, which was installed on January 5th of this year, 2021 — a good national electoral council was chosen. Five rectors, which the five of them have started on the right foot, to organize the mega elections that we’ll have in Venezuela on November 21st of this year. I think that a good step was taken. And regarding the matter of World Food Programme, we have been working on it since three or four years ago. We’ve had a good relationship with David Beasley. You know, David Beasley is a very prominent man from the United States, who is the executive director of the World Food Programme. They’re already installed tin Venezuela, they’re working, they are very happy. I publicly thank David Beasley for everything that he’s done, and everything that he is doing for Venezuela. So, I think that… if you wanted to give an interpretation to these three events that you mention, you could say, is that the institutional and social life of Venezuela moves forward. Moves forward in a good direction.

Q: The new American government will insist on free and fair elections to lift sanctions. What measures are you willing to take to ensure Venezuela’s elections comply with those terms?

A: In Venezuela, it must be known: in 20 years, there have been 26 elections. Presidential elections, congress elections, national assembly. Elections for governors, for mayors, consultative referendums, for matters of national interest, including a referend– two referendums: one to approve the constitution, and another to try to reform it. So, there are 26 elections. Of those 26 elections, we have won 24 elections. There have always been missions of international oversight. Of international observation. In some cases, even, from the OAS. They’ve said that the Venezuelan electoral system is one of the most perfect ones in the world. That oversight. At some point, the former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, knowing the incipient electoral mechanism — digital, automated — of Venezuela, he said that he hadn’t seen a mechanism like this one in the world. That he considered it to be one of the most transparent and perfect in the world. That automated electoral mechanism, which has 16 audits carried out, before, during, and after the elections, has been getting better. It’s intact. Now, there is a negotiation — intense, diverse, with all the oppositions. In Venezuela there isn’t just one opposition. In Venezuela, the opposition is fragmented in several leaderships, in several parties. And today, while we’re talking, there are intense negotiations to expand the electoral guarantees. With a view to the elections, the mega elections, of November 21st. That is going pretty well, and I think that there will be good news very soon. New news, of new guarantees, for the mega elections of November 21st.

Q: So the November elections, in your opinion, will comply with the regulations required or desired by the American government?

A: I can’t speak for the government of the United States. In any case, I will tell you, Erik, that the electoral guarantees to promote transparent mega elections — trustworthy, verifiable — are going to be expanded. All the guarantees are going to be expanded. Based on the political negotiation that is taking place with all the factors of opposition. From there, there is going to be a good result. Now, let’s wait, to see what the government of the United States thinks. What I can tell you, Erik, is that we don’t do this because the government of the United States asks for it. We do it because it’s a constitutional obligation. Because it’s a political conviction that we have. And we do it because the country is fit for negotiating, to achieve agreements.

A: Okay, let’s leave the U.S. aside. Will these upcoming elections in November comply with international observers’ requirements?

A: Yes, all the factors are invited. Invitations were sent, once again, to important centers of political thought. To important centers of electoral specialists. To global organizations, like the African Union. The ASEAN, from Asia. The European Union. Well, international observers, from the United States. Etc., etc. Formal invitation has been sent. Who sends the invitation in Venezuela? Not the government. The electoral power sends it. The electoral rectors in Venezuela, there are five powers. The three classic powers of Montesquieu. The legislative power, the judicial power, the executive power. And there are two more powers. The civic or moral power, and the electoral power. So, in Venezuela, the one who governs the electoral processes, organizes them, and guarantees them, is one power. That power, with the new board which was product of the political negotiations — that power has already sent diverse invitations to the world. Everyone who wants to come, will be welcomed.

Q: Apart from that, are there any other issues you’re willing to compromise as an incentive for America to ease sanctions?

A: I believe that the sanctions are immoral. That’s the first thing. They are cruel. Very cruel for a country. And I think that… at a round-table of conversation, even if it’s private, the United States of America, the Biden administration, should accept it as such. Should see it as such. And… the sanctions are transformed — as the Human Rights Organizations says, the special reporter that came to Venezuela for the matter of the sanctions — the sanctions are transformed into a great violation of the human rights of the Venezuelan men and women. Furthermore, not only is it a cruel mechanism that causes suffering to the people, but it’s also a failed mechanism. Failed. Because all the sanctions, in an extremist and irrational manner, were applied by the Trump government against Venezuela, for a change of regime. And they didn’t achieve it. Nor are they going to achieve it. So, the sanctions should be recognized as illegal, irrational, extremist, cruel, and they should be lifted.

Q: In your opinion, Mr. President, it’s still all about American policy, but I don’t think the American policy will change without a change of positions from you.

A: Then it’s a closed game, Erik. Because we have our principles, our constitution. We have the right to life, to economic freedom, to commercial freedom. Venezuela, and the whole world, has the right to commercial freedom. There can’t be one country, that because of the control of the currency, and of the banking system, imposes to the rest of the countries of the world, what should happen in their country at a political level. Who should govern, or who shouldn’t govern. If that was established, Erik, it would simply be the end of the United Nations system. The end of the international law. No. The United States must recognize that an international law exists. That a multi-polar world exists. That another world exists. And furthermore, it must recognize — sooner than later — that what they are doing with Venezuela is a brutality, only comparable to the Vietnam War, and the massacre that they committed against the people of Vietnam. They are committing an economic massacre. Venezuela has the right to freedom to produce oil. To sell it. To obtain profits. To fulfill its international obligations. To maintain the life of the people. Venezuela has the right to produce gold, and sell it. Why aren’t we going to have the right to do that? Why is the right to economic freedom going to be taken away from us? Why? Someday, that will — I have faith. I am a man who believes in God very much. I am a man of prayer, and of action. And I have the faith, that someday that message is going to arrive, and it’s going to produce the changes that we need for a better world, a more human world. A world of respect.

Q: That’s a problem, because you obviously don’t want to keep living under those sanctions. Aren’t you willing to make any changes? I have to ask you this.

A: The changes in Venezuela are produced every day. But… there can’t be a relationship in the world, where I put a gun to your head and I tell you, “act the way I want you to, or I’ll shoot you.” You can’t put a gun to the head of the people of Venezuela, so that from the United States, they tell us what we need to do. We would turn into a colony. We would turn into a protectorate. We would kneel down, we would betray the magnificent historical legacy of these giants, like Simón Bolívar. No country in the world — no country, and even less Venezuela, is willing to kneel down, and betray its legacy.

Q: I’m looking for a window of opportunity. Does that exist?

A: The window of possibility is achieved if there is a reestablishment and normalization of the channels of communication. And through the channels of communication, the advancement in negotiations, in agreements, necessary for a win-win of both countries.

Q: When negotiations start, if they do, will you look for an all-or-nothing agreement or will you accept a gradual process?

A: I believe in political negotiations. I’ve made more than a thousand calls, for a political dialogue. The extremist opposition of Venezuela, under the command of Donald Trump, refused, since 2017, to establish a serious political negotiation. The times that we forced them — almost because of historical circumstances — to sit down at a table, they later got up and kicked it. With that experience, today a process of negotiation is being proposed, with the help of the government of the Kingdom of Norway, and the participation and observation of other friendly countries, of the world. That process is incipient. The first steps are being taken to establish a shared agenda of dialogue — shared, common, fair, egalitarian. And I believe that a dialogue and a negotiation must be progressive. It must be about progressive agreements, and incremental, that take us to a great national agreement, on the foundation of gaining trust with partial agreements.

Q: Do you trust Norwegian mediation?

A: Norway is helping. It’s not a mediator. Norway is helping the communication. I’ve always trusted Norway. They are very professional. Every time that the Norwegians have come to Venezuela, I receive them personally. I talk with them a lot. I gave them my assessment. We always give them a respectful treatment. A kind treatment. So, I trust the role of assistance that they are carrying out.

Q: Right now has there been any approach, not negotiation, but any approach or dialogue with American officials? Or not yet?

A: Not yet. Not yet. I hope that at some moment, that will be possible. Unfortunately, in the United States, the electoral policy is subject to a permanent extortion due to the voting in Florida. And there is a whole farce in the media of Florida, to extort about the Cuba matter, the Nicaragua matter, the Venezuela matter. And sometimes, it increases the difficulties, the noise, so that one can act with freedom in the United States. Practically every government that arrives to the United States, since 60 years ago, is kidnapped in its political will, by the extortion in Florida. Well, let’s wait. Now in 2022 there are midterm elections. Let’s wait, to see how those midterm elections influence the political will of the government of the United States, for our country.

Q: A big part of the world has a certain image of Venezuela. A country suffering a humanitarian crisis. A country as dangerous as Afghanistan. An essentially corrupted country that is losing control over its borders. With an authoritarian regime that imprisons the opposition and abuses human rights. That’s the image they have. Do you care about what that part of the world thinks?

A: Of course, I care very much. Because… that corresponds to a campaign that has been going on for more than 20 years. A campaign against a process that in Venezuela, was a historical process. It’s a historical process. It’s the Bolivarian Revolution. For the powerful of the world, for the powerful elites of the United States, and for the corrupt oligarchies of Latin America, the consolidation of an alternate process to capitalism and neoliberalism, isn’t convenient. Which has plagued America — as the liberator said 200 years ago — with misery, with oppression. Latin America has searched for its own path, and that must be respected. All the countries of Latin America have a history. We have a path. We have vindications. We have banners of struggles. And Venezuela has fulfilled its banners of struggle. Now, there is a virtual Venezuela, of a permanent campaign. There is a view of Venezuela in the media, where they repeat every day, every day; it’s astonishing. Astonishing, how much money is invested for campaigns against Venezuela, in all the countries of the world. In the United States, in Mexico, in Argentina, in Colombia, in Spain. There isn’t a country in the world, Erik — it doesn’t exist — where more campaigns are carried out, to try to stain the social, political life. Now, there is a version of Venezuela in the media, of the permanent campaigns, and there is a real Venezuela. There is a true Venezuela, that exists here. That has difficulties — we have difficulties, of course we have them: if we have the most powerful country in the world on top of us, conspiring, trying to kill me, trying to fill the country with violence. Is it new, Erik, that from the CIA, there have been conspirations for almost 60 years, against the processes of change of Latin América? That’s new? No, it’s not new. It was done against João Goulart in Brazil. It was done against Salvador Allende in Chile. It was done against Commander Hugo Chávez. They tried during 300 times, to assassinate the Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. That’s not new. Everyone knows that. So, we are victims of a permanent conspiracy. Both internal and international. Now, there is a real Venezuela that I can tell you about. There is a real Venezuela. Which works, which loves his country, which fights for his country. A democratic country, a country in peace. With difficulties? Of course. That we face them every day? Also. But a country that has a future, that has hope, and that little by little, will recover the path of the construction of the state of social well-being, that has been damaged as a product of these sanctions during these years.

Q: Are you telling me that nothing about that image reflects the country’s reality?

A: I’m telling you that there is a real Venezuela which is very different from the whole international campaign. In the international campaign, they sometimes try to invent lies. They invent them, and they repeat them a thousand times. Other times, they try to magnify problems that the country has. And they magnify them. And convert it into a spotlight. A spotlight, for example: a problem with a Colombian drug trafficking group, in a section of the border. They come and say, “Venezuela lost control of its borders.” So, they magnify it. And they repeat it a million times. And the New York Times publishes it, El País of Spain publishes it, the Semana magazine of Bogotá publishes it, and they repeat it a thousand times. Go to the border. We have a huge border with Colombia. We’ve been victims, during 60 years, to the Colombian war. To the Colombian drug trafficking, to the smugglers. But there is a border there, under the state’s control. Oh, in combat? Of course; in permanent combat. We’ve guaranteed, Erik, across our entire border, to declare our border free of cultivation of drugs. Free of production of drugs. Take a look: on the Venezuelan side, when barely a few kilometers into the Colombian side, it’s the kingdom of drug cultivation, the kingdom of drug production, the kingdom of trafficking. So, well, the campaign that is carried out against Venezuela tries to magnify problems, to invent problems, and to try to permanently — it’s what I tell you, Erik; like in no country in the world — magnify and stain, with that magnification, the situation of a country that has its difficulties, but also has its spirit, its courage, its strength. And that we’re in search of the future, with a lot of precision.

Q: You mentioned your border with Colombia. Do you think those problems represents a threat to Venezuela’s sovereignty?

A: They have always represented a threat to the sovereignty. They form part of the project to fill with violence all the towns on the border. Take a look at what was attempted that 23rd of March of 2019. No? Almost with the presence of the President of Colombia, Iván Duque. An invasion against Venezuela, with the — through the international bridges. That has been permanent politics, to try to violate and to fill the whole border with violence. Now, that has filled our country with a great consciousness, about the need to protect our border. To exert permanent sovereignty. We have to look at — look. 80% of the cocaine that arrives to the United States, where does it come from, Erik? From Colombia. Has that decreased in the last years or decades? No. All that does is increase; every year it increases. The hectares of production of coca leaves. The tons of production and exportation toward the United States, of cocaine. If the United States, with that police, military power that it has, is violated in its sovereignty with the exportation of cocaine from Colombia, imagine the threat that we face every day, having more than 1,200 kilometers of direct border, territorial, with Colombia. Imagine that; just do the math.

Q: What’s your next step regarding this conflict?

A: Well, our step is the permanent military, police, vigilance in the border territory. We have —

Q: You’re not thinking of a change of strategy?

A: With who?

Q: Well, with the parties involved. Principally, the Colombians, the guerrillas, others. It’s a…

A: Well, we’ve been very clear, and we’ve sent a direct message to all the irregular armed groups. Whoever they are, they must abandon the Venezuelan territory. It’s more than 1,200 kilometers of border. We’ve sent the message — and we are permanently in military operations. They are called Bolivarian Shield operations. We carry out large military, police deployments, to be constantly monitoring the border. The ideal thing would be for the President of Colombia, and the government of Colombia, to communicate with us. That we would have relations, for being neighboring countries, bordering, with such a large border, and to be able to coordinate the surveillance of the border. Because the border of Colombia is completely orphaned, completely abandoned. Fact accepted by all of the Colombians. They abandoned the border with Venezuela 60 years ago. The ideal thing would be a serious communication – serious, professional, respectful — but, unfortunately in Colombia, a little Trump is in charge. A little Trump. An heir of Donald Trump is in charge. Iván Duque. A right-wing extremist. Who, by the way, carried out an electoral campaign favoring Donald Trump, against Joe Biden. And he is, well, an irrational man. Full of hate toward Venezuela, who has broken all the channels of communication, and who does not allow the coordination of such serious events as the situation of safety at the border. So, we will continue acting in this way, and I hope and aspire to, that someday a new government will arrive in Colombia, that will put its feet on the ground, with a cool head, will be capable of coming to an understanding again with those of us who govern in Venezuela.

Q: It’s noticeable here in Venezuela, that there have been economic changes, a reopening. Please describe to me what you’re trying to achieve with policies, such as the elimination of price controls, the liberalization of the exchange market, the facilitation of imports, reduction of subsidies, and the incentivizing, excuse me, of the private sector…

A: Look: I believe that… we have had to react with a broad vision, to the economic aggressions. I always tell you, Erik, and I’ll say it again: if the restrictions, the sanctions, the persecution, of the bank accounts, of the finances, of the economy, of the oil production, that were applied to Venezuela, were applied to another country of the world, what would happen? What would they do? That’s what we should ask ourselves. Look at the globe, point to another country, and see what would happen. How that would affect their reality. Well, Venezuela has had to declare a war economy. We are acting on a war economy. And to favor the development of all the productive forces. All the productive forces that Venezuela has — which are not few — to favor. Today, we can say that we are on track for the development of those productive forces, little by little, but at a good pace. In the past, Venezuela imported 80% of all its food. Today, Venezuela is producing 80% of the food of the nation, here, in Venezuelan soil. It’s a radical change, very powerful. See? Venezuela is beginning to recover — with its own might, with its own effort — the oil production. We have big goals for this year. To reach 1.5 million barrels of oil production. Those are big goals. For the second semester, we’ll have to accelerate the process. But we’re on track. Venezuela created a cryptocurrency: the petro. And it created a system of operation of the global cryptocurrency, which has allowed — well, for many people to carry out commerce, national and international, and it’s opened a window for the consumers of Venezuela. We’ve taken other measures, like allowing the operation of the dollar, for commercial exchange, which has been — I say — very positive. Venezuela has its currency, the bolívar, and sooner than later, as a product of the economic recovery, of the recovery of the wealth, sooner than later, the bolívar will once again occupy a strong and preponderant role in the economic and commercial life of the country. But, this measure that you were able to interpret, of liberalization of the use of the US currency, and of the foreign currency in the commerce, has been a useful escape valve for the consumer. For the entrepreneurs. For the economy. So, we’ve had to swallow hard, to cool our heads, and develop a group of policies that allow the productive forces of the country to take a path, and take us to a situation that, hopefully, is consolidated in the second semester, which is to return to economic growth. Go back to the path of economic growth. All the elements that we are analyzing in the economy indicate that this year, Venezuela goes back to the path of economic growth. And from here, with the new post-income economy that we’re building — without depending on the oil income, but with the integral economic recovery — that we can have an economy that generates wealth, and that invests in the recovery of the state of social wellbeing of the nation of Venezuela.

Q: So those policies, those reforms only exist because of the sanctions, and they wouldn’t exist without the economic blockade?

A: The economy is a reality. There are things that exist as a product of the sanctions. And that once they are overcome, like the currency matter — well, the principal currency of Venezuela, the currency of legal tender and constitutional, the bolívar, will prevail in the commercial functioning. It’s an economic reality. At the moment that Venezuela recovers its revenue, its wealth, the currency — and the foreign currency, as always, will continue circulating, at different levels. And cryptocurrency. Because we have to take into account that Venezuela was a pioneer in the path of setting out that cryptocurrency is a monetary reality, commercial, financial. We were pioneers in that, three years ago, with the creation of our cryptocurrency, the petro. So, there are measures that are explained, as a product of the economic suffering. As a product of the economic war. And that once we start overcoming some of those elements, well, the same economic reality will change the situation.

Q: Why don’t you accept Bitcoin as money just as El Salvador did?

A: No, bitcoin circulates in Venezuela. In Venezuela, all the cryptocurrencies circulate. You can calmly combine currency and cryptocurrency. You can, from Venezuela, calmly have euros, dollars, yuan, Russian rubles, or bolívares, and buy any cryptocurrency. You can have petros, and change them to dollars. Or you can have petros, and change them to bitcoin. So, bitcoin was received in Venezuela. We are the pioneer country of the world, upon receiving bitcoin in the commercial and economic operation of the country, in the year 2018. Three years ago already.

relates to Venezuela President Maduro Talks Sanctions, Economy: Transcript

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, speaks during an interview in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday, June 14, 2021.

Photographer: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg

Q: How far are you willing to go with this reopening?

A: Well, we have a well-defined economic model, in the Simón Bolívar National Project. And in the Fatherland Plan 2025, which is the government program that I presented in 2018. There, we have a model for the integral development of the productive forces of the country, which also involves the operation of all the private investment. We have reinforced this, you must know, Erik — I don’t know to what point, how well-informed you all are about the anti-blockade law. Last year, we approved a law that favors the presence of international investors from all the countries of the world, in all the sectors of the Venezuelan economy. The anti-blockade law is a liberating law. And it’s a guaranteeing law, that gives — sorry for the repetition — guarantees to the investors, to go deeply into the investment and the economic growth of Venezuela. About that matter, well, you know that it’s not much that I can inform, for reasons of state security. If I were to tell you now, that we have 300 investors, who… in their investment portfolios, bring more than $25 billion, and I were to tell you who they are, where they are, what they’re like, tomorrow, the OFAC would pursue them, would call them, would threaten them, or would sanction them. What I can tell you, is that anti-blockade law already proved — in practical terms — its usefulness. And furthermore, it clearly points out a path for the development of the economy and the generation of wealth, which is the most important thing in this whole stage.

Q: Up until now, many of the reforms are provisional or informal, if one important part of the objective is to attract capital to the Venezuelan economy, why not make them laws to create the certainty that investors want?

A: Right, Erik, look: your question is as if in Venezuela there weren’t guarantees for foreign investment. In Venezuela, from the constitution, to all the laws of economic character, give full guarantees to bring investment. To take care of the investment. They give full guarantees, since before the sanctions. And since before the current situation.

Q: Sorry, I’m talking about reforms like the exchange market, or reforms that have to do with the price controls. They make up an important part of the country’s economic motor. And in total it’s the economic environment, and that’s why I want to know if at the moment you will make them formal and permanent.

A: The clearest message that I can give you, is the approval of the anti-blockade law in Venezuela. If an investor wants to know what Venezuela has established to guarantee the path of international investment, they should read, study it and assume the anti-blockade law. It’s one of the most guaranteeing laws there are, to open the pathways of investment, for the development of the productive forces of the country, for the generation of wealth within the framework of the social state of justice of law, that our constitution establishes. That’s why I tell you: the path we’ve already been on, of guarantees, that during 22 years the Bolivarian Revolution has given the foreign investor, including the guarantees that Commander Hugo Chávez created, the guarantees that I’ve also reinforced — to that path we’ve already been on, we’ve given a step — as a product of the economic war, as a product of the situation that we’ve faced, these cruel, brutal sanctions — we’ve given a step of creating the anti-blockade law, which has truly been a necessary step: very solid, very coherent, and very bold.

Q: In all of this, is there a message you want to send to everyone, to specific industrial sectors?

A: Well, the message that I send to all investors, is to come see Venezuela. To come get to know us. To come. So that you can see the impact that you’re going to have when you cross the airport, when you get to know our entrepreneurs, when you get to know our human qualities, when you get to know the potential that we have in tourism, in oil, in petrochemistry, in refining, in heavy industry. Well, in… in iron, in bauxite, in gold, minerals. In technology. Well, and a world of opportunities. Venezuela — I tell you, Erik, and you can prove it as you go, through the years, you’ll remember this thing that I’m going to tell you — Venezuela is going to become the land of opportunities for investment, present and future. All the conditions needed are here, for the country to have a new takeoff, on new foundations, for the development and for investment to fulfill what we’ve talked about: the win-win. We guarantee that here. We — I always say. We’re real, Erik. I’m here, in this presidential palace. You’re here with me, in office number one; the principal office of the President of the Republic. Behind you is the sword that Simón Bolívar used at the Battle of Carabobo 200 years ago. There is the liberator sword that the people of Lima gave to the liberator Simón Bolívar in 1825. I’m here, because I’m real, and because I express a force that is real, democratic. Nobody has given us anything. Nobody has given us — I wasn’t placed here by a marketing campaign, or a group of oligarchs or powerful men, or a foreign invasion. No, I wasn’t pla– I was placed here by the popular vote. And Commander Hugo Chávez arrived to this presidential palace, as the first revolutionary president. , he arrived from the popular vote. So, we are real. We have a clear thinking. A clear doctrine, a clear program. Any person that sees us in the world, any investor, knows what they are dealing with. Knows that we are people who keep our word. That we truly fulfill when we make an agreement. Now, that we suffered four years from an irrational and cruel campaign of attack in the Trump administration against us — which caused — that caused a lot of damage. It left wounds. Okay, we’re going to cure those wounds. We’re going to cure those wounds. And that everyone who wants to get to know Venezuela, does it first-hand. Don’t let them tell you about it; come here, so that you know the truth of Venezuela. With its difficulties, but most of all with its potential.

Q: It will be difficult to impossible to re-energize the economy without access to international capital markets. Difficult. Will that require a restructuring of your foreign debt? Surely.

A: That’s right.

Q: What would be a reasonable discount for your creditors?

A: Look. We are good payers. We’ve paid all our obligations, until the cruel and irrational sanction politics came. We got to a point where — in the stage where we still had important revenue, that the sanctions hadn’t caused as much damage as they later caused, where we were impeded from paying, because our bank accounts were frozen. In New York, in Europe. There came a point where they eliminated all our bank accounts. If I had here today, the payment for our creditors, for the creditors of the Republic — if I had right now a bag of dollars here, $17 billionthat they’ve stopped collecting, as a product of the brutality of the sanctions, I wouldn’t be able to pay them, because there are no bank accounts in the world that accept deposits from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. I wouldn’t be able to pay them. So, it’s been insane what’s been done. Venezuela has been a good payer, and Venezuela has been a good partner, regarding the financial agreements. You’ve asked a question. Look: could the development be achieved, without access to the capital market? It’s a structural question. We have asked it. Could it be achieved, without access to the capital market? And the capital market is governed by the International Monetary Fund, by the World Bank. And the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, is governed by the United States of North America. We have an answer to that.

Q: I understand, and I’m talking about a different world. A world, a moment in which you can pay. Will you pay the whole amount or restructure?

A: Look, we’ve declared a renegotiation of the debt. And we are in contact with all the bondholders. They know that we want to pay. It’s our obligation and our duty. And we have a plan to make a reorganization and generate the resources, that in a progressive way go toward a normalization in the levels of payment. Now, that merits that the holders achieve basic conditions with the government of the United States. With the western powers of G7, so that Venezuela can have access to the bank accounts. So that Venezuela can have access to those capital markets, so that Venezuela can regularize. That’s why I say to you, if I had here the $17 billion that we owe at this moment, that we weren’t able to pay because of the sanctions, I wouldn’t be able to do it. So, there are many things to change. There are many things to change. Nobody can accuse Venezuela of being a cheat. Of being a bad payer. We always pay. Since 2013, as President, until 2018, we paid approximately $64 billion. Now Venezuela has to produce them, because if Venezuela can’t produce oil and sell it, can’t produce and sell its gold, can’t produce its bauxite and sell it, can’t produce iron, etc., etc., and in the international market it can’t manage to have its money, where is it going to get money to pay the holders that have the Venezuelan debt? So… this world has to be changed. These situations have to be changed. And we have to achieve a situation where we can regularize that relationship. I’m willing to regularize it. I have the plan. Our Executive Vice President, Minister of Finance, has presented the plan to the holders. They know that we are willing. They know that our plan is viable. That our plan is viable. And furthermore, it’s very bold. It’s very smart. And that the financial engineering that we’re proposing to build, has viability. So, well, let’s take the steps that we need to take to regularize that relationship.

Q: Mr. President, I understand you’re thinking of or preparing a program of privatization in various sector, and I want to know what sectors you’re focused on.

A: No, that doesn’t exist.

Q: It doesn’t exist?

A: No. One thing is privatization. And that’s not in our plans. And another thing is association in win-win investments, for the boost, the development of productive forces in economic sectors of the country. In that sense, yes, with the anti-blockade law, we have very clear proposals, where the state — with some companies — creates alliances based on economic development, on the financial development, on the commercial development of those companies.

Q: Many of the reforms you’ve announced are radical. And they are unpopular in certain sectors of your own Party. What can you say to those who don’t support your plan?

A: I think that we have to work for Venezuela, between all of us. And like that, we’ve been transparent. With just one face, one piece. Just one piece. To lay out to all the Venezuelans — to all of them, without distinguishing, whether they are Chavista, Bolivarian. Whether they are opponents, of the oppositions that exist, or whether they are independent. We have to work for Venezuela. For its integral recovery. Everything that we do is for the real recovery. For the real development of the country. For the emergence of a new economic model, that surpasses the oil rentier, the oil dependency. That generates wealth, and that satisfies the needs of the Venezuelan population. So, I believe that that bet — on that bet, we all have to play. Whether they are from one group, or from another group. And I act there with absolute transparency, and honesty. What I’m looking for, for the country, is the construction of a new economic model. Viable, in the midst of a brutal economic war. And I’m sure, because I’m seeing that we can achieve it. And in the course of these years that are coming up, we are going to achieve it.

Q: The economy has produced some benefits, we’ve talked about those benefits, like in the availability of basic products. However, a majority of the Venezuelan population doesn’t earn money in dollars and the official minimum salary is still 10 million Bolivars per month, it’s very little, like $3 per month. I am talking about the basis for your support, how much would be a fair salary for them?

A: The fair salary would be to rescue the state of wellbeing that we had, until 2014. In 2014, Venezuela — with its economy functioning, and without these criminal sanctions — had the highest minimum salary of Latin America and the Caribbean. That was so since 2004. Venezuela had the highest minimum salary. And the guarantees of its social rights. Today, we’ve guaranteed, with the revenue — look at the fact that we had a loss of 99% of the revenue. No country in the world would endure this. And with barely 1% of revenue, compared to 2014, we’ve maintained and we’ve guaranteed to our people their right to a home. To the construction of a home. We have the world record per capita of construction of homes. Social. We’ve guaranteed free and quality public education. We’ve guaranteed public health. And in the pandemic, we’ve guaranteed the care for our people. And, well, we’ve been able to manage the situation, faced with the pandemic. We’ve guaranteed — still important — the generation of employment. Now, where we are most hit, Erik — the largest hit that our nation has received, is in its revenue. And we, well, have policies that allow revenues to be increased through technology, the Fatherland card. We have policies to guarantee food, through food programs called CLAP, and we have policies to guarantee the social rights to the people. With the economic recovery, with the recovery of the economic growth, and with the recovery of the revenue, we are going to recover the state of wellbeing that we had, that we built, and we are going to recover the revenue. That’s like an obsession that I have here. And we’re going to achieve it.

Q: Why not dollarize the economy?

A: No, I don’t believe that we have to hand over the economy to another currency, that like the dollar, has a very… very dominating system of control, from the United States. The countries that have dollarized lose their economic independence. They lose their capacity to maneuver. One thing is for the currency to be able circulate, and be used for commerce, with a high degree of participation, and another thing is for the currency to be the official currency of the country. First of all, the constitution impedes it. The constitutional concept of economy is based on the monetary sovereignty. And I think that’s the most correct thing, it’s the right thing. The bolívar, well, must be recovered. And in the moment it’s recovered, it will once again be — will fulfill the role that it has to fulfill, and the international currency and cryptocurrency will continue operating as currency of aid in the commercial operation of the country.

Q: When the Bolivar recovers, would you close or put… sorry I don’t know the word, but I want to know if at that moment you will remove or impose controls over foreign currencies more than you do now?

A: I think that we have to wait for the moments to arrive. Because in the economy, it has a lot of the development of the moments. Ten years ago, we would have never imagined the things that we’re living today. Never. Or six years ago, maybe. The reality itself pushes one to make decisions. Let’s wait for those moments to arrive. That’s why I tell you, economy has a lot to do with reality. With recognizing the reality. And recognizing the reality, well, one — with the economic thinking, of the project that we have, of the constitution with the legal obligations — makes the decisions at their moment.

Q: As you know, COVID is still a plague in this country. I went to the main center of vaccinations at the Alba Hotel here in Caracas and they had only 1,000 doses available. How can you fulfill your promise that 70% of the population will be vaccinated in September or October? Because right now, mathematically speaking, that’s impossible.

A: We are obtaining the country’s vaccines in a progressive way. Now, facing — as you know — an unprecedented persecution. Sometimes I ask myself: does the President Joe Biden know about the decisions and the persecution against Venezuela so that it doesn’t acquire vaccines? Does the President Joe Biden know about the freezing of funds that Venezuela has paid to acquire vaccines through the COVAX system, to the World Health Organization? Those are questions that I leave you with. Does the President Joe Biden know? Is he the one responsible for that cruelty? What I do tell you is, we are going to fulfill. And we are going to obtain — through the paths that we are dealt, in silence, we are going to obtain the vaccines. And just as we’ve taken care of the health of our country, in a successful way, during these 15 months, we are going to fulfill this goal that we’ve proposed to ourselves by the month of October. We are going to fulfill it.

Q: At the Caracas Airport you can see three clocks on a wall. One shows the time in Caracas logically. The two others are Moscow and Beijing. Why Moscow and Beijing? What does that mean?

A: They are… it’s a very modern airport. It’s the world of the 21st century. The world of the future is in Asia. We have to recognize that. And Moscow —

Q: In the hands of Moscow — of Russia and China?

A: The world of the future is in Asia. China is a superpower, a great power. A power of peace, furthermore, that isn’t invading countries. That isn’t sanctioning countries. And Russia is a superpower that has emerged, also of peace, who has carried out an impressive development in the last 20 years, for the post-Soviet Russia. One has to see what Russia was 20 years ago, and one has to see the huge power — financial, commercial, economic, industrial, technological, military — that Russia is. So, I think it’s fine. Maybe that is lacking the time in India. Maybe it’s lacking the time in Madrid. And maybe it’s lacking the time in New York. I’m going to have them add it.

Q: Right now, Mr. President, Which bilateral relationship is more important, more solidarity for you and for Venezuela?

A: We have extraordinary relationships of goodwill and solidarity in Latin America, with our sister Cuba. Cuba really plays a fundamental role in all the social plans of Venezuela. And in the medical support, in the health support. We have — at the level of other countries — extraordinary relations with Russia, in the oil field. In the technological field. Agricultural, commercial, financial, military. We have extraordinary relations of strategic association with China. Deep. Diverse. Which really — I always say, and I say to President Xi Jinping. I sent him a card for his birthday now, and I wrote to him: the relations between China and Venezuela are truly models. They could be examples for the relations between other nations of the world, because they are relations of mutual respect, of cooperation. Of siblinghood. China is always on the lookout of Venezuela, to see what is needed. At a health level, China has been fundamental in the fight against the pandemic. We have excellent relations with India. Historical India. India which is the sanctuary of the world. Really. We have excellent relations with Turkey, as well. Well, and with many other countries of the world. They are relations based on respect. On respect for the idiosyncrasy, the identity, the independence. The auto-determination of the nations. Nobody wants to impose anything on us, from these countries, nor do we want to impose anything on any other country. That is the kind of relationship that has to be constructed. Someday, Erik, your country — the United States — your governments, and our country Venezuela, will have relationships of that kind. Someday. That will arrive.

Q: If you are able to normalize and revitalize the relationship with the United States between Venezuela and the United States, what will happen with the relationship with Iran? Or with Russia? Or with China? Because they aren’t very compatible.

A: I think that that world, of the Cold War, must be left behind. Very far behind. I don’t agree with creating blocs, and putting blocs to compete in the world. I believe that the nations of the world must cooperate freely. We can have extraordinary relations with a nation of the majesty and the historical patrimony, like the Persian nation. The Iranian people. Excellent. It’s a nation of peace. A nation with an admirable culture. We can have excellent relations with the millenary nation of China. With the nation of Russia, of India, of Turkey, of South Africa. Of Spain. And have excellent relations with the nation of the United States and with its government. We reject that from the United States, they want to force the countries of the world, the independent countries, to — in order to have good relations with the United States — to be enemies of China. To be enemies of Russia. To be enemies of Iran. That world of Hollywood, that world of comics, that world of the Cold War, must stop. It must be left in the past. There must be a world of respect, of intercultural dialogue, of dialogue of civilizations, of political dialogue, of dialogue of religion. Another world. How much longer are they going to take us to a world of the Cold War? That must pass already. That thing which happened now in the G7, that they approved a statement against China, is truly condemnable. It’s detestable. It can’t be that the G7 meets — seven powerful western countries — to attack China. To say that Russia is a threat. Where do they want to take us? That is how wars start. That’s how they start. Seeing threats where they don’t exist. I… if there’s something I can tell you, Erik, is that our doctrine, the doctrine of the liberator Simón Bolívar, in the field of diplomacy, it’s a doctrine of the construction of a multi-polar world. Of a balance of the universe, and of respect. Most of all, in the 21st century. Nobody can aspire — in the 21st century — to a single nation being the owner and ruler in the world. That idea of hegemonism, that imperial idea, that’s over. And you know who knows this, more than myself? More than myself. Much more than myself. You know who knows this?

Q: Who?

A: The people of the United States. That youth from the United States. Who flooded to vote against Trump, and for Joe Biden. That youth, who flooded to the streets after the murder of George Floyd. Those want a world of peace. That youth doesn’t want to go to more useless wars, for oil. That youth wants a world where there is respect, not only for the culture of the world, but also respect for being from the United States. That world is going to arrive. You’re going to see it. It’s already in the conscience of the people. And I see it, very clearly. I know the United States very well. I’ve traveled a lot to the United States, Erik. I’ve driven with my wife. I’ve driven in New York. I myself have driven. New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia. The whole east. I’ve driven in Miami. I’ve had a little drink and I’ve danced salsa on Calle Ocho of Miami. I know the United States. Atlanta. I’ve gone to the place where the remains of Martin Luther King are. And all those neighborhoods, I’ve gone through them. I like the United States; I admire them. I really admire the NBA; now I’m attentive to the finals. Of the games. Yesterday Phoenix beat Denver, and they ejected Jokić from the game. Did you see the game? It’s admirable, the game of the NBA. The Major Leagues; I don’t miss a baseball game. We admire and like the United States. What we don’t want is to be anybody’s colony. Be anybody’s slaves. We want to be free men. We want to be a free nation. And as a free nation, have successful relations, friendly, with the United States.

Q: As you know, there’s lots of international interest in the boats that are transiting from Iran. What can you tell me about that?

A: Well, I can tell you that I’ve seen the news, in the international media, and… well… I think that Iran has the right to navigate through any sea. The United States takes war ships to the seas of the world, to the oceans. Here in Venezuela, last year, they placed — in our territorial sea — two war ships. We protested. So, if the United States has the right to navigate all the international seas, Iran also has that right. All the countries of the world that can do it, have the right to — based on the international law — navigate any sea.

Q: Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the biggest petroleum countries in the world, but production has fallen to almost 2.5 million barrels per day in 2015 up to around 500,000 barrels, possibly more per day. What level can you recover?

A: Venezuela can achieve up to 5 million barrels of production. We have the infrastructure. What we need is the investment. We’ve been pursued. They don’t lend us a single dollar, in any bank, to invest in oil. They don’t lend money to any private Venezuelan company to invest in oil. So, that’s a substantial investment. And furthermore, an absolute blockade was imposed on us, for the sale of Venezuelan oil. We lasted 14 months without being able to sell a single drop of oil, Erik. 14 months. Now, well, we are reconstructing the investment. We are recovering the wells. We are recovering the production, and we are recovering the international commerce. In the middle of serious sanctions. Because we don’t have to forget. Because it’s very easy to say in the news, “Venezuela, the country which has the largest oil reserve in the world, who used to produce 3 million barrels, now produces 500,000. It’s Maduro’s fault. Maduro is perverse, an assassin, dictator.” It’s very easy to say it. But nobody says that Venezuela was pursued. That it was forbidden that a single ship reach its shores. That it was forbidden to take out any ships. That we had ships with fuel stolen. Nobody says that it doesn’t receive a single dollar, in the international banks. And nobody says that Venezuela — with its own might, with its own effort, with its own little money, is recovering. And we come from producing almost zero barrels. And we’re already at 500,000. And with our own effort, and heroism from the workers of the oil industry, we are going to recover.

Q: You’re telling me the problem is the lack of investment.

A: It’s the main issue.

Q: How much would it cost to reach a level of 5 million barrels a day?

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