Sunday, May 08, 2005

Interview with Venezuelan Foriegn Minister Ali Rodriguez 

In today’s edition of Panorama in Maracaibo Venezuela an interview with Venezuela’s foriegn minister, Ali Rodriguez, was published. Prior to becoming foriegn minister Mr. Rodriguez was the President of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, leading it through the opposition strike of 02/03. He was also the head of OPEC at the beginning of the Chavez administration. Trained as a laywer he was a leftist guerilla in the 1960s and later became a member of the Venezuelan congress.

Q: Why is the reaproachment between the governments of Venezuela and the U.S. so difficult?

A: There they have a conception of democracy that isn’t exactly the same as ours. They are firm and very dogmatic defendors of representative democracy, but their problems are very distinct from what we confront here. We comply with the biggest demand of representative democracy, free elections, but that that is not sufficient, to be sufficient it must be based on the correct distribution of wealth. Last year, PDVSA gave $3.7 billion to combat illiteracy, provide health care, provide food, and for infrastructure projects.

Q: The ties between Venezuelan government and Fidel Castro are questioned

A: Why after more than 45 years of attacks on Cuba have they not been able to defeat Fidel Castro? We have to look at things objectively. Who are the victims of the U.S. blockade? Fidel? On the contrary, it has streanghend him. The Cuban people suffer from the blockade. And what do they think? That all the bad things they suffer from result from the U.S. embargo and that does nothing to make the Cuban people sympathetic towards U.S. policy.

We are not in agreement with the embargo, and we are excercising our soveirgn right to trade and have economic relations and that is what our relationship with Cuba is based on. It goes beyond whatever personal relationship Chavez and Fidel Castro may have.

Q: Because of that they have said that Chavez’s position is one of defiance.

A: One cannot view as defiant positions that are soveirgn. The U.S. also has relations with whomever it pleases, and why would we criticize or get involved in policies of a legitimate american government.

Q: How do you respond to people who say that Chavez is giving away oil to Cuba?

A: This country is so democratic that one has the freedom to say even the most ridiculous things. We are selling oil to Cuba with the same conditions that we sell it to the rest of the Carribean countries based on the Caracas Energy agreement. The oil is sold at market rates but when the price of oil goes over $30 per barril, more or less, as it is right now, we finance up to 25% of the price with a payment plan and a payment grace period so that the high price does not impact people too harshly, but the oil income to Venezuela is the same as it would otherwise be.

Q: Why did PDVSA open an office in Venezuela?

A: Cuba has a good position in the Carribean and some day the embargo will be over. Also they have a large storage capacity and deep water ports for super tankers plus pipelines to move the oil into the interior of the country.

Cuba also has a refinery that was constructed with Russian technology but wasn’t completed due to the fall of the Soviet Union. The Cubans would like to finish the refinery and find ways to make it profitable….

Q: Who would make the first step in starting a dialogue between Venezuela and the U.S.

A: Those steps have to be taken by both. Our ambassador has requested a meeting with Condoleezza Rice and we haven’t even recieved a response to our request. But the U.S. ambassador here is always well recieved and we communicate with him almost daily.

Q: Did you have the oppertunity to speak with Condoleezza Rice in Chile.

A: No. We didn’t exchange even one word. But after the trip of the Secretary of State spokespeople such as Roger Noriega toned down the rhetoric against Venezuela.

Q: What do you attribute that to?:

A: The trip of Condoleezza Rice confronted her with a reality that was very different from what they thought existed in South America. I hope that things improve. But we have to wait a while and see, it could be they are just biding time. But we do hope that they correct their policies and lay the foundations for a fruitfull relationship with us based on respect and not intervening in others internal affairs.

Q: How do you view the corruption within the government.

A: A revolutionary has to repudiate, with disgust, corruption and has to fight to the death against it. We are in a transition period and we still have with us much from the old culture. Corruption is a grave danger, it destroys from within and ultimately causes collapse. In the Fifth Republic [the current government] we still have institutions that are from the Fourth Republic [the administrations from 1958 to 1998] that are worthless, inefficient, very costly, and with low productivity.

Q: When you were president of PDVSA did you think there could be a “silent sabotage” as General Melvin Lopez Hidalgo has warned of?

A: I didn’t see that because I was there during the heroic phase of the confrontation where the workers rejected a criminal attack against the country. One saw an enormous change in the workers but that does not mean that the culture of PDVSA was changed entirely. There are still problems within PDVSA and in an industry as sophisticated as the oil industry that generates negative effects.

Q: Among the causes of the fall in production they mention the inaction of some managers. Do you see it that way?

A: One has to be careful with this, especially as in the west there was a complete disaster, especially in Maraciabo Lake and one has to differentiate between what was fixed back then, what couldn’t be fixed, and what has happened since.

Q: Some are saying that the inexperience of the replacement workers is now making itself felt.

A: That arguement is made to cover up the tremendous damage that the strikers did to the company and I would advise those managers who went on strike to take a good look at the damage that they did to the oil fields simply by shutting down the wells, thousands and thousands of wells, because that is where the error resides, in ignoring everthing that those people did and attributing everything to the new administration of PDVSA.

Q: How much was lost?

A: The losses, combining those from the coup attempt and the sabotage of the oil industry were more than $20 billion dollars. Venezuela can’t forget that and we can’t let recent problems distract us from that.


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