On behalf of the Venezuelan people, my government, President Chávez and myself, I would like to express to the organizers of this meeting and of course, to all of you, my deepest recognition of gratitude. In fact I understand and appreciate this meeting not only as an act of solidarity and friendship with the Bolivarian Revolution but also as an act of solidarity and friendship with the struggles of the peoples of Latin America in search of dignity, justice and sovereignty.
By South American standards Venezuela is a medium size country. In its territory of about one million square kilometers live some 26 million people. No doubt Venezuela is a rich country. Venezuela produces and exports iron ore, bauxite, coal, gold, diamonds and many others minerals. Venezuela as, you know, is a very rich oil producing country — one of the largest in the world. Every day we produce nearly 3.3 million barrels of crude oil and export more than 2.3 million, mainly to United States to which we are the third largest supplier of crude oil.
Nevertheless, one could say that Venezuela is in fact a rich country, but a poor Nation because we have a high rate of poverty. This situation means a great contradiction as a result of the high levels of corruption and mismanagement of the political parties and their leadership that ruled Venezuela during the last 50 years. Of course, I also have to say that the policies of the neo-liberal model applied to Venezuela in the last three decades or so are co-responsible for the collapse of the country reflected in the high levels of poverty that we have and which President Chávez is fighting against with all his resolve.
When Chávez was running as a candidate for President in 1998, the situation of the country was really grim: high poverty, despite the richness of the country; amazing levels of corruption in all levels of the government; a collapsed system of health and education; a 20 per cent jobless rate and a 12 per cent or higher rate of illiteracy; high levels of insecurity; a corrupted system of justice; very high levels of dissatisfaction among the population; an external debt of about US$35 billion and US$40 billion deposited in foreign banks. Only a few Venezuelans were the owners of those funds and they, of course, had stolen that money. We also had an inflation rate of more than 50 per cent and only the equivalent of US$10 billion in foreign currencies in international reserve.
In short, Chávez ran in 1998 as a candidate for President in a collapsed and broken country.
Clear Mandate from the People
When Chávez was campaigning he clearly promised to the Venezuelan people to combat and change that grim situation. Well, as you remember, at the end of 1998 he was democratically elected President by a large majority of the popular vote. One and half years later he was re-legitimized by an even larger and more overwhelming majority of nearly 60 per cent of the popular vote. In both cases he beat the traditional political parties that governed Venezuela for more than 40 years. At that time nobody doubted the clear mandate the Venezuelan people had given him...
Chávez proposed to carry out a new and revolutionary national project to overcome the traditional difficulties of our people, especially of the poor people. He proposed a national project based in justice; in participatory democracy; in a far better distribution of the country's wealth on the basis of an aggressive fight against poverty and in respect for sovereignty of the country.
Without any doubt, today we have in Venezuela a revolution in progress. Venezuelan society has undergone a radical transformation, one that is only possible in a revolution. For instance, before the Chávez's Government, the political consciousness of citizens was very low. Nowadays, the great majority of Venezuelans have a political consciousness that is much higher. It's true we had a bad form of democracy for four decades, a representative democratic system that every five years called the Venezuelan people to cast their votes to elect the President, but nothing else. It was without any other participation, either in the small or in the big decisions of the government of the day. Today we say, "What was left behind is, in fact, representative democracy, in order to construct participatory democracy within the framework of a social state with justice."
This challenge is only possible in a revolutionary process. As well as questioning globalization and neoliberalism and condemning the state terrorism perpetrated by the United States, we are leading with concrete proposals for regional integration. All of this is only been possible within a revolution.
The condemnation of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), the strong rejection of the invasions of Iraq and of Afghanistan, the efforts to construct a multi-polar world, have all come about by virtue of the revolution. In the case of Venezuela it has been by virtue of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Massive Participation of the People
At the same time and along the same line of thought, how else can one explain that in less than a year we have achieved the astounding goal of reducing illiteracy by more than one and half million people - thereby aljost eliminating illiteracy in Venezuela?
Only in the framework of revolution was it possible to approve a new national constitution with such a high degree of participation and popular consultation as has been the case in Venezuela. How else can one explain the amazing defeat of the coup d'état, supported by the US and Spain among others, and having rescued democracy in less than 48 hours without resorting to violence?
How does one explain, the success of missions such as "Inside the Barrio", which has been able to provide free medical attention and medicines in more than 15 million cases in less than a year? These and many other missions are in progress with the massive participation of the people, especially the poor people. This is a direct reflection of the revolution in progress in Venezuela.
I also have to stress that the Bolivarian Revolution is a new and an atypical process without precedents, not only in Latin America but in the entire world. In fact, this revolution has been pushing ahead in a peaceful and very democratic way. In fact, Venezuela is a pluralist country. Our National Constitution guarantees respect for all dissidence. Every Venezuelan, whatever his or her political, religious or cultural beliefs may be, has the right to express his points of view and the government of President Chavez has always shown respect for the opposition.
Unfortunately, the Venezuelan opposition has been influenced and sometimes dominated by anti-democratic and fascist sectors. For this reason it has attempted to overthrow the Chávez Government several times by every possible means. It was the case of the failed coup d'état of April 2002 and the sabotage of our oil industry that cost to the country more than US$10 billion in three months....
Definitely, the neo-liberal model — based in egotism and irrationality — has failed in Latin America. Thus, our societies urgently require deep changes, deep transformations in order to replace the savage neo-liberalism that so many and painful difficulties have created in our Latin American homelands. Nobody having good will could deny the present situation of the region, as President Chávez stated sometime ago: "When you walk along the streets of Latin America, you can very clearly sense a reality that no one can deny - the peoples of this continent, oppressed and dominated for centuries, are rising up again, and this time nothing and no one can silence them.
"They are seeking out ways to redemption, roads to justice, ways to dignity ... and there is no other way to reach it but by revolution. There is no longer any kind of dilemma for us. I am convinced (says President Chávez) that the only way to put an end to poverty is by giving power to the poor, not by giving handouts to the poor, but by giving them the power to make decisions and find their own solutions, participatory democracy and a new economic model for democracy and for a fair distribution of the wealth."
It is very well known; we have in Venezuela many social and economic difficulties, and also a political confrontation, which at times has been very strong. Nevertheless, as you are aware, this is quite normal and even inevitable, when a social, economic and political reality is dying and other one is striving to be born. That is the case of my country nowadays.
Be sure, dear friends, the political confrontation happening today in Venezuela is nothing other than the result of the struggle between supporters of the process of change and transformation taking place in my country, and the opponents of this revolutionary process. Nevertheless, the revolutionary process and President Chávez have the support of the people and the army. The people and army are fighting right now, and will fight with total resolve and decisiveness in order to preserve dignity, justice, hopes and dreams of my people.