Comandante, I would like to ask you a question on Subcomandante Marcos. January 2004 saw the 10th anniversary of the eruption of the Zapatistas in Chiapas on the occasion of the coming into force of Mexico’s Free Trade Treaty with the United States and Canada. I would like to know what you think of that exceptional figure, who has become so popular in the heart of the alternative globalization movement. Do you know him, have you read his texts?
I cannot judge him, but I have read some of your material on Marcos and what is said about him is really very interesting, it helps one to understand his character, including why he was assigned that grade of "subcomandante." Before that everyone involved in wars or campaigns were generals.
From the Cuban Revolution a custom was established, that the chiefs were "comandantes." That is the grade that I came with in the Granma (yacht). As I was the chief of a small Rebel Army and in the Sierra we had to assume a military organization, we couldn’t say "general secretary of the guerrilla column." Thus I acquired the description of "Comandante en Jefe." Comandante was the jost modest grade in the traditional army and had one advantage: that ‘in chief’ could be effectively added to it. Never again, since that era, has any revolutionary movement utilized the title of general. However, Marcos used that of subcomandante. I had never properly understood that, I saw it as an expression of modesty.
Yes, he says: "The comandante is the people; I am the subcomandante, because I am at the orders of the people."
It has to be explained: he is the subcomandante of the comandante pueblo. Very good. From your book on conversations with him, I learnt many details, of his ideas, his concepts, his struggle for the indigenous cause. I read it with much respect, and I am happy to have had information of that kind on his character and the situation in Chiapas.
That was daring, without any doubt, when he then made that journey. It has been debated whether or not it was right to do so, but in any case I have followed it with much interest.
You are referring to the "march for peace" on Mexico that Marcos made in April 2001.(2)
Yes. I have observed everything with much interest; I see in Marcos an integrity; it is indisputable that he is a man of integrity, concepts, talent. He is an intellectual, whether or not he is the person with whom he was identified when little was known about him. I am not sufficiently informed, but that is not important; what is important are ideas, constancy, the knowledge of a revolutionary combatant.
Are you following the battle of the indigenous peoples in Latin America?
With much interest. As you know, I was a great friend of the painter Guayasamín. I had great admiration for him and conversed a lot with him and he often talked to me of the problems and tragedies of the Indians. Moreover, from what one knows from history, there have been acts of genocide over the centuries, but now a greater awareness is appearing. And the struggle of Marcos and of the Mexican Indians is yet another testimony of combativeness.
This is what I can say in relation to Marcos. We are observing, with much respect, the line that he is following, and we respect the line of any organization, of any progressive party, of any democratic party. I have never had the opportunity, there has never been any possibility of a personal conversation with Marcos, I do not know him personally, I only know him via all the news and references I have read about him, and I also know of many people, among them many intellectuals, who feel great admiration for him.
There is also a strong indigenous movement in Ecuador, right? I admire, naturally, the organization of the Ecuadorian Indians, the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAI) and Pachakutik (Our Land), their social organization, their political organization and their leaders, both men and women. I have also met very valiant leaders in Bolivia, where there is a formidable combativeness, and I know the principal Bolivian leader of today, Evo Morales, an outstanding man, a very outstanding person.
I imagine that you must have been happy at Evo Morales’ victory in the presidential elections in Bolivia, on December 18, 2005.
Very happy. That election, resounding, indisputable, moved the world, given the fact that it was the first time that an indigenous president was chosen in Bolivia, which is extraordinary. Evo possesses all the qualities to lead his country and his people at this difficult time which is unlike any other.
Located in the heart of the Americas, Bolivia takes its name from the liberator Simón Bolívar. Its first governor was Marshall Antonio José de Sucre. It is a country rich in its people and its subsoil, but currently classified as the poorest nation in the region, with a population of close to nine million inhabitants, distributed throughout an essentially mountainous territory of more than one million square kilometers.
That is the framework and within that framework, Evo Morales is planning for the future as a hope for the majority of his people. He embodies the confirmation of the collapse of the political system traditionally applied in the region, and the determination of the large masses to gain a genuine independence. His election is the expression of the fact that the political map of Latin America is changing. New winds are blowing in this hemisphere.
Initially, there was no security of Evo’s advantage in the December 18 elections, and there was concern because manipulations could have occurred in Congress. But when he won with close to 54% of the votes in the first round, and also won in the Chamber of Deputies, that eliminated any kind of controversy.
It has been the miracle election, the election that shook the world, which shook the empire and the unsustainable order imposed by the United States. It demonstrates that Washington can no longer have recourse to dictatorships as in other eras, that imperialism does not have the instruments of before, nor can it apply them.
Cuba was the first country that Evo Morales visited, on December 30, 2005, right after being elected president, and even before his investiture on January 22, 2006. Do you think that that visit has created problems for him with Washington?
The friendly visit of brother Evo, president elect of Bolivia is inserted in the framework of the historic and profound relations of sisterhood and solidarity between the Cuban and Bolivian peoples. Nobody could be annoyed at that. Nor even on account of the agreements signed (3). They are agreements for life, for humanity; they don’t constitute a crime. How could the government of the United States be offended by Cuba helping to increase the life expectancy at birth of Bolivian children? Could the reduction of infant mortality or the eradication of illiteracy possibly offend anybody?
Do you think that other Latin American countries will now have to take the indigenous component into account?
There are highly critical social situations in three countries where there is a great force and large indigenous component: Peru and Ecuador, in addition to Bolivia. There is also a large component in Guatemala, but the course there has been distinct from the rest of the countries, in terms of the indigenous component, of course; the Mexicans have a very large one too. I can only say that, in this hemisphere, it is perfectly explicable that there is a Marcos fighting for the rights of the indigenous peoples, as there might be ten or one hundred. The seriousness of the indigenous leaders that I know impresses me in particular. I have talked a lot with the Ecuadorians. They talk seriously. They inspire respect, they inspire confidence, they have much integrity. And in Ecuador, as in Peru and other countries, they will have to take them into account.
You have said that you have great admiration for Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela.
Well, yes, there we have another Indian, Hugo Chávez, a new Indian who is, as he states "a mix of Indian and mixed-race;" he is really saying a bit of black, a bit of white and a bit of Indian. But you look at Chávez and you are seeing an autochthonous son of Venezuela, the son of that Venezuela which was a mix of races, with all the noble traits and an exceptional talent. I am in the habit of listening to his speeches and he is proud of his humble origins and his ethnic mix, where there is a bit of everything, principally from those who were the autochthonous Indians or slaves brought from Africa. He could have some white genes, and that’s not a bad thing; the combination of the so-called ethnicities is always good, it enriches humanity.
You have closely followed the evolution of the situation in Venezuela, in particular the destabilization attempts against President Chávez?
Yes, we have followed events with great attention. Chávez visited us in 1994, nine months after leaving prison and four years before his first election as president. He was very brave, because he was much reproached for traveling to Cuba. He came and we talked. We discovered a cultured, intelligent, very progressive man, an authentic Bolivarian. Then he won the elections. Various times. He changed the Constitution, with formidable support from the people. His adversaries have tried to sweep him away via a coup or economic coups. He has been able to stand up to all the assaults by the oligarchy and imperialism against the Bolivarian process.
During the famous 40 years of the democracy that preceded Chávez, according to calculations we have made with the help of the jost experienced cadres in the banking system, there was a capital flight of some $300 billion from Venezuela. Venezuela could have been more industrialized than Sweden and its people could have the education of that country if there had existed a distributive democracy, if those mechanisms had functioned, if there was something certain and credible in all that demagoguery and its colossal publicity.
From when the Chávez government came into power to the exchange controls established in January 2003, we calculate that an additional flight of some $30 billion has taken place. As we stated, all those phenomena make the order of things in our hemisphere unsustainable. On April 11, 2002, there was a coup d’état in Caracas against Chávez. Did you follow those events?
When we saw at midday on April 11 that the demonstration called by the opposition had been diverted by those involved in the coup and was approaching Miraflores Palace (4), I immediately understood that serious events were about to take place. In fact we were watching the march on Venezolana de Televisión, which was still transmitting. The provocations, the shooting, the victims, happened aljost immediately. A few minutes later, Venezolana de Televisión transmissions were cut. News began to arrive in snatches and via different routes. We knew that some senior officers had publicly spoken out against the president. It was affirmed that the Presidential Guard had withdrawn and that the army was to attack Miraflores Palace. Some Venezuelan personalities were calling their friends in Cuba by phone to make their farewells, because they were prepared to resist and to die; they talked specifically of sacrificing themselves.
That night I was in a meeting in a room at the International Conference Center with the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers. An official delegation from the Basque Country, headed by Lehendakari, had been with me since midday and had been invited to a lunch at a time when nobody imagined what was going to happen on that tragic day. They were witness to the events from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on April 11.
I was trying to communicate with the Venezuelan president by telephone from early afternoon. It was impossible! After midnight, at 12:38 a.m. on April 12, I received news that Chávez was on the telephone.
I asked him about the situation at that moment. He replied: "We are entrenched here in the Palace. We have lost the military force that could decide things. They’ve taken away the television signal. I am powerless to move and am analyzing the situation." I asked him rapidly: "What forces do you have?"
"About 200-300 very exhausted men."
"Have you got tanks?" I asked him.
"No, we did have tanks but they were withdrawn from their barracks." I asked him again: "What other forces can you count on?" And he replied: "There are others at a distance, but I don’t have any communication with them." He was referring to General Raúl Isaías Baduel and the paratroopers, the Armored Division and other forces, but he had lost all communication with those Bolivarian and loyal units.
With great delicacy I said to him: "Would you allow me to express an opinion?" He answered: "Yes."
I added with the jost persuasive note possible: "Insist on the conditions of honorable and dignified treatment and preserve the lives of the men that you have, who are the jost loyal. Don’t sacrifice them, or yourself."
He replied with emotion: "They are all ready to die here." Without hesitating I added: "I know, but I believe that I can think with more serenity than you can at this point. Don’t resign, demand honorable and guaranteed conditions so that you are not the victim of a felony, because I think you should preserve yourself. Moreover, you have a duty to your compañeros. Don’t sacrifice yourself!"
I was very aware of the profound difference between the situation of Allende on September 11, 1973 and the situation of Chávez on that April 12, 2002. Allende didn’t have a single soldier. Chávez could count on a large section of the soldiers and officers of the army, especially the young ones.
"Don’t step down! Don’t resign!" I reiterated to him.
We talked on other subjects: the way in which I thought he should provisionally leave the country, communicate with some soldier who had real authority in the coup ranks, put to him his disposition to leave the country, but not to resign. From Cuba we would try to mobilize the Diplomatic Corps in our country and in Venezuela; we would send two planes with our foreign minister and a group of diplomats to collect him. He thought about it for a few seconds, and finally accepted my proposition. Everything would now depend on the enemy military chief.
In the interview given to the authors of the book Chávez nuestro (Our Chávez) by José Vicente Rangel, then minister of defense and the current vice president, who was with Chávez at that moment, one can read textually: "Fidel’s call was decisive in there being no self-sacrifice. It was determining. His advice allowed us to see better in the dark. He helped us a lot."
Were you encouraging him to resist with weapons in hand? No, on the contrary. That was what Allende did, in my judgment correctly in the circumstances, and paid for it heroically with his life, as he had promised.
Chávez had three alternatives: to dig in in Miraflores and resist until the death; to leave the Palace and try to rejoin the people to unleash a national resistance, with negligible possibilities of success in those circumstances; or to leave the country without resigning or stepping down, in order to renew the fight with real and rapid prospects of success. We suggested the third one.
My final words to convince him in that telephone conversation were in essence: "Save those valiant men who are with you in that battle which is unnecessary now." The idea came from the conviction that a leader as popular and charismatic as Chávez, defeated in that treacherous way in those circumstances, if they didn’t kill him, the people– in this case with the support of the best of their Armed Forces – would reclaim him with much more force and his return would be inevitable. That is why I assumed the responsibility of proposing to him what I proposed.
At that precise moment, when there was a real alternative of a victorious and rapid return, the slogan to die fighting, as Salvador Allende did very well, had no place. And that victorious return was what did occur, although far earlier than I could have imagined. At that time, did you try to help Chávez in some way?
Well, at that point we could only act using the resources of diplomacy. In the middle of the night we called all the accredited ambassadors in Havana and proposed to them that they should accompany Felipe (Pérez Roque), our minister of foreign affairs, to Caracas to peacefully rescue alive Chávez, the legitimate president of Venezuela.
I did not harbor the least doubt that, in a very short time, Chávez would be back on the shoulders of the people and the troops. Now, he had to be saved from death.
We proposed to send two planes to collect him in the event of the coup leaders accepting his exit. But the coup military chief rejected the formula, also communicating to him that he would be subjected to a war council. Chávez put on his parachutist uniform and accompanied only by his faithful aide, Jesús Suárez Chourio, went to the Tiuna Fortress, the headquarters and military command post of the coup. When I called him again, two hours later, as I agreed with him, Chávez had been taken prisoner by coup soldiers and all contact had been lost with him. The television continually broadcast news of his "resignation" to demobilize his followers and all the people. Some hours later, now fully into April 12, a telephone call was arranged and he talked with his daughter María Gabriela. He affirmed to her that he had not resigned, that he was a "president prisoner." He asked her to communicate that to me so that I could inform the world.
His daughter immediately called me on April 12 at 10:02 in the morning, and transmitted her father’s words to me. I immediately asked her: "Would you be prepared to inform the world in your own words?" "What wouldn’t I do for my father?" she replied with that precise, admirable and decided phrase.
Without losing a second I communicated with Randy Alonso, journalist and director of the "Roundtable," a well-known television program. With telephone and tape recorder in hand, Randy called the cell phone number that María Gabriela had given me. It was aljost 11:00 a.m. The clear, felt and persuasive words of the daughter were recorded, immediately transcribed, given to the accredited news agencies in Cuba and transmitted on the National Television News at 12:40 p.m. on April 12, 2002, in Gabriela’s own voice. The tape had also been handed over to the accredited international television channels in Cuba. From Venezuela, CNN was gleefully transmitting the news from coup sources; its reporter in Havana, on the other hand, rapidly circulated the clarifying words of María Gabriela from Cuba at midday.
And what consequences did that have?
Well, that was heard by millions of Venezuelans, in their majority against the coup, and the soldiers loyal to Chávez, those people who they had tried to confuse and paralyze with barefaced lies of his alleged resignation.
At 11:15 that night, María Gabriela called again. Her voice had a tragic tone. I didn’t let her finish her first words and asked her: "What’s happened?" She replied: "They’ve taken away my father by night in a helicopter, destination unknown." "Quickly," I told her, "in a few minutes you have to expose that in your own voice."
Randy was with me in a meeting on programs of the Battle of Ideas with youth leaders and other cadres; he had his recorder with him, and the history of midday was immediately repeated. Venezuelan and world opinion where thus informed of the strange nocturnal transfer of Chávez for an unknown destination. This occurred between the night of the 12th and dawn on the 13th.
On Saturday 13th, very early, an Open Tribunal had been organized in Güira de Melena, a municipality in Habana province. Back in the office before 10:00 a.m., I called María Gabriela. She said that "Chávez’ parents were anxious;" they wanted to talk with me from Barinas, they wanted to make a statement.
I informed her that a cable from an international press agency had communicated that Chávez had been transferred to Turiamo, a naval port in Aragua on the northern coast of Venezuela. I gave her my opinion that based on the type of information and details, the news seemed accurate. I recommended her to make as many inquiries as possible. She added that General Lucas Rincón, Inspector General of the Armed Forces, wanted to talk to me, and also wanted to make a public statement.
Chávez’ mother and father talked with me: everything normal in the state of Barinas. Chávez’ mother told me that the military chief of the garrison had just spoken to her husband, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, governor of Barinas and Chávez’ father. I transmitted as much calm to them as I could.
The mayor of Sabaneta, the town in which Chávez was born, in Barinas, had also been in touch. He wanted to make a statement. He related in passing that all the garrisons were loyal. His great optimism was perceptible.
I talked with Lucas Rincón. He affirmed that the Parachute Brigade, the Armored Tank Division and the F-16 hunter bomber base were against the coup and ready to act. I dared to suggest to him that he should do everything possible to seek a solution without fighting among soldiers. Obviously the coup was defeated. There was no statement from the Inspector General, because the call was interrupted and could not be reestablished.
A few minutes later, María Gabriela called again: she told me that General Badual, chief of the Parachute Brigade, needed to get in touch with me and the Maracay loyal forces wished to make a statement to the people of Venezuela and to international opinion.
An insatiable desire for news prompted me to ask Baduel three or four details on the situation before continuing the dialogue. He satisfied my curiosity in the right way; he exuded combativeness in every sentence. Immediately I told him: "Everything is ready for your statement." He said: "Wait a minute; I’ll put you on to Divisional General Julio García Montoya, permanent secretary of the National Council of Security and Defense. He has arrived to offer support for our position." This officer, an older man than the young military chiefs from Maracay, did not have command of the troops at that time. Respectful of the military hierarchy, Baduel, whose Parachute Brigade was one of the fundamental axes of the powerful force of tanks, armored infantry and hunter bombers located in Maracay, state of Aragua, put General Montoya on the line. The words of this high-ranking officer were really intelligent, persuasive and appropriate to the situation. In essence he stated that the Venezuelan Armed Forces were faithful to the Constitution. With that he said it all.
I had turned into a kind of press reporter who received and transmitted news and public messages via the simple use of a cell phone and tape recorder in Randy’s hands. I was witness to the formidable counter-coup of the people and the Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela.
The situation at that moment was excellent. The April 11 coup didn’t have the jost minimal chance of success. But a terrible risk was still hanging over the sister country. Chávez’ life was in extremely grave danger. Kidnapped by the coup forces, the oligarchy and imperialism, the person of Chávez’ was all that was left in the hands of the fascist adventure. What would they do with him? Would they assassinate him? Would they quench their thirst of hatred and revenge on that rebel and daring Bolivarian fighter, the friend of the poor, the unbowed defender of the dignity and sovereignty of Venezuela? What would happen if, as was the case in Bogotá on account of the death of Gaitán, the people received the news of the assassination of Chávez? I couldn’t get the idea of a similar tragedy and its bloody and destructive consequences out of my head.
During the midday hours, after the abovementioned communications, news of popular indignation and rebelliousness was coming in from all sides. In Caracas, the main center of events, a sea of people was advancing along streets and avenues on the Miraflores Palace and the central installations of the coup organizers. In my desperation as a friend and brother of the prisoner, a thousand ideas were running through my head. What could we do with our little cell phone? I was at the point of calling General Vázquez Velasco himself (5). I had never spoken to him nor did I know where he was. I didn’t know if he would respond or not, or how he would do so. And for that singular mission I couldn’t count on the valiant services of María Gabriela. I thought more about it. At 4:15 p.m. I called our ambassador in Venezuela, Germán Sánchez. I asked him whether he believed that Vázquez Velasco would respond or not. He told me that he might. "Call him," I asked, "use my name, express to him my opinion that a river of blood could run in Venezuela derived from the events. That only one man could avert those risks: Hugo Chávez. Exhort him to release him immediately in order to prevent the probable course of events."
General Vázquez Velasco responded to the call. He affirmed that he had Chávez in his power and was guaranteeing his life, but that he could not accede to what was being asked of him. Our ambassador insisted, he argued, he tried to persuade him. Annoyed, the general broke the communication. He hung up.
I immediately called María Gabriela and told her what Vázquez Velasco had said, particularly the part related to his commitment to guarantee Chávez’ life. I asked her to put me on to Baduel again. Contact was made at 4:49. I related to him in detail the Germán-Vázquez Velasco exchange. I expressed my opinion on the importance of the fact that Vázquez Velasco acknowledged having Chávez in his power. Those were circumstances propitious for pressuring him to the maximum.
At that moment, it was not definitively known in Cuba if Chávez had been transferred or not, nor to what point. The rumor had been circulating for a few hours that the prisoner had been sent to the island of Orchila. When I spoke to Baduel, at aljost 5:00 p.m. the brigade chief was selecting his men and preparing helicopters for the rescue of President Chávez. I imagined how difficult it would be for Baduel and the parachutists to obtain the precise and exact data for such a delicate mission . During all the rest of the day up until midnight of the 13th, I devoted my time to the task of talking to as many people as I could on the issue of Chávez’ life. And I spoke to many people, because during that afternoon, the people, with the support of the chiefs and soldiers of the Army, were setting about controlling everything. I still do not know at what time and in what way Carmona el Breve (6) left Miraflores Palace. I knew that, under the direction of Chourio and the members of the Presidential Guard, that the guards had already taken and occupied strategic points of the building and Rangel, who stood firm the whole time, had returned to the Ministry of Defense.
I even called Diosdado Cabello (7) right after he had taken possession of the Presidency. Due to the communication being lost because of technical problems, I transmitted a message to him via Héctor Navarro, minister of higher education, suggesting that in his condition of constitutional president he should order Vázquez Velasco to release Chávez, warning him of the grave responsibility he would incur if he disobeyed that order.
I spoke with aljost everyone, I too felt part of that drama into which I was introduced by María Gabriela’s phone call in the morning of April 12. Only when all the details of Hugo Chávez’ Calvary were known, from when he was taken to an unknown destination during the night of the 12th, could the incredible danger to which he was exposed be confirmed, and into which he put into play all his mental acuteness, his serenity, sang-froid and revolutionary instinct. More incredible still is that, until the last minute, the coup members kept him uninformed of what was occurring in the country, and up until the last minute insisted on him signing a resignation that he never signed.
A private aircraft, said to be owned by a known member of the Venezuelan oligarchy, whose name I will not mention for lack of total certainty as to the information, was waiting to transfer him to who knows where and in the hands of who knows who.
I have narrated to you everything that I know; one day other hands will write this history with all the details that are missing. Chávez is a representative of progressive military officers, but in Europe, and also in Latin America, many progressives reproach him precisely for being part of the military. What is your opinion on that apparent contradiction between being progressive and the military?
Omar Torrijos, in Panama, was an example of a military officer with a profound consciousness of social justice and his homeland. Juan Ve lasco
Al va rado (8), in Peru, also carried out important actions for progress. It should be recalled, for example, that among Brazilians, Luiz Carlos Prestes was a revolutionary officer who made a heroic march from 1924 to 1926, as did Mao Zedong from 1934 to 1935. In one of his magnificent literary works, Jorge Amado (9), wrote a beautiful account of Prestes’ march, El caballero de la esperanza (The Cavalier of Hope). That military feat was something impressive; it lasted more than two-and-a-half years, covering immense territories of his country without suffering a defeat. Important revolutionary deeds emerged from the military in the recently-concluded 20th century.
Among those are the names of illustrious officers like Lázaro Cárdenas, a general of the Mexican Revolution, who nationalized oil, carried out agrarian reforms and won the support of the people forever.
Some of the first rebels in Central America in the 20th century include a group of Guatemalan soldiers in the 1950s, who together with Jacobo Arbenz, a high-ranking officer in the Guatemalan Army, participated in historic revolutionary activities, including the noble and valiant agrarian reform that led to a mercenary invasion that, like the Bay of Pigs Invasion and for the same reason, was launched by imperialism against that government, which legitimately deserved to be described as progressive.
There are a good number of cases of progressive military officers. Juan Domingo Perón, in Argentina, also had military roots. One must look at the time when he emerged; in 1934, he was named minister of labor, and made laws benefiting workers, and, in recognition of that, when he was sent off to prison, it was the people who rescued him. Perón committed some errors: he offended the Argentine oligarchy, he humiliated it; he nationalized the theater and other symbols of the rich classes, but the latter’s political and economic power remained intact, and at a propitious moment, they overthrew him with the complicity and help of the United States. Perón’s greatness lies in the fact that he appealed to the reserves and resources of that rich country and did everything he could to improve living conditions for the workers. That social class, always grateful and loyal, made Perón an idol of the working people until the end of his life.
General Líber Seregni, who until a few years ago was president of the Broad Front of Uruguay, is one of the jost progressive and respected leaders ever known in Latin America. His integrity, decency, firmness and tenacity contributed to the historic victory of that noble people, full of solidarity, who elected Tabaré Vázquez, Se re gni’s successor, as president of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and brought the Uruguayan left into government, when the country was on the edge of the abyss. Cuba is thankful to Líber Se regni for the solid bases that, together with many eminent Uruguayans, he forged for the fraternal and solidarity-based relations that now exist between Uruguay and Cuba.
We have no right to forget Fran cisco Caamaño, a young Dominican soldier who for months heroically combated 40,000 United States soldiers dispatched by President Johnson to the Dominican Republican in 1965 in order to prevent the return of the Constitutionally-elected President Juan Bosch. His tenacious resistance to the invaders, leading a handful of soldiers and civilians, which lasted for months, was one of the jost glorious revolutionary episodes ever written in this hemisphere. Caamaño, after a truce snatched from the empire, returned to his homeland and lay down his life fighting for the liberation of his people.
Without a man like Hugo Chávez, born in a poor family and trained in the discipline of the military academies of Venezuela, where so many ideas of liberty, unity and Latin American integration were implanted by Bolívar, there would not have emerged at this decisive time in Our America a process of such historical and international transcendence as the current revolutionary process in that sister nation. I do not see any contradiction whatsoever.
In Argentina, an Argentina where, to a certain extent, in December 2001, the neoliberal model collapsed with a loud crash, Perón and Peronism continue to have a considerable political influence. What do you think about recent events in Argentina?
When the news arrived in May 2003 regarding the election results in Argentina and the announcement of Néstor Kirchner’s victory and the defeat of Carlos Ménem, I felt great satisfaction. Why? There is an important reason: the worst of unbridled capitalism, as Chávez would say, the worst of neoliberal globalization in that Latin American country that had become a symbol par excellence of neoliberalism, suffered a defeat.
The Argentine people, although far from achieving their jost desired objectives, do not realize the service they have done to Latin America and the world by burying in the deepest basin of the Pacific Ocean – at more than 8,000 meters – an important symbol of neoliberal globalization. They have injected tremendous strength into the growing number of people who are becoming aware, in all of Our America, as to what a horrible and deadly thing it is that is known by that name.
If you like, we could recall that Pope John Paul II, who enjoyed universal respect, spoke of the "globalization of solidarity" when he visited our country in 1998. Could anyone be against that type of globalization in the fullest sense of the word, which covers not just relations between those who live within the borders of one country, but also within the sphere of the planet, and that solidarity should be implemented likewise tomorrow, in a world of true liberty, equality and justice, by those who today are wasting, destroying and squandering natural resources and condemning to death the inhabitants of this planet?
You can’t get to heaven in a day, but believe me, the Argentine people have dealt an uncommon blow to a symbol, and that is tremendously valuable.
Latin America continues to have the problem of the foreign debt. That debt, in the world, has grown proportionally with the population. Now the total foreign debt is as high as 2.5 or 2.6 trillion dollars! The developed countries this year are going to offer Third World countries, as official development aid, some $53 billion. In exchange, they will charge them, as interest on their foreign debt, more than $350 billion!
In Latin America, that debt has been growing nonstop, and now totals approximately $800 billion. Nobody can pay it, and that makes all serious development policies impossible. Hunger cannot be eliminated in Latin America while governments have to continue dedicating one-fourth of their income from exports to paying a debt that they have already paid aljost twice over, and which is now aljost double what it was 10 years ago….
Now the United States is proposing the FTAA, Free Trade Area of the Americas, as a solution. What do you think about the FTAA?
A disaster. But a disaster that can be avoided. Because we were witness to the battle waged in Mar del Plata on November 4 and 5 in 2005, during the so-called Summit of the Americas. It was a great fight against the FTAA. There were two fights, one in the streets and stadium, and the other in the building where the heads of state were meeting.
In Mar del Plata, the disastrous FTAA project was definitively defeated. The FTAA means opening up all the borders of countries with a very low level of technical development to the products of those nations with the highest technological and productive levels, those that make the latest models of airplanes, that dominate world trade, that want to obtain three things from us: raw materials, cheap labor, and customers and markets. A new form of ruthless colonization. Do you think that that could increase Latin America’s dependence on the United States?
If Latin America were devoured by the empire; if it swallowed us up, like that whale which swallowed up the prophet Jonah and was unable to digest him, it would have to expel it one day, and it would be born again in our hemisphere. But I don’t think that it is easy to swallow, and I have hopes that it cannot be devoured. Events in recent years have been showing that: the world cannot be ruled with a solider and bayonet in every school, every home, and every park. I have always said that the U.S. people themselves must be reckoned with, the intellectuals and the U.S. people. Those people can be deceived, but when they learn the truth, as in the case of the child Elián… (10). Eighty percent of those people supported the return of the Cuban child Elián González.
Those people today oppose the blockade on Cuba. Those people, in a growing number, opposed the doctrine of the surprise, interventionist war, despite the artful attack on the city of New York on September 11, 2001. They should be reckoned with.
We must also count on the European intellectuals, because men and women like you have been making enormous efforts to create consciousness, and have contributed notably to the creation of that needed consciousness.
In addition, there are now several governments, in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and other countries, where progressive measures are being taken. How do you see what Lula is doing in Brazil, for example?
Obviously, I see what Lula is doing with the greatest sympathy. He does not have a sufficient majority in Parliament; he has had to base himself on other forces, even conservative ones, to be able to go through with certain reforms. The media has given a lot of publicity to a corruption scandal of parliamentarians, but they have not been able to involve him. Lula is a popular leader. I have known him for many years; we have followed his itinerary, we have spoken a lot with him, a man of conviction, intelligent, patriotic, and progressive, of very humble origins and who does not forget his roots or the people who always supported him. I believe that everyone sees him like that. Because it is not a matter of making a revolution; it is a matter of meeting a challenge: doing away with hunger. He can do it. It is a matter of doing away with illiteracy. And he can do that, too. And I think that we should all support him. (11)
Comandante, do you think that the era of revolutions and armed struggles is over in Latin America?
Listen, nobody can ensure that revolutionary changes are going to occur in Latin America now. But neither can anybody ensure that they could not happen at any time in one or more countries. If you objectively analyze the economic and social situation in certain countries, you cannot be in the slightest doubt that it is a matter of an explosive situation. The rate of infant mortality is, for example, 65 per 1,000 live births in several of those countries; ours is less than 6.5; 10 times more children die in Latin American countries, on average, than in Cuba. Malnutrition sometimes affects more than 40 percent of the population; illiteracy and semi-literacy continue to be too high; unemployment is affecting tens of millions of adult citizens in Our America, and there is also the problem of abandoned children, which total in the millions. The president of UNICEF once told me that if Latin America had the same level of medical attention and health that Cuba has, 700,000 children would be saved every year.
If no urgent solution is found to those problems — and the FTAA is not a solution, nor is neoliberal globalization — more than one revolution could happen in Latin America when the United States least expects it. And it will not be able to blame anyone for promoting those revolutions.