Exclusive: Interview With Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, Venezuelan Ambassador-Designate to the U.S.

2015-02-18-Max.jpg Photo of Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz (Courtesy of Venezuelan Embassy)

Dan: I was just reading that, even with the economic problems in Venezuela, the government has decided to press forward in fully funding its social programs.

MA: Yes definitely, we want to keep and maintain our social programs, and that is our priority, to take care of Venezuelan families. We already have some progress to show and we want to maintain that. . . . [W]hat's going on in Venezuela for the last 10 years, and longer, and in the rest of the region, is a bit like The New Deal . . . and to a certain extent the Civil Rights Movement. We are talking about economic, social inclusion and political inclusion. . . .

Dan: And there has been a real decline in poverty and extreme poverty in Venezuela in the last 15 years?

MA: Yes, definitely. Remember when Chavez was elected in 1999, at that time . . . the poverty rate at that time stood around 42-45% and I think right now it has been reduced to 25%. And extreme poverty rate that fell [from 23.4%] to 7% and I think it was last year when the UN Food and Agriculture Organization recognized Venezuela as the leader in Latin America for the eradication of hunger. I think in 2014 again you have this Gini coefficient . . . [t]hat shows again that inequality fell even more in 2014. So, we are moving in the right direction. . . . See, World Bank figures.

Dan: I have recently been reading comparisons between Venezuela now and Chile in 1973, and I wonder if you think that is a fair comparison.

MA: Definitely, you know that wonderful documentary done by Patricio Guzman, The Battle of Chile? Maybe at that time it was in black and white, and now it is in color. But if you see some of the images, some of the sequences on that documentary and you look to Caracas now, you could find some similarities . . . for example, what President Maduro just denounced - the sabotage; the same recipe with the same ingredient. So, right now, they are trying to promote a coup on our economy. For the last two years, we have been facing hording, contraband and many forms of fraud in order to destabilize the distribution of food and obviously create the sensation of chaos and then you have all these pictures of people in long queues waiting to go the market. Again, the same trick. . . . I hope that we will not be able to make a "Battle of Venezuela," or, if yes, the result in the end would be better.

Dan: Can you talk about the U.S.'s recently-imposed sanctions against Venezuela?

M.A.: In Venezuela, the sanctions could be seen as a green light for certain sectors of the opposition. So we will see what happens. In April, we will have the Summit of the Americas in Panama. So that's going to be quite interesting to see where we are then. A few days ago at the CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states) meeting in Costa Rica, there was a unanimous resolution condemning the unilateral imposition of sanctions by the U.S. upon Venezuela. All of the governments, all of the delegations, that were part of that summit, we are talking about all of the regions of Latin America, condemn it. . . .

Dan: I wonder if you could comment on Noam Chomsky's statement that Chavez led the historic liberation of Latin America. M.A.: I understand what Chomsky was saying, but I think that Chavez did not think of himself as a leader of the movement, but rather as a part of a cultural struggle to bring progress and provide for the basic necessities of the Venezuelan, and to some extent, all of the Latin American people. Now, it was true that when Chavez was elected in 1999, we were maybe the only ones in the region, with the clear exception of Cuba, who saw themselves as part of this struggle. But then after Chavez, and maybe because we were the avant-garde to some extent, you had other leaders who were elected -- like Lula in Brazil, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia -- leaders that have been promoting social and political inclusion which are key elements to guaranteeing social development and democracy. So, yes, Chavez was an amazing leader. . . . You know, he was born in a mud hut. . . . He came from the very lower classes, and he never forgot where he came from. And, all his life he dedicated himself to help the poor and to improve their lives, and to some extent we can say that he died because of that and for them. . . . Similarly, Nicolas Maduro was a bus driver, he had a working class background, and he is somebody again who knows where he comes from as well, and will never forget that. . . . And, it is unfortunate that some people can't accept that somebody that doesn't come from the higher classes can lead their country.

Dan: When you refer to the Civil Rights Movement, it reminds me that when I was in Caracas during the elections in April 2013, I witnessed a pro-Maduro rally and what struck me was that nearly everyone at that rally was black. People in this country don't think about the historic oppression of Afro-Venezuelans, and what the Chavista revolution has done for them.

MA: Yes, we are talking about people who were disenfranchised citizens, second-class citizens and they have now become a real part of society. Again, when we are talking about the Civil Rights movement in the 60's it was quite violent actually here the reaction against this movement. Yes, you know, so you can understand how you could have sectors of Venezuelan society who might react in a certain violent manner against this process of inclusion. . . .