Why Michael Albert Won’t Get An Interview With Chavez

Like all other ZNet users, I just got an email from Michael Albert regarding his attempts to get an interview with Hugo Chavez.

I’m going to reprint portions of the email here and intersperse my comments in bold. Then I’ll explain why some of the questions are inappropriate.

Chasing Chavez
By Michael Albert

Twenty Eight months ago, over night a change transformed what had already been a long standing but relatively low energy “project” of mine from very long shot to a seeming sure shot. The project went from commanding very partial attention in the flow of all else on my plate, sort of like an important side dish – to being the main course in my focus. It relegated all else to second, third, or lesser position.

What happened in mid February 2008 is that as a favor Noam Chomsky sent a message to Andres Izarra, then Communications Minister of Venezuela, addressed, however, to President Chavez. Chomsky’s message accompanied a second message and three “proposals” I prepared, and testified to the proposal’s value and my seriousness. Later, a fourth proposal was added to the list.

The first proposal suggested establishing a yearly Bolivar Internationalist Solidarity Prize on the same fiscal, celebratory, and media scale as the yearly Swedish Nobel Prize, but awarded in Caracas not Stockholm, and given for revolutionary contributions not science.

The prize would create solidarity ties between recipients and sponsors, plus positive media attention for Venezuela and recipients to promote exemplary political activities around the world. Various features were proposed such as that recipients give half their prize to people in other countries doing related work.

In case you haven’t noticed, Venezuela has already been creating solidarity and promoting exemplary political activities all over the world. The Nobel Prize is a very capitalist way of creating personality cults with monetary rewards. Why would Chavez want to emulate a corrupt system that rewards war criminals with peace prizes when he has already found many much more creative ways to promote peace?

The second proposal suggested establishing a Bolivarian publishing project to initiate and or translate books from around the world for a mass audience in Venezuela and Latin America. The publishing project would pick worthy books by trustworthy authors from all continents. The authors could in turn be given a typical commercial advance and would visit Venezuela for talks.

The publishing project would provide excellent books to Venezuelans and other Spanish readers, while generating unchallengeable financial support for leftists around the world and, via the conduit of those leftists, for diverse projects, movements, etc. The commercial financial arrangement would be unimpeachable in the mainstream, even as the authors – given who they would be – would redistribute advances to revolutionary projects and movements.

Venezuelans have more access to books than I do, as many of the books I yearn to read have not yet been translated from Spanish into English. It may not be profitable for them to translate books into English, as most English-speaking countries like the United States have high illiteracy rates, while most revolutionary democracies have completely eradicated illiteracy. There are publishing houses in Venezuela. I write for a website MediaLeft.net that is based in Caracas. You seem to think that only a large monetary reward would make anything worthwhile. Some things, unlike money itself, have inherent worth.

The third proposal requested an in-depth interview with President Chavez with two main purposes – that the President offer lessons and inspiration from the Bolivarian experience for activists around the world, and also address serious concerns that sincere supporters and critics have, especially concerns which impede solidarity from international activists.

Leftists and activists around the world who want inspiration from Chavez can follow him on twitter @chavezcandanga as I do. If you don’t know Spanish, you can subscribe to Machetera
 which frequently transcribes speeches and articles by Chavez and other leftist leaders into impeccable English.

The fourth proposal – added a bit later – was an invitation to participate in the project called Reimagining Society, thereby adding a whole new dimension to that project’s exchange of visionary and strategic ideas, and also a suggested that Venezuela consider the possibility of hosting a gathering of from as few as 200 to as many as 2,000 or more participants aimed at arriving at shared vision and strategy sufficient to sustain new national and international organization and program.

Chavez isn’t just reimagining society, he is rebuilding a society. And Venezuela often hosts gatherings of people and organizations from all over the world. 

Still later, when President Chavez announced a call for a New International, the fourth proposal morphed into a new form which sought endorsement of the Proposal for a Participatory Socialist International spin off from the Resoc project.

The aim was for the internationally based PSI Proposal to become a focus for further discussion and exploration of ideas about a new International, preparatory to convening one.

And, of course, that would take so much time that nobody would have any time and energy left for revolution. If you can build on Cuba’s revolution, which is more than 50 years old, or Venezuela’s revolution, which is 11 years old, you’d be welcome to join the struggle for dignity, equality, justice, peace, and democracy. But you can’t walk in from a fascist society you haven’t been able to change, and tell people who have successfully brought about change, how to bring about change.

From the outset, the interview proposal was intended to be extensive. Core questions were conceived and conveyed (and at the end of this post, for those interested, I include a much abbreviated list of those questions) addressing the following broad areas of focus…

I’m going to omit the details of your "chase" (although I find it surprising that even after going to Venezuela to get an award, you’re still suggesting that they give out awards), and go directly to your list of questions to show why I believe many of them are inappropriate.

The Proposed Interview Questions

Communal Councils…
Is it correct that you seek to bring into existence 50,000 communal councils containing essentially the whole population of Venezuela in these grass roots organs of power? Do they then become the new seat and source of power? How would this work? How do the local councils transcend or replace more familiar institutions?
What plans exist for federations of councils above the local level to deal with more encompassing issues, propel broader debates, etc.? Is this what you are calling communes?

You could find the answers to these questions online without taking up his time.

Political Parties

It has been said that that the PSUV is everyone who supports the revolution. Couldn’t some people take that to mean that anyone who isn’t in the party doesn’t support the revolution, and isn’t that a recipe for narrowing debate and elitist exclusion?

You’re already accusing Chavez of things that he hasn’t done. Venezuela is much less elitist and has a much more open debate than the United States. Whereas we have two corporate parties that have an iron lock on our political and electoral system, Venezuela has a revolutionary anti-capitalist party where even poor people have a voice, not just the wealthy elite and big corporate donors.

Can you have 2, 3, or more parties all of which support the revolution, but which have different views about program, or is the idea that there would one party and factions inside the party that would express different views? If the latter, what prevents the familiar historic subordination and finally dissolution of such factions?
I have heard that the bylaws of the new party state that it operates under the principle of “democratic centralism”. If so, do you respond to widespread criticism that “democratic centralism” is in fact fundamentally anti-democratic and incompatible with the development of factions and diversity generally within the party and then also in the broader society?

I don’t think that people with capitalist views and a capitalist mind-set would have anything worthwhile to contribute to a revolutionary party. As long as the United States continues to spend $40 to $50 million a year to fund the political opposition in Venezuela, while not allowing Venezuela to fund political parties here in the U.S., it is hypocritical to accuse Chavez of stifling diversity.

Personality Cult?
On a point that concerns many supporters, you know that many folks say that there is a personality cult around you. They base their argument on the lack of leaders who enjoy anything like as much popularity as you and on the existence of slogans such as "Chavez is the people" "With Chavez anything without Chavez nothing" "Who is against Chavez is against the people." What do you say about this concern?

History has shown that slipping into authoritarian patterns can be very hard to avoid, and when there is such love for a leader, there is little inclination to be vigilant against authoritarian trends. What do you think?

If Venezuela ever becomes as personality-focused and authoritarian as the United States, then you might have cause to worry.

Term Limits
I asked Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Fernando Vegas what he thought about changing the laws so you could run for office over and over, something that bothers many leftists who fully support the Bolivarian revolution. Vegas’s reply was, why not? I said in 2012 – Vegas said yes. I said in 2018, 2024, Vegas said maybe.
So what do you think about all this – both putting too much power in too few hands, and the absence of more hands ready to participate? And to make the concern even more clear – if I could use an analogy, what would have been your reaction, were you in the U.S., if Reagan or Bush, or for that matter Clinton or Obama, sought to eliminate term limits?

I know this is a difficult matter for Americans to understand, Michael, so I’ll try to simplify it for you. Here in the United States, our Constitution forbids us from voting directly for President and Vice-President. In Venezuela the people can vote directly for President and Vice-President. Here in the United States, the Constitution does not grant citizens the right to have their votes counted. In Venezuela, citizens have the right to have their votes counted. Here in the United States, the President and Vice-President can be, and often are, sworn into office before it is possible to finish counting the popular vote. In the U.S. the popular vote is merely symbolic and does not necessarily determine the results of the election as election can be decided by the media, by crooked elections officials, by rigged and totally unverifiable voting machines, by the Electoral College not following the popular vote, by Congress rejecting the electoral vote, by Supreme Court intervention, or by the winning candidate conceding before the votes have been counted, thus installing the loser as President. In Venezuela it is the popular vote that determines the results of their elections, the votes are verifiable, and candidates cannot be sworn into office before the votes are counted. They also have a right of recall, which means that they don’t have to petition tyrants who betray them, they can directly vote them out, even during their terms of office, instead of having to allow them to continue to betray the people for several more years until their terms are up.

It is because we have no way to hold our elected officials accountable (and therefore no way to exercise our will through them, as would be possible in a democracy or a republic), that we need term limits.

Think of it this way. Suppose there were term limits on marriage. Everyone had to trade in their spouse for a different one every eight years. That might be useful in a country that didn’t allow divorce, but it would be a hardship for people who are married to their soulmates and don’t want to divorce. Because Venezuelans can directly elect, hold accountable, and if necessary, directly recall their elected leaders at any time, they don’t need term limits. They have the political equivalent of divorce, which we do not.

Dealing with Opponents
Your government’s most aggressive opponent is not only the elements responsible for trying to topple you outright, but also those working more legally, but concerned to protect old ways against new ways. This includes owners not wanting to give up their high rates of profit and even property holdings blocking economic programs, officials like mayors and governors from the old regimes wanting to preserve or return to oligarchic ways and blocking the communal councils, many managers and professionals wanting to forestall a drive toward more equitable distribution of power and wealth blocking redistribution and holding back worker’s democracy, old media moguls constantly attacking you and the Bolivarian project blaming you for all the delays and disruptions caused by the above opponents, and old police units and others as well engaged in violent intimidation, corruption, and crime – and it even includes some working people who are fixed in their ways and worried about change, mostly about mythological assertions of scary Bolivarian aims, but sometimes about real issues they would find disruptive.

I know this is a big question, but I wonder what your strategies are for dealing with these various opponents?

I would add to that list of troublemakers, people who want to distract Chavez with stupid questions, and his strategy seems to be to continue the work of the revolution and ignore the troublemakers as much as possible.

21st Century Socialist Economics?
What does being anti-capitalist mean to you? Do you reject capitalism’s defining features including private ownership of productive assets, income given for property, power, and/or output, corporate divisions of labor where about 20% of those who work empowered by their responsibilities and about 80% of those who work reduced to rote obedience by their tasks, and competitive markets for allocation?

Chavez is the President of a petro-state. He is anti-capitalist but he does allow private ownership of productive assets. What he does not allow is predatory capitalism that takes everything and gives nothing to the people in return for stealing their labor and resources. Those foreign oil companies willing to adhere to strict worker and  safety regulations, and to give Venezuela a fair return for its oil, are still operating there. Those who will not, no longer operate in Venezuela.

You are for 21st Century Socialism. What does that mean? First, Regarding Property, do you think private ownership of productive property needs to be reduced and finally eliminated to attain an economy without class hierarchies and if so, what obstacles obstruct eliminating private ownership at a faster pace right away in Venezuela?

Chavez isn’t part of a theoretical revolution, Michael, he is part of a real revolution. You’re as familiar with the theories as he is. As for the obstacles, that would be us.

Second, Regarding Income, suppose someone in factory who has a job much more onerous than another person in the same factory says to you that she thinks she deserves higher pay than the manager who works in an air conditioned office. Do you have sympathy with her view? What would you say to her?

What would Chavez say to her? That’s the dumbest question I’ve seen yet. We have a few worker-owned collectives here in the U.S. The People’s Organic Co-Op where I buy my groceries is one. The worker-owners set their own salaries and they appreciate the work that goes into every job and reward workers proportionately. That’s not a matter for the government, that’s a matter for the workers themselves to decide. If you’re ever in the San Diego area, please visit the Ocean Beach People’s Co-Op and observe how they do things–it has been here for about twenty years. Worker-owner cooperatives operate similarly all over, not just in Venezuela.

More generally, instead of paying people for their property or their bargaining power or even for their output, what do you think about remunerating people only for how long they work, for how hard they work, and for the onerousness of conditions under which they do their socially valued labor?

Again, Michael, we have many worker-owned cooperatives here in the United States. Instead of pestering Chavez, why not visit one and learn how it works? I find it difficult to believe that a person in the U.S. who calls themself a leftist or a progressive would not be familiar with worker-owned cooperatives. And if you’re at all familiar with socialism, you know that it has safety nets to protect even those who do not own property and cannot work.

What impedes the government from deciding tomorrow to rebuild the barrios in a massive public works project that would create better housing and schools, improving the lot of so many people?

Chavez has greatly reduced poverty in Venezuela. Here in the U.S., under our capitalist system, poverty is increasing. The only thing impeding them from doing even more, is the U.S.-funded opposition.
Third, Regarding Division of Labor, in 20th century socialism, and also under capitalism, about 20% of the workforce does all the empowering work and, by virtue of that, also earns way more income and has way more influence than more rote workers below. About 80%, in contrast, do rote and repetitive work that leaves them exhausted and steadily less knowledgeable and confident. To transcend this division, what do you think of the idea of each worker having a mix of tasks in their overall responsibilities, so that each does some empowering work and some rote work and on average the empowerment effect of work is comparable for all workers?

Visit a worker-owned cooperative here in the U.S. and your question will be answered. Plus you can save the air fare and reduce your carbon footprint.

What prevents beginning to incorporate a new division of labor in state enterprises and public administration now, or whatever other steps would reduce class hierarchy there?

The impediment is the U.S.-funded opposition in Venezuela and the U.S.-backed oligarchy in Venezuela. But they already have a much better division of labor than we do. As Chavez reduces poverty, he reduces income disparities, and that reduces class hierarchy. What have you done to try to reduce class hierarchy here?

Fourth, Regarding Economic Decision Making, in capitalism workplaces are incredibly authoritarian. What do you think about the decision making norm that people should have a say in decisions in proportion to the extent they are affected by those decisions?

Visit a worker-owned cooperative here. In worker-owned cooperatives, it is the workers who make the decisions. Worker-owned cooperatives are not authoritarian in nature.

What obstructs implementing such self-managing structures in Venezuelan workplaces right now? What plans are there to overcome the obstacles?

Nothing. Many worker-owned cooperatives exist in Venezuela and the government helps start new ones all the time. The main obstruction is the United States government, which prefers that all government (taxpayer, mostly working class) money goes to big corporations and the rich, and has been building military bases in Colombia from which to attack Venezuela, funding the political opposition in Venezuela, and smearing Chavez as a dictator because he allows poor people to have a say not only at work, but also in government.

Fifth, Regarding Allocation, what is your feeling about markets where each actor competes with the rest, and prices are determined by that competition?

Please, Michael. Have you ever seen such a market? Why ask Chavez about myths? Prices in capitalist markets are determined by price-fixing, not by competition.
Do you have a reaction to what’s called participatory planning – where workers and consumers councils cooperatively negotiate inputs and outputs in light of full social and environmental costs and benefits and without competition or top down imposition?

Sure he does. That’s what he’s been implementing in Venezuela. That’s why the professional oil associations in the U.S. give CITGO their safety awards instead of being able to give them to U.S. oil companies.

You say you were in Venezuela. Didn’t you look around? I guess if you haven’t noticed worker-owned cooperatives here, you wouldn’t notice them there either. A friend of mine in Caracas tells me that when American tourists visit, they wonder where the revolution is because they’re looking for little Che Guevaras with rifles running up and down the streets. The revolution is in the schools, the worker-owned factories, the housing projects, the neighborhood health clinics, and it isn’t visible to people who only look to and only talk with people who have titles and positions. You have to talk to ordinary people in order to see the revolution, because it is their revolution. Chavez is just a spokesperson, not an oligarch like our politicians here.

As a long term goal, do you want to have markets or central planning for allocation, or would it be more accurate to say you want to have some kind of cooperative negotiation between producers’ councils and consumers’ councils that arrive at a plan for the economy, without a command structure at the top and without competition?

Michael, Chavez doesn’t make the decisions. The people do. When he proposed Constitutional changes and the Venezuelan people voted against them, he acquiesced to the will of the people. Contrast that with the U.S. where, when 90% of us opposed the bailouts, Obama and McCain, in the middle of a Presidential election campaign when they’re supposed to be pretending to court voters, issued a joint statement in support of the bailouts.  

Finally, regarding the Whole Economy, is it fair to say in light of your earlier answers, that unlike what has characterized 20th Century socialism, you are seeking participation as a key ingredient, and self management via worker and consumer councils, and equitable remuneration? And that you reject markets and central planning and prefer some kind of cooperative decentralized negotiation?

Michael, you haven’t interviewed Chavez. So you don’t know what his answers would be. But he’s a lot smarter than you and he is very unlikely to fall for a trick like trying to force him to frame his answers in your chosen terms.
If you are dropping markets, central planning, corporate divisions of labor, and remuneration for power and output, all of which have characterized socialism until now, I wonder, why do you want to keep the name socialism? Doesn’t it risk confusing people about your aims? Why not call what you are seeking for the economy, Bolivarian Economics or perhaps even Participatory Economics? And then, if you want to keep the word socialism, perhaps the whole society could be called participatory socialism? What is your reaction to this?

No, Michael, you can’t just walk in and rename an eleven-year-old revolution. Sorry. The word socialism refers to the fact that the Bolivarian Revolution is democratic in nature and intended to benefit all, not just the rich. To define socialism as authoritarian Communism, and then condemn it for something it isn’t, is sleazy.

Communications and Media
Regarding the mainstream newspapers and other media owned and controlled by the rich, so active in attempting to create mayhem and hate, what is the cause of your patience in allowing them to persist? Is it concern about free speech, or is it more about the tactics of how to go about social change successfully?
Good question. If I were Chavez, I’d have shut down the hate media long ago. But what he has done is provided an alternative to the hate media, something that, if you weren’t so elitist in insisting on framing the debate and setting the terms, I’d think you were trying to do here in the U.S. on Znet.

Venezuela seems to be torn between private media, controlled by a few elites, and state media, controlled by the government, with a smaller role played by community media. But what about truly grassroots, democratic media? Could that be the media of the future for Venezuela? 

Because Venezuela has a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government media is truly grassroots and democratic, just like the government itself.

Judiciary: Law and Courts
In September 2008, I interviewed Fernando Vegas, justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. For Vegas the key idea seemed to be that the constitution says that Venezuela is a state of law and justice, not just law. What are the implications of saying it is law and justice, rather than just law?

I’ve written extensively about the fact that here in the U.S., justice and law are not only mutually exclusive, they are mortal enemies. There’s a story about a law professor here in the U.S. who was asked a question about justice by a student. He told the class to go outside the building, look at the engraving, and see if they were in a school of justice or a school of law. Our Supreme Court is about to decide whether or not Troy Davis, an innocent man who was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, can still be excuted. The law here says that as long as there were no technically incorrect procedures in his trial, his factual innocence is not relevant and he can be executed, and I expect the Supreme Court to continue or even extend that precedent. If they decide that he is entitled to a new trial, they’ll find some technicality in the law on which to base their decision so that justice, the reality that he is innocent, doesn’t interfere with law. What Vegas is saying is that in Venezuela law is not the sole determining factor like it is in the U.S., that their Constitution also take justice into account.

What do you think would happen now and what do you think should happen, if a worker came to the Venezuelan courts and said, I know the law says that it is okay for my employer to pay me the wage I am getting, but it is unjust. I should be paid much more. How would, or should, the court react?

Michael, if your neighbor has a child who complained that the tooth fairy hadn’t left them enough money under their pillow, how would, or should you react? Hugo Chavez has a lot on his plate and he doesn’t have time to waste educating you about details you could learn on your own if you cared to. The Venezuelan courts will rule in accordance with both law and justice on all cases before them. There are millions of hypothetical cases that could come before them and I’m sure that if you tried you could frame questions about several thousand such hypothetical cases. Don’t you have anything better to do? Chavez does.

Old Laws in New Context
To what extent does it make sense, or not, for the Bolivarian Revolution to obey laws constructed for an entirely different time and purpose and to abide institutions with those old roots, as well?

As an example, the old law says that the owner has a right to their property and to the profit they can generate via paying exploitative wages, and Venezuela still abides that law.

Insofar as you are an advocate of revolution, don’t you feel torn at times, by old laws you hope to transcend yet you must defend?

Of course he does. But he cannot do anything unless the people want it done.

You didn’t take over the old universities and public schools as your strategy, but instead created a new Bolivarian University and local literacy missions.
What is the difference from the old to the new?

What was the strategy in building these new models next to the old failed approaches, but not taking over the whole system directly? Is the strategy working?

Write to the Venezuelan Ministry of Education. I’m sure they’ll be happy to answer your questions.

The U.S. the health system is profit driven. If profits can be enhanced by delivering health, that is fine with the owners – but if profits require acts that subvert the health of workers on the job, communities, and even actual patients – that’s okay with profit-seekers too.

What is it about prior approaches to health care that you reject and seek to get beyond?

What alternative health care ideas are being developed in Venezuela? What should be the character of health care in a good society?
They have neighborhood health clinics all over, but they mostly do public health work with regard to educating people in order to prevent health problems. In a good society, everyone should have access to health care. That’s why most leftists and progressives in the U.S. support single-payer health care. You should watch Michael Moore’s film "Sicko" to learn more about health care systems.

Kinship and Gender
You said, at the WSF in Caracas, that Venezuela’s socialism would be feminist. What does that mean to you?

What efforts are being pursued to make Venezuela a feminist society?

Are the changes that are occurring in daycare, health, and education leading to changes in the way men and women are relating in the household?

What else is being done to reduce machismo, to get men to share housework and take responsibility for child care?

Are men different now than they were in the past? Are you? Is there any discussion in Venezuela about changing family structure, marriage, or parenting? Are there efforts to address homophobia and the rights of gays and lesbians more generally?

One of the things Chavez has done was to surround himself with so many wise female elders as advisers, that Venezuelans, instead of calling him the father of the revolution, sometimes jokingly refer to him as the grandmother of the revolution.

Culture and Community
What do you feel ought to be the future relation between church and state? How are you handling this relationship currently?

What is the scale of the problem that still exists around race in Venezuela, regarding the indigenous and afro-Venezuelan black communities?

What is the goal regarding issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and cultural communities more broadly?

Regarding race and religion, what do you think should be the situation of different racial groups, ethnic groups, and religions, in a future Venezuela?

The Venezuelan Constitution guarantees equality for all. That’s the goal. It hasn’t been reached, but they’re a heck of a lot closer to it than we are.

Ecology and Global Warming

How would Bolivarian economics or perhaps we can all it participatory socialism to encompass the government and other aspects as well, make a difference both in Venezuela – and, then, were it to exist more widely, internationally, regarding global warming and ecology more broadly as well?

No, you can’t rename the Bolivarian Revolution, Michael. It wasn’t your idea and you can’t take credit for it. Sorry.

What can be done, given the historical legacy and context, about Venezuela’s antiGreen oil price/subsidy system?

Given that Venezuela is a major oil exporter and that the buring of oil is the primary factor in causing global warming, how do you see Venezuela’s responsibility with regard to preventing global warming?

Actually, it isn’t the burning of oil generally that is the primary factor in global warming. It is the large amount of oil that the U.S. military uses to wage wars of aggression and maintain close to a thousand military bases all over the world. We need the oil to wage the wars to get the oil to wage the wars to get the oil….etc., etc. The seven new military bases we’re building in Colombia so that we can invade Venezuela and get their oil will use up more oil than the Gulf oil spill. It’s an endless loop.

International Relations
Looking into the future, what do you think ought to be the foreign policy approach of a worthy, desirable society, in a revolutionized world full of revolutionized countries?

In contrast, what do you think ought to be the foreign policy approach of a worthy, desirable society, such as Venezuela today, in the current world, that is full of imperial greed and violence?
Many sincere and supportive progressives around the world have been concerned about your government’s collaboration with governments that they consider to be human rights abusers such as the government of Iran or China. Do you think it is necessary for a progressive/socialist government to engage with governments that massively abuse human rights and repress their own populations?
If it is wrong to engage with governments that massively abuse human rights and repress their own populations, nobody should have anything to do with the U.S. and Israel.

Couldn’t this lead to muting criticism of Iran’s religious police or of China’s treatment of Tibet, for example, because of the needs of international diplomacy? More generally, how do you think a progressive government should deal with such issues?

First of all, a progressive government wouldn’t wage wars of aggression. The Chavez government doesn’t. The Obama government does. So if you want to know about principled foreign policy, ask Obama, not Chavez. Of course you’d need somebody much wealthier and more connected than Chomsky if you want an audience with Obama. But in general, when greater human rights abusers like the U.S. criticize lesser human rights abusers like Iran or China, it is merely for propaganda purposes. We train torturers and run death squads all over the world. We overthrow democratically elected governments whenever it will benefit private corporations. As Lori Price says, "Pot, meet kettle."

Current Trade Policies
When engaging in trade, does Venezuela exchange at going market rates, or do you negotiate terms of exchange with other variables in mind?

What permits Venezuela to pay attention to other variables, ignoring or violating market prices when justice requires doing so?

Can you explain the Bolivarian effort to forge Latin American alliances and, particularly, to engage in exchanges not on market terms but negotiated for fairness – and can you perhaps also explain why you aren’t even more aggressive about promoting these efforts so others hear about them, and about urging the importance of others behaving similarly?

Chavez does what he can. If you like what he is doing, you are free to aggressively urge others to behave similarly. If you don’t like what he’s doing, you can continue trying to distract him and waste his time. As far as I can see, you’re not leading and you’re not following, so you’d best get out of the way.

Left Solidarity
What do you think should be the role of leftists around the world vis a vis Venezuela? What do you think we who are outside of Venezuela could do differently and better?

I know you won’t believe this, Michael, but that’s for us to decide, not for Chavez to decide. He knows it, so why don’t you?

US Imperialism
The major role of U.S. government and U.S. government funded groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Agency for International Development (AID) in funding opposition groups in Venezuela to overthrow your government through electoral and other means including violence are well known. Their behavior recalls Chile from 1970 to 1973, and Nicaragua from 1970 to 1990. Why don’t you ban their activities in Venezuela and their funding and organizing of the opposition?
He does as much as he can do without providing the U.S. an excuse to invade. Our government doesn’t need an excuse, but it is wiser not to give them one.

To justify overt intervention rather than just economic pressure, the U.S. might seek to promote secessionist movements of oil regions, and use those domestic desires – real or fabricated – as a pretext for intervention. Do you have any plans to forestall this?

Yes. And apart from what has been publicly published, they’re none of your business.

The Fifth International
You have announced that Venezuela is going to take initiative in convening a fifth International. Can you clarify what you have in mind for this project? Who do you think will be part of it? Parties? Unions? Projects? Movements?
What do you think will be, or should be, the conditions to be a member?
What do you think will be, or should be, the International’s overarching goals?
How do you think the International will or should, function?

That, like everything else, is for the people to decide, not Chavez.

Having no personal experience of democracy, I know that it is difficult for you to wrap your mind around bottom-up politics. You might start by reading everything you can find about the Zapatistas.

Chavez is just a guy. The people put him in power and can remove him any time they want. You, on the other hand, are one of the educated, entitled, American elites. You’re frustrated because you haven’t been able to use your connections to cross-examine Chavez. Boo hoo. Poor Michael. Doesn’t Chavez know who you are? As a matter of fact he does. You got invited to Venezuela, you even got an award, and that doesn’t seem to be enough for you. Back off. Any Venezuelan peasant can answer your questions better than Chavez can and better than I can. That’s because they have eleven years of democracy under their belts and they know what it is and how it works. They’re the majority in Venezuela and they’re the real power, the people who make the decisions. Not the rich people, the peasants. I have a friend in Venezuela and if you’d like, I can ask him to make arrangements for you to interview a farmer, a fisherman, a factory worker, or any other powerful person in Venezuela. Every one of them knows how to read and write. Every one of them has a copy of their Constitution. Every one of them knows what’s in it. They should–every one of them voted on it. Their Constitution wasn’t written in secret by oligarchs for oligarchs, it was written in public by the people and for the people.

Some day, Michael, when you stop looking to the top, handing down political formulas from on high, and start listening to los de abajo, those on the bottom, you’ll be ready to answer your own questions.

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