Very little is known about Nicolas Maduro, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in Spain. [There’s] scarcely four lines, mainly contributed by the mass media which is hostile to the revolutionary process. El Viejo Topo wanted to get to know him, and the Venezuelan president accepted the interview without any hassles.
But the invitation from Maduro wasn’t limited to just an interview. Immersed in what has been baptised the Street Government, the president has been visiting, over the last one hundred days of his government, all the nooks and crannies of his country. Practically every day he has visited a different place, accompanied by some minister, taking note of the principle problems in the area, talking with people, approving projects. One could say that during this period the government of Venezuela has had a somewhat itinerant character – something surprising for us, as we’re used to a Spanish president who has so little contact with the people that he talks to the press through a plasma screen, hiding his physical presence from the mortal journalists.
Well then, the president invited a team from El Viejo Topo to accompany him during one of these work days, and in that way, as that day progressed, the interview would be held. It was a unique chance to observe up close the Venezuelan head of state.
So on 20 July El Viejo Topo went early to the Caracas airport where the presidential airplane was waiting. After a 25 minute flight we landed at the San Carlos airport, capital of plains state of Cojedes. A lot of people were at the airport and in the neighbouring streets waiting to see Maduro. Owing to the tinted windows of the cars that transported us, many of them must have thought that the president was in one of them, so we were greeting warmly by the population that was waiting for the procession.
Forty-five minutes later the small parade entered a military base. Two helicopters flew over the area. A military band got into position: the president was heading towards them.
We’ll keep the story short: After the military ceremony, the procession headed towards a small platform where many soldiers and their families, over two hundred, were already seated. We were going to attend a promotion ceremony for a handful of generals as well as the handing over of banners to various military regions. After that, the speech.
Nicolas Maduro says what he means to say. Bread is bread and wine is wine. No beating about the bush. Even though it wasn’t the main topic, Maduro talked about Spain; Spain devastated by corruption which has nested itself in a good part of the political class, and which has been (and still is?) an accomplice of the Venezuelan right-wing fascist coup plotters. He cites unemployment and highlights how intolerable it is that 55% of Spanish youth can’t find work. It’s not even necessary to say that Topo agrees with him.
Around the big tent where we are the Armed Forces have set up a small exhibition of weaponry. Tanks, cannons, a range of military stuff. The president entertains himself in each area; taking his time, he converses with the troops and officials. The morning stretches out.
So much time standing up, for the Topo, our strength flounders. But everyone else doesn’t seem to be tired. Suddenly, very quickly, Maduro and a group of soldiers enter a big campaign tent. Could this be the Military Street Government? It seems there are issues to resolve. After a few hours, soldiers appear with a bit of food. It starts to rain like crazy; stick of rain as they call it here. In the stall the president, the defence minister, the president of the National Assembly, and a group of the military continue their debates. Suddenly, Maduro talks to us. It’s getting late, and the interview is about to start. “How shall we do it?” he says. He thinks about it for a few seconds, and continues; “Come with me, let’s get in the car.”
Everything happens in a hurry. Almost running, we get to the vehicles. Someone points to the car we should get in to. We do it, one in front, two in the back. There’s no driver. He appears: it’s Nicolas Maduro. The actual president drives the car. For a few seconds we can’t help feeling a little bewildered. One of us jokes about the category of driver.
The surprises continue: Maduro doesn’t treat us like journalists or strangers, he treats us like companions.
The president asks us if we have the recorder ready. “Go ahead, ask,” he says, while he drives the car. It’s obvious it’s not going to be a conventional interview, one of those where the interviewer measures their questions and the person being interviewed avoids answering completely. From there the tone of our whole conversation is colloquial, polite, not at all haughty. And we decide to start.
Someone had told us that his [Maduro’s] social and political commitment started when he was very young, so we ask him about his first years. Without taking his eyes off the road, the president responds.
I was born and grew up in the Caracas of the 1960s and '70s. I was raised in a barrio, in the area where the Central University of Venezuela is. In those years there was a big social and political upheaval, big struggles arose, focused above all in a powerful student, university, and high school movement. I remember, being stil