The truth about Venezuela: Interview with Yadira Hidalgo, Venezuela’s Charge D’Affaires in South Korea

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By Dae-Han Song (Chief Editor, The [su:p])

The International Strategy Center is launching a Venezuela Solidarity campaign to dispel the mainstream media’s blackout and misinformation about Venezuela’s Revolutionary process. As part of this campaign, we are doing a series of articles exploring Venezuela’s current situation and the mainstream media’s coverage of it.

On May 1, President Maduro invoked a National Constituent Assembly. On July 30, despite violent street protests, more than 8 million people (of the 19 million electorate) voted for members of the National Constituent Assembly. The elections effectively stopped the protests. Then, on Oct. 15, in another sign of public support, Maduro’s party won 18 out of 23 governorships. Yet, despite the opposition’s violence and economic warfare, despite the public support and the participatory nature of the National Constituent Assembly, mainstream media continues to frame the Venezuelan government as a dictatorship and the National Constituent Assembly as undermining democracy.

We start our article series by interviewing Venezuela’s Charge D’Affaires in the Republic of Korea, Yadira Hidalgo. The following is an edited and shortened version of the interview.

The last four years since Chavez’s death seem so important in understanding what is happening now. Could you tell us what happened during that time?

Before President Chavez died, he said that Nicolas Maduro (Vice President at the time) should be president. When the new elections took place, the candidate for the PSUV, for the Patriotic Pole was Nicolas Maduro. After his death and right up to the election, the people were so deep in sorrow that it created an atmosphere of uncertainty. So, the difference in the votes between Maduro and Capriles was not as high as in previous elections [between the ruling and opposition parties]: about 300,000 votes.

The people were filled with sadness. Plus, the opposition ran a campaign saying that Marudo was not Chavez that Chavez was dead. It created a lot of pain among the people, so many simply didn’t vote.

After his defeat, Capriles did not acknowledge Maduro’s victory, nor the National Electoral Council (CNE 1). He called for protests. Not many people came out, but those that did from the ruling classes went out to destroy CDIs 2(Center for Comprehensive Diagnosis) saying that ballots were hidden there. They destroyed these hospitals and created a climate of violence. 11 people died.

Those in the opposition know very well that the electoral system cannot be tampered with. However, they want to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. Capriles never recognized Maduro as president. So the violence and scarcity continued, which brings us to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC 3).

When did the economic war start?

It started when President Chavez was sick. For example, there wouldn’t be any milk in the store. It’s not that there wasn’t enough milk. It’s that some stores would have sugar but no milk. Another would have milk but no sugar. Another would have flour but no milk or sugar. All of these stores would be far from each other on purpose. So a homemaker would have to run all over the state to do what before took 10 minutes. The opposition was testing the people.

This is not a problem by Capriles or the opposition. They are instruments of something much more powerful: the U.S. State Department. After Chavez died, it became a lot easier to suffocate the country. Now with US fracking 4, the prices of oil dropped. They want to starve Venezuela. The CIA and the State Department have used these techniques in other countries like Chile, Libya.

I would like to focus the question a bit. In particular, on why Maduro called the ANC. From what I heard, it had to do with the guarimbas 5.

It was in this context of scarcity of food and medicine that the 2015 National Assembly election happened. The opposition accused the government of starving the people and that if elected it would end the queues. The opposition won 112 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly. With that majority, the first thing that they said is that they would remove the president, nothing about resolving problems. Yet, nowhere in the constitution is the National Assembly given such powers. It cannot dismiss the president on its own. What they could have done is to gather signatures in support of a recall referendum. They only needed 1.9 million signatures (10% of the 19 million electorate) which they were unable to achieve.

The opposition parties, financed from outside, called for protests. They created destruction, burned people alive. They manipulated the media. 100 people died. The global media says they were killed by the government. However, the majority of those killed were from the [government’s] armed forces.

Three of the new assembly members had committed fraud. The CNE called new elections for those states. Yet, the president of the National Assembly still swore those assemblymembers into office. The Supreme Court ruled that the National Assembly was in contempt and suspended its authority to legislate. This is in the constitution. The opposition knows all of this but is doing it to justify foreign intervention. This paralyzed the country because there weren’t laws, a budget.

The OAS has unsuccessfully tried to enact the democratic charter on Venezuela. The member countries, even if they are not attuned to Venezuela ideologically, know such an action is not right. Allowing such an action would put them at risk later.

It was in this context, after calling for peace, after calling for dialogue, as a last step, that the president, exercised his given right and called a National Constituent Assembly which is encharged with going over all the laws. The election was carried out on July 30. Little by little, things got calmer. So these people affected by the guarimbas, that were sequestered in their homes, they voted. It was such a success because they were saying no to the violence.

After the ANC election, I heard that the violence stopped almost immediately. What’s the connection?

It wasn’t just the ANC. The supporters of the opposition realized that the people were fed up with the violence. You could see it in the TV networks. 15 days before the elections, there was a simulation. 9 million people (of the 19 million electorate) showed up. This simulation didn’t have any value, but that’s when the opposition realized that people, even those that weren’t Chavista or part of the PSUV showed up and participated. The opposition could see that people wanted peace. The opposition didn’t put forth any candidates. They thought this would invalidate the process, but that’s not what happened.

Was there any criteria to be nominated?

All you needed to do is be 18 years old and state why you wanted to participate. Once you registered yourself, you needed to get a number of endorsement signatures based on the percentage of voters in your district. You had to go door to door collecting the signatures.

What I don’t understand, is that the president called a National Constituent Assembly that has power over all the branches of the government including the executive. In some ways, this political moment offered greater possibilities for the opposition. It’s not like the opposition has just 10% of public support. It’s still a sizable portion of the public. Might not they have won many of the seats in the National Constituent Assembly?

This is my personal opinion. That climate of disgust and confrontation is not typical of Venezuelans. It was created by the  media.  What they created was that Chavismo is ugly. It is of the poor, of the unintelligent. So those that consider themselves of the high society, don’t want to be be like those people. They don’t necessarily have a political criteria. I’ve had personal conversations with them. “Chavez is ugly. Maduro is dumb.” I ask them, “Why do you think Maduro is dumb?” It’s our own family members. They are like, “How can someone so smart like you vote for someone so dumb? Vote for a killer?” So, I ask, “Why is he dumb? What makes you say that Chavez doesn’t read?” “He’s a killer.” “Well who did he kill?” When you start to have a discussion with them, they might just end up saying, “Well, that’s how I feel about it.”

What I want to tell you is that all of this was created by the media. It’s often young people that don’t know the history of Venezuela. Before Chavez, people couldn’t protest in the streets because they would be killed. That wasn’t so long ago, but they’ve forgotten. And the media doesn’t report on this. They have erased the historical memory.

So you are saying that the opposition knew that if they participated in the National Constituent Assembly that they would not have been able to win because these elections were happening at the local level apart from the parties. That in that regard, it was much more about the substance of the candidate.

The opposition thought that by not participating, by telling their people not to participate, to not field any candidates, they would minimize the legitimacy of the National Constituent Assembly. But they failed because the participation of the people was overwhelming. They thought that they would win the governor’s election. They know that they are not the majority.

Maybe my last question. What happened with the ANC, where 8 some million people participated, the end of the guarimbas, could this be viewed as a great success? The initial success of stopping the guarimbas was consolidated by the governor’s election results. However, in the media you don’t hear about this story. Why is this narrative not appearing in the global news in the Korean news? This was a highly democratic moment.

As I’ve said before, they have created in the imagination the notion that Maduro is a dictator and a dictator cannot be democratic. As Eduardo Galeano stated, “How strange a dictator that calls so many elections, where everyone can participate, where the opposition is saying that there is no freedom of expression in front of thousands of mics.” There is nothing about the elections that the government won. Every time the opposition wins, the results are respected. The media states that it is a narco-state. No drugs are produced in Venezuela, but Peru, Colombia, Mexico where drugs are produced are put up as model nations. I was shocked by a Korean Parliamentarian who based on the appointment of a judge was concluding that Korea is becoming communist like Venezuela. And who then went on to say that in Venezuela, they eat their pets. Sure we have rabbits as pets and we also eat rabbits, just like Koreans eat dogs.

What has been your experience with Korean media?

When we invite them to some sort of political act, they don’t come. They tell us to send a press advisory and then they will decide whether or not to publish it, and they don’t. Outrageous news is published in the Korea Times or Korea Herald about Venezuela. I call them and let them know. They say it’s not their responsibility. They are simply getting it from AP or Reuters. I ask if they want to know the truth. “Sure sure, send us something if we think it’s good we’ll publish it.”

Any last words?

Venezuela is a sovereign country that continues fighting for its liberty and against the hegemony of a foreign power with respect for other countries. Venezuela helps other countries. With great humility, we’ve helped with catastrophes. Because we have oil, we created Caricom to provide oil at accessible prices. It is one of the countries with the highest human development indices. It is a country free of illiteracy where education and health care is free. Venezuela is a beautiful country that deserves to be treated with respect.

Notes:

  1. National Electoral Council translates as Consejo Nacional Electoral or CNE for short. 
  2. A Center for Comprehensive Diagnosis is part of Venezuela’s health care system. It is at about the level of a local clinic. 
  3. The National Constituent Assembly translates as Asamblea Nacional Constituyente in Spanish or ANC for short. 
  4. A controversial extraction process that has made it easier to access previously difficult to reach fossil fuels. The increased supply of fossil fuels drove down the price of oil. 
  5. Guarimba is the Venezuelan term for the violent protests by the opposition in which they occupy and inflict violence upon people in a certain street.