"Chavez made the fight against poverty his main aim. 17 years later, it is worse. There are more poor people than ever before."
Amid plans for a recall referendum vote in the hard-hit South American country, Henrique Capriles, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition, talks to Euronews.
Alberto de Fililppis: Venezuela is a country on the verge of collapse: at 700%, its rate of inflation is the highest in the world, there are shortages and social insecurity amid an angry political struggle between a government determined to hold onto power and an opposition clamouring for change.
Henrique Capriles is one of the leaders of this opposition. A former presidential candidate, today he is one of those pushing for a recall vote (or referendum) calling for President Nicolas Maduro to stand down.
Biography: Henrique Capriles
- He is a Venezuelan politician and lawyer
- Current Occupation: 36th Governor of Miranda
- Co-founder of the political party Primero Justicia and former presidential candidate
Mr Capriles, thank you for being here.
Henrique Capriles: Thank you very much, Alberto, and welcome to Venezuela
Alberto de Fililppis: Henrique Capriles, tell me more about this referendum, or recall vote as it is also known. Why is it so important that it is held this year ?
Henrique Capriles: All elected public servants, elected by popular vote, can be recalled after half of their mandate .
If we are talking about a six-year presidency, then once the third year has passed, 20% of all Venezuelans registered on the electoral roll can ask for a recall vote or referendum, in order to pass verdict on the president’s performance.
They can decide whether they want to recall his mandate or keep the incumbent in office until the end of his six-year term.
Why have we asked for a recall vote? Firstly, Maduro is halfway through his mandate. Secondly, Venezuela is in the grip of the worst crisis in its history. There have been others in the past, but right now, this is the worst economic, political and social crisis in our country’s history.
What are we hoping to achieve with a recall vote? A solution to the crisis – and it must be a political one. Why? Because the government, which controls the entire economy, is to blame for the inflation rate, the highest in the world, and the worst shortages in the world.
Venezuela at the moment is all about queues, endless queues to buy basic supplies like food and medicine. It is the government that got us into this mess and it is not prepared to change. They want everything to stay as it is.
The political crisis runs deep. We are insisting on this recall vote because we believe in a democratic, constitutional, peaceful and, in my opinion, electoral solution. The Venezuelan people are the only ones who can solve this crisis.
Alberto de Fililppis: What will the opposition do if there is no referendum called this year?
Henrique Capriles: In my opinion, if we don’t have a recall vote this year, there will be social turmoil – society will erupt as a result of the growing daily tension. There may even be a coup.
We don’t want either of these things. That is why we are pushing for a solution that is backed by the constitution – a recall vote.
Alberto de Fililppis: Talking about the risk of a coup – the army, police..
Henrique Capriles: A police officer, the national guard – I told you before this interview, they are the worst paid on the continent. A police officer earns 30 dollars a month in Venezuela. Thirty dollars!
Do you know how much you need to take care of a family-of-five? 185 dollars. How can a police officer survive? Or a national guard?
If you ask me about their background, almost every police officer and member of the national guard comes from the slums or from poor areas of our country. They are not rich, they are not millionaires. Police officers are also affected by the crisis.
They are public servants and they do not want to have to resort to violence to prevent a recall vote being held. On the contrary, I am sure they want a fresh election as well. They know it will change the government and we will start to get Venezuela back on its feet.
Venezuela has no future with Maduro. Other countries must be aware of this. The government lost the election in December, just over six months ago. They were overwhelmingly beaten but they carry on along the same path.
Do you know how they are trying to explain the economic crisis? They say there is an economic war. With whom? Do you really think that what Venezuela is going through has anything to do with the US or any other country? No.
The problem is that we are living in Venezuela. The Chavistas (supporters of former president, Hugo Chavez) are frauds, they are thieves, they have destroyed the productivity of the country.
We had the highest oil productivity in Venezuela’s history – they stole it.
Billions of dollars have been invested in Venezuela in the last few years – where is it? Where are our resources? Why are we starving in Venezuela today? Do you know what most people are surviving on these days? Mango. Mango and Yuca (a potato variant). A few years ago it would have been unthinkable that people were starving.
But that is happening now. It is the reality and it is getting worse each day. What can we do? We must push for change because we do not believe in instability.
Alberto de Filippis: If you were president, what would be the first things you would do? Especially regarding the economy – would you ask the IMF for help?
Henrique Capriles: Many people abroad think Venezuela is only about oil. That’s wrong. If you get to know my country, you will find out that Venezuela has enough territory to be self-sufficient. Venezuela has gas. Gold – there are mines. We have some of the highest reserves of the coltan mineral in the world. We have the largest reserve of drinking water on the planet.
Venezuela could develop its tourism industry. I am not just saying this because I am Venezuelan – Venezuela has everything. But to have a working economy, you have to build trust. International investors are waiting for Venezuela to change so they can come here and invest.
Venezuela must be rebuilt. There are endless opportunities to start a business, create jobs and create opportunities in Venezuela. We have a small population of only 30 million, but the richest oil reserve on earth.
Potentially, we are strong. Today’s problem is a political one, you must understand. This problem must be solved by political means.
We have only one chance to solve this political crisis and you must understand in Europe, and I have said this twice to former prime minister Zapatero, in Venezuela there can be no more dialogue.
In the last few years, we have endured constant confrontation but not a dialogue. We don’t have that culture, like you have in Europe. In Europe, you can see what happens in national parliaments. They talk to each other. Where should dialogue happen? In parliament.
After that, we can vote, but always based on the dialogue. This is the purpose of politics.
We don’t do politics here. Our only option is to let the people vote. People should choose. The people should decide. The government wants to get around the table – why? Because they don’t want a recall vote. The 2.6 million people that signed for the recall vote don’t count. This is unacceptable. We will not negotiate the constitution. It is the highest institution in this country.
Alberto de Filippis: If you were president, how would you play the relationship with neighbouring states like Cuba?
Henrique Capriles: Castro took advantage of us and still does.
And then Cuba abandoned us. When they saw that Venezuela was bankrupt, without resources, what did they do? They opened negotiations with the US. And Havana has been successful. The world wants to invest in Cuba.
So, if you are asking me about the relationship with Cuba, if I were responsible for this decision I would say that I would not continue to give oil for free. Why? Why should we keep giving oil for free in a country where 80% live under the poverty line, where people are starving ?
Why should we give our oil away? What for? To please people? To win friends? Do you think it is possible to buy friends? Friends stay with you through thick and thin.
Our two peoples are united by history. We are on the same continent. We are latinos but you can’t expect me to allow Venezuela to keep giving its resources away. We can’t. We need to have a light on in the house – you can’t leave your house in darkness and have lights outside.
And with what aim? For a common vote at the OAS (Organisation of American States)? For having international support? This is over. When you say, “trust is the key, we can be on our feet in a year”, how? By working with the private sector? How can we do that? By using oil, not by stealing it or by giving it away. We should use it to diversify our economy. We could liberate resources within a year so we can import food and relaunch other sectors. To restart our economy.
Alberto de Filippis: Is there anything that you would or could preserve from the Chavez era?
Henrique Capriles: Chavism was only about president Chavez, that’s my opinion. That does not mean that those who believe in the project should not have political representation. They will. But what can we say today in defence of this wrongly-named revolution? Chavez put the fight against poverty as his main aim. So, seventeen years later, what is the situation regarding poverty in Venezuela? Do you want to know? It is worse. There are more poor people than ever before.
Alberto de Filippis: Impunity is another huge problem in this country. What can be done about that?
Henrique Capriles: Of the ten most dangerous cities in the world, three are in Venezuela and top of the list is Caracas. The situation is dramatic and Venezuelans are the ones who are suffering most.
There is a huge crisis. We had 27,000 murders last year alone. But if you ask a citizen what the biggest problem is, he will say “the economy”. Despite the violence we are experiencing, the worst problem citizens have is the economy.
But to answer your question – how do you solve this problem?
You have to change a couple of things. You must change the way justice is administered. The public attorney should not be the only authority, you must strengthen the police, you must create a better education system. We have three million children who are outside the school system.
In order to achieve this, there needs to be political will. The entire state must make an effort to do this, together with the people. I personally believe that this government does not want to have that kind of security. They want anarchy in society.
At the end of the day, the citizen is weak. The citizen shuts himself away, he sees his house as a prison and the only saviour is the government, because it has the military force.
This type of government is based on this climate of violence and impunity, because it renders citizens weak. If you have weak citizens, you have citizens that don’t make demands in respect of the constitution. What we have is an autocratic, authoritarian government, something we are fighting against in today’s Venezuela.
Alberto de Filippis: In the name of ideology, Venezuela has closed its eyes to the presence of groups like the FARC on its territory. What is your take on that?
Henrique Capriles: It goes on. You probably know about paramilitary groups, that is how we should refer to them. They are in Caracas and other places. They have been referred to as “collectivities” but their behaviour is nothing like that – they are more like paramiltary groups. They are groups that operate completely outside the law. They are not security forces, they have no uniform, they are paramilitaries who are protected by the state. This also contributes to the violent conditions we are living under.
Alberto de Filippis: Chavism was very generous towards a large section of the population. But some think what was given has destroyed the spirit of the people. Many in Venezuela have got out of the habit of working. Workers are strongly protected by the system. How do you explain to people that the music has changed?
Henrique Capriles: Today, we have almost nothing left. The government has destroyed the health and education systems. The national housing scheme is a lie. They have not built more than a million houses.
This is the reason why they do not want to change the law, because fresh legislation will reveal the true number of houses built in Venezuela all these years.
How can you get the country back on its feet? By working hard. I believe the majority of people are well aware of that. Over all these years, many people got used to this system which destroyed the value of working. But we can get this value back.
The Venezuelan citizen is a hard worker. We are not lazy. That is why I tell you: do not believe the government’s story. Do not look at Venezuela through the government’s lens. We are different from our government.
Alberto de Filippis: What would you say to left-wing governments in Europe and elsewhere that support the government?
Henrique Capriles: I invite them to come to Venezuela. i will receive them. I want to make myself clear. I am not a conservative and I do not believe that Venezuela has had a conflict between left and right. This is just an excuse – there is more to it.
Venezuela has never had a government on the right. Venezuela’s heart is not on the right, if you want to have an ideological debate. Don’t ask me, ask the citizens if they are left or conservative.
The problem in Venezuela is not the ideology. This is a self-professed left-wing government but when you look at how it behaves, it looks like one from the far-right.
When you hear its language, you see how conservative it is. And this is a so-called leftist government? This is not true.
There is something else I want to make clear. I invite all those left-wing people who support this government. Please come. I will show them the truth. i will take them to the slums, not to the presidential palace. That is where they will go. The authorities put them in nice places, in bubbles. This is typical of this government. They live disconnected from the world and then try to make the world believe that this bubble is the truth.
Come here. Don’t be afraid. Do not hide in other cities, in nice offices with air conditioning. They talk about claims – what kind of claims do they mean? Come to Venezuela and see the reality for yourself.
There is one more thing I would like to say. There is no international plot against left-wing governments in Latin America. This is a lie. These governments are trying to hide behind ideology because they are accused of being corrupt. Corruption is bad, whether it is on the left or on the right. Corruption is a cancer. We cannot accept or tolerate it. Venezuela suffers today because of a lack of food and medicine. We are the least competitive economy in the world and the country with the highest corruption rate in the world. We are last on the list for transparency. We have corruption, not transparency.
Alberto de Filippis: But you trust the future ?
Henrique Capriles:I am an optimist
Alberto de Filippis: Henrique Capriles, thank you for the interview.