For years Venezuela has been on the brink – on the brink of economic collapse, starvation and total chaos. Once the most affluent country in Latin America, this is a nation in freefall.
Hyperinflation and wartime levels of violence can kill...and Venezuelans are dying. In hospitals unable to provide the care they need or in the streets at the hands of armed gangs vying for money and power. But how did the country that sits on the world’s biggest oil reserves get here?
Many blame the so-called Bolivarian revolution, and the man who embodies what is left of it for bringing the country to its knees. Nicolas Maduro virtually inherited power from his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez in 2013. But his authority came into question when he was re-elected for a second term last year in a vote that was contested by much of the world.
Last month Opposition Leader Juan Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to declare himself interim president and got the support from the US, EU and several Latin American countries.
Now very few people in Venezuela are able to tell you who is actually in charge.
"So, now there is Nicolas Maduro and another person has been announced, who is Juan…I don´t even remember his surname,” one woman said.
“We have an interim President who is Guaido and we have a President who is the usurper, who is Maduro,” said another woman.
"Look, anything could happen and the problem is, that’s what they want. They want something to happen here so they can stay in power,'' said one man.
Euronews' Anelise Borges travelled to Venezuela to understand what is happening and to interview the man at the centre of the storm, Nicolas Maduro.
Anelise Borges: "Mr President, thank you very much for speaking to us here on Euronews. Today yours is a country at a crossroads, a country with two presidents. What exactly is happening in Venezuela?"
Nicolás Maduro: “It is not possible to have two presidents in a country. In Venezuela there is only one president under the constitution elected by popular vote, according to Venezuela’s political institutions. And this president, is this humble worker sitting here, Nicolas Maduro Moros. There is a coup currently taking place; it has failed; we have neutralized it. This was instigated by the US government inside Venezuela. The United States used all its political, diplomatic and economic power to try to install a puppet government in Venezuela, something which is unprecedented in our history.”
Anelise Borges: "But the US, the EU and several other Latin American countries have recognised Juan Guaido as the interim President."
Nicolás Maduro: “This violates all the rules of the United Nations charter that prohibit intervention in internal affairs, violating the very precepts of the Venezuelan constitution. This is part of an attempt to dominate, conquer and create a neocolonial relationship with Venezuela. In any case, who decides the political life of a country, who elects the presidents inside all the countries of the world - popular sovereignty in Venezuela is no exception. They can say whatever they want – Donald Trump’s government, the extremist administration in the White House and its satellite governments – but in Venezuela it is the people who are sovereign and who decide. No foreign government decides what we do here.”
Anelise Borges: "But it’s also a people that is divided. I want to focus first on the international pressure. You are under unprecedented international pressure. How do you sort this out? We all know your foes. But who are your friends today?"
Nicolás Maduro: "I think we have many friends in the world. In Africa, recently during the meeting of the African Union, a set of interesting pronouncements were made. In Asia, great powers like China, and the greatest powers today in Eurasia, the Russian federation, Turkey. In Latin America, the Caribbean countries, more than 14 countries, the Petrocaribe…in any case, this is a global battle. Who turned the battle for Venezuela into a global battle? The interests of the extremist elite which governs the United States. I always say, Anelise, if Venezuela produced potatoes and vegetables, and exported potatoes and vegetables, it wouldn’t be a centre of geopolitical interest for the extremist elite of the United States who wish to dominate it, would it? But because Venezuela has the biggest proven oil reserves in the world, the biggest proven gold reserves in the world, the fourth largest gas reserves, strategic mineral reserves such as coltan. Venezuela has always been of geopolitical interest, especially in the last 20 years when commander Chavez wrestled back control of our natural resources. The real interest of the elite in the United States is not democracy, they are not interested in democracy in the world, their only interest is to plunder our wealth. This is their real interest.”
Anelise Borges: "You have requested a meeting with Donald Trump: is it to try to sort out this crisis?"
Nicolás Maduro: "When I asked for it, the situation was different. I believed, I always believe that you can open paths of dialogue and through dialogue it is possible to find an understanding on how to live together – peaceful co-existence, respect. But it is impossible. They have killed any possibility of dialogue, of rapprochement, they have killed it. The White House has given an order that there should be zero dialogue and this is deplorable. I believe in dialogue, I believe in words, I believe in diplomacy. The president of the United States is very badly informed about Venezuela. He has stereotypical viewpoints that have led him to make erroneous decisions. They have taken him down a dead end, and now he has to try to escape this path. When he does, Venezuela will always be ready to engage in constructive dialogue with the United States in order to have respectful relations."
Anelise Borges: "Do you believe in dialogue here in Venezuela as well? Are you available, ready to talk to Mr Juan Guaido for example?"
Nicolás Maduro: "I have made more than 400 calls to the opposition for dialogue. The Opposition goes much further than the man they have put up as the presumed interim president, far beyond. This man is there by circumstance. I am willing and ready for dialogue with the Opposition, as a whole, or with parts of the Opposition whenever, wherever. And I truly believe, Anelise, I’m convinced that the only thing that can help Venezuela this year, and in the years to come, is honest dialogue, with an open agenda, and that we make comprehensive agreements for the good of Venezuela, for the prosperity of the country."
Anelise Borges: "One of the main conditions of this dialogue could be for you to allow humanitarian aid into the country, something that you said you won’t do. You won’t let these items come into your country, you believe it’s foreign intervention, it’s an attack on your sovereignty. Meanwhile it’s also a current mechanism, a lot of countries have that and Venezuela is a country that has great needs at the moment. Don’t you think it’s wrong to make politics out of this particular issue?"
Nicolás Maduro: "It is wrong to use the concept of humanitarian aid as an ideological political issue, as a way to humiliate a country. And that is the mistake made by the Venezuelan Opposition, and also the Trump administration: to want to humiliate a country. They froze more than 10 billion dollars abroad. It means our accounts are under scrutiny abroad. It’s almost as if they are preventing us from importing medicine and food supplies - because they go after our money in foreign accounts in every corner of the world. And after they freeze 10 billion or more dollars, they come to tell us that they are going to give 20 million dollars in contaminated food, rotten food. It’s contaminated."
Anelise Borges: "Contaminated? Why contaminated? Do you have proof that this food is contaminated, this aid is contaminated? You think so?"
Nicolás Maduro: "Well, information has come out of Colombia itself. It’s food that has not been… is full of carcinogenic chemical elements …. that has not had the required tests. And it has already caused several cases of food poisoning in Colombia itself. Now, beyond that they have politicised the concept of humanitarian aid. If you want to help our country, I tell Donald Trump, I tell Mike Pompeo, I tell the governments that are behind this “show”: release the accounts that are held hostage, release the gold that they have stolen and Venezuela has enough resources and everything else to import everything we need. Stop this gruesome “show” of trying to suffocate Venezuela and then offer us only crumbs. We are not anyone’s beggars."
Anelise Borges: "The situation is very difficult in Venezuela today. There are shortages of medicine. I have visited a couple of hospitals and I have spoken to doctors who have told me that it is not easy to work today to try and help Venezuelans. We have seen the queues for food in the last few years. Do you recognise at least that you do have a problem in your country, a serious problem?"
Nicolás Maduro: "Tell me a country in the world, or the third world that has no problems. Tell me a country that has no difficulty in overcoming poverty. A Latin American country. I give you the example of our neighbours Colombia... but you do not go to Colombia with a magnifying glass. 70% of poverty in Colombia, 30% of misery. People have been leaving Colombia for years. More than 15 million Colombians have emigrated, but no one shines a spotlight on that. Why do they put the spotlight on Venezuela's problems? To justify a story, a script that justifies intervention in our country, the domination of our country. Why did they put the spotlight on Libya and then leave it five or six years ago? Because the situation in Libya was serious and it had to be bombed, because the situation in Iraq was serious and they invented weapons of mass destruction. No one can tell us that I have weapons of mass destruction, that I have rockets pointing at the United States. They make up our story."
Anelise Borges: "You talk about the experience of people in the barrios, in the most modest areas of Caracas and other parts of the country. These are people that supported the revolution, that supported your mentor Hugo Chavez, that supported you. Many of them however have been talking about extremely difficult circumstances. Several of the people that I’ve spoken to Mr Maduro in the last few years that I’ve been coming to Venezuela have told me that they used to support you but it’s become too difficult for them to continue to do so. How does that make you feel?"
Nicolás Maduro: "Our country is the focus of aggression of the most powerful empire in the world, they are going after accounts, they are blocking our accounts, they are hounding our commercial ships, now they are going after our oil. They have just expropriated a seven billion dollar company in the United States. Our country is still standing. Our country is working, we are facing the future and ready for the future. The people of this country are conscious. If they weren’t conscious, if they didn’t have values, if they weren’t revolutionary, the Bolivarian revolution would have disappeared a long time ago. Commander Chavez was often told, you have already lost the support of the people, but he won not just once, but two, three times. I’ve been told the same thing since the first day that Commander Chavez left me in charge. So, here I have broad-based support. It is moral and spiritual. This is profound political support. These same people who you say are suffering, who have conscience, they know what they are fighting for and they know that their only hope for a dignified country, where we don't become a colony, is the Bolivarian revolution. Rest assured, if we hadn’t won numerous elections in the last 18 months. We have won six consecutive elections. And if we had elections today, I can assure Anelise, if we had elections today for the national assembly, which are currently on hold, the Bolivarian forces would win again."
Anelise Borges: "These last elections have been contested by several countries around the world. I want to go back to that in just a minute because I want to bring something back. You said, and you have said that repeatedly, that you were, that Venezuela is the victim of an aggression by the United States, that you are waging an economic war. Do you take any responsibility though for what’s happening in the country. Do you think there has been any mistake on the part of your administration in terms of where Venezuela is now?"
Nicolás Maduro: "Of course, I assume responsibility, otherwise I wouldn’t be in government, I wouldn’t be the president of this country and I wouldn’t be the leader of this powerful revolutionary movement – the Bolivarian movement. I assume all the daily economic, political and educational responsibilities of the people. Every day I am governing for the people. Our method is one that is from the bottom up, which is inclusive of social movements. All sectors: women; youth; the working class; professionals. Before coming to this interview, for example, I attended an event which had more than 100,000 young people to talk about youth issues. I take full responsibility. Mistakes? Tell me who hasn’t made any mistakes. The only mistake I haven’t made, and will never make, is to betray my homeland, or to yield, surrender or kneel before Donald Trump. I will never do that. We won’t give up. We will carry on working to solve problems and overcome the mistakes. Rest assured, Anelise, that Venezuela will keep moving forward. We have realised that we have more freedom and independence than we thought from the empire in the north, its European subordinates and some governments in Latin America. We are far freer and independent. There is another world. A new multi-polar world has emerged. There are new poles of economic, social and military power in the world. There is no longer a unipolar world in which a single empire dictates and orders and the whole world obeys. No! There is another world and Venezuela is building this new world and we will continue to walk this path in peace. The coup that they have tried to impose on Venezuela and the US’ intervention will fail and be defeated. Sooner rather than later they will have to sit for talks around a table, show respect and respect the rules of international law."
Anelise Borges: "You’re talking about I imagine your poles of power, including for example Russia, Turkey, China, that are very important allies to Venezuela today. How big of an importance do you attribute to them. How grateful are you to have them on your side?"
Nicolás Maduro: "A great importance not only for Venezuela, but for the world. The People's Republic of China is the great economic power of the 21st century, in addition to being a great political power. It has already demonstrated that it can be a great power without being an empire, without establishing relations of domination, blackmail, neocolonial relations with the countries of the world. We have a relationship of extraordinary cooperation, of strategic partnership with China, of respect, of mutual benefit that has had great benefits for development and the economy in the last 15 years. With the Russian Federation as well. Russia recovered. Russia is a major international player. It is a first-rate political, economic and military power and with President Putin we also have close cooperation. I believe that these two powers, next to middle powers like Turkey, like India, like Iran, among others, like South Africa... will determine the future of humanity. The future of humanity cannot be everyone kneeling to the American empire. Not a unipolar world. It has to be a world where we are respected, above all small countries like Venezuela. A country of 30 million inhabitants with great natural wealth. We aspire to be a dignified, sovereign, independent country... not a colony nor to be dominated by blackmail, the imperial cry of the north. We aim for a 21st century of a multicentric, multipolar world, where the voice of the little ones is worth the same as the voice of anyone in the world."
Anelise Borges: "Once again, it really sounds like there are two poles, or multiple poles, but it sounds like a conflict, it sounds like a battle, a battle for influence, a battle for power. But in this, Mr President, as unfortunate as it may sound, the feeling is that the Venezuelans, the ordinary Venezuelans may be the biggest losers."
Nicolás Maduro: "I agree with you. Who is harmed and damaged by international sanctions, by the economic blockade? Who is harmed by this whole global campaign? The people of Venezuela, who have the right to live in peace. I believe that Federica Mogherini, the European Union and the leading governments of Europe have made a mistake with Venezuela. They have heard only one side. They have bowed to only one side. They have not listened to the whole country, which cries out for peace, dialogue, understanding, respect... and they have not listened to us, those who have a voice of real, true power. I believe that Europe has uncritically bowed to the wrong policy of Donald Trump, who has kicked NATO, who has kicked the governments of Europe, who has kicked the European Union, who has simply twisted their arms and forced them into a policy that has harmed Venezuela. Almost one million European migrants live in Venezuela: 300,000 Italians, 300,000 Portuguese, 300,000 Spaniards...almost one million European migrants. And the European Union has abandoned its migrants here and has put us on the verge of a military invasion of the United States. Donald Trump announced it a few days ago: I have the military option over Venezuela. I believe that the European Union has to listen to the whole country, it has to learn to listen with balance to all and it has to rectify its policy on Venezuela."
Anelise Borges: "You mention migrants, you mention people coming to Venezuela. We have also seen the pictures of hundreds of thousands, the UN says three million, Venezuelans leaving this country. I have heard you before on this point and you have said it’s a fabrication, it doesn’t exist. Have you seen the pictures though and how do they make you feel, of those people crossing the bridges and fleeing to Colombia or other countries?"
Nicolás Maduro: "I have never said that it is not so; it is a reality. There is a group of Venezuelans who during the last two or three years, for reasons linked to the economic war, have decided to seek new options in our country. It could be between 600 and 800 thousand Venezuelans. Several thousand of them are returning in the Plan Vuelta a la Patria because they found those countries xenophobic, labour slavery and conditions that they did not think they would find and they have returned to the country. Now what I can tell you is that those images that you say are repeated are the greatest manipulation that has ever been done. You can go today to the main bridge that connects Colombia and Venezuela in Cúcuta and San Antonio del Táchira and I can show you, the journalistic teams can take you to see that they are images of a great flow of Colombians coming to Venezuela, of Venezuelans going to Colombia, of 'vene-colombianos' of 'colom-venezolanos'....they are families that leave Colombia, that leave Venezuela and that have a flow of 30, 50 thousand, sometimes they reach 60 thousand people that cross for commercial trade, for business activities, for family activities...and they have taken those images to say that 3000, 5000 Venezuelans are leaving."
Anelise Borges: "According to UN agencies some two thousand Venezuelans stay on the other side, don’t come back. Again, you mentioned it, several of them have gone because of the hardships in your country. I want to bring back the question of how difficult things are, because some people say that you might not understand – because you are a President and you might be sheltered from the harsh realities that they are experiencing. We had actually brought some money to ask you if you knew how much 2,000 bolivars can buy today. What 2,000 bolivars can actually buy today. Do you know that?"
Nicolás Maduro: "If I didn't understand the situation in my country, I wouldn't be president ….elected and re-elected. I understand because I come from the people. You should know, Anelise, that I was not educated at Harvard or at another American school. I don't even have an important family name, noble blood. I am a worker, a man of the people and every day I am with the people. I have permanent contact and I know exactly what's going on, that's why I take care of the job. Venezuela has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, that's why I take care of pensions, that's why I take care of the permanent salary, that's why I take care of the mother's right to assistance. We have one of the most advanced social policies. Why do you accuse me of not understanding?"
Anelise Borges: "No, I’m not accusing you. I’m just asking you. I wasn’t accusing you. I was just curious to know if you knew how much, what 2,000 bolivars can buy. And I will tell you, 2,000 bolivars can buy a coffee. Toilet paper is costing around 13,000 bolivars. It’s a lot of changes. This money last year could buy much more. I think the most important question here is not really that. It’s - can you fix it? Can you fix the situation in this country today?"
Nicolás Maduro: "We're taking care of it because it's a brutal war. On August 20 last year I took a decision to make a currency devaluation and we managed to take a big step towards the recovery of the sovereign bolivar, in the recovery of workers' wages. Then we have been battling hard in the months of September, November, December, January and February and this year we have the goal of controlling the induced hyperinflation and of increasing the value of the Bolivar, and to position the international 'cryptocurrency' that we have set up, the Petro. As a monetary policy, we pay attention to workers' salaries; we help six million families with a direct subsidy. Tell me a country that does that. It doesn't exist, but it does in Venezuela, which is working for justice for equality, for socialism.If it wasn’t like that, Anelise, the revolution would have ended. The revolution exists because reality serves the people. Here there are no orphaned people, here there are no abandoned people... there are people under attack, of course. Tell me which country in the world would withstand the economic aggression of the most powerful nation in the world. Who would withstand it? Having their accounts frozen, their accounts put under scrutiny, and forbidden to import what they need... Venezuela is making a heroic, truly admirable effort. I admire the heroism of the Venezuelan people, how they have faced all these circumstances and we are going to move forward, rest assured."
Anelise Borges: "I’ve got one last question Mr President. How do you think you will go down in history?"
Nicolás Maduro: "I don't know, but what I'm sure of is that I won't be remembered as weak, a coward, or a traitor. I am clear about my role. And every day I am filled with courage, with passion for my homeland, for the love that moves me. Love moves me, Anelise. I am not moved by the desire to be a tycoon, to enrich myself personally or to enrich economic groups. We are moved by an idea of homeland, the homeland, your history over 200 years. I am sure we will continue to write it. Then, the future? Well, let them remember me, hopefully objectively for what I was, for what we are, but rest assured that we are going to move forward with great skill, with much perseverance, defending the rights of our country in the face of the aggression that the West is hiding. The West hides an aggression, Anelise. Reflect. Please reflect as a young journalist. You haven't asked a single question about Donald Trump's aggression, about the threats of military invasion because they hide it. It would be a tragedy, it would be a worse tragedy than Libya."
Anelise Borges: "Are you afraid that that could actually happen?"
Nicolás Maduro: "When the extremist president of a country, like Donald Trump, continually threatens a military invasion, one has to worry."
Anelise Borges: "Are you getting ready?"
Nicolás Maduro: "No one in the world is ready. In the first place, we are preparing ourselves to defeat their threats. I make an appeal to the people of Europe, I make an appeal to all right-thinking people, I make an appeal to you to reflect... the noble people of Venezuela have the right to be respected, they have the right to peace. Do not hide the aggression of the United States behind the problems they themselves create. They create a problem with aggression, sanctions and then try to blame the political model, the Bolivarian Revolution. We are the object of the most brutal aggression. The United States is focused on a single objective in the world: to destroy Venezuela, to colonize Venezuela, to destroy the Revolution. It has not been able to, nor will it be able to. And here peace will prevail, rest assured. We will continue to see each other in the years to come. And you will see a new era flourish in Venezuela. We are going to make it possible."