Hugo Chavez, R.I.P. - Leader Broke Venezuela Out of America's Imperial Orbit, Threw Neoliberal 'Economics' in the Trash
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Hugo Chávez in September of 2005 in an interview, exclusive interview, with Democracy Now! that he held with Amy and myself. I wanted to ask you, Miguel Tinker Salas, the impact of the oil policies of President Chávez on the independence of the Latin American region and the ability to export the idea of a social revolution throughout Latin America?
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Yeah, I think oil has to be understood as something that is not simply an economic question for Venezuela. It’s also a very important political, symbolic and cultural element within Venezuelan society. For Venezuelans, it was supposed to be the vehicle to modernization. And when Chávez comes to power in 1998, oil prices were less than $7 a barrel. So, in many ways, what the government had to do was to reconstruct a vision of Venezuela that included oil as part of the motor of change, of social change in Venezuela, not only for Venezuela, but also for the region. And oil was its most important cachet.
So, the first stage we saw was an effort to reclaim the oil industry, which began to operate essentially as an international conglomerate that was housed in Venezuela but did not really consider itself Venezuelan. So that was the first stage we saw in the context of reclaiming oil and attempting to create oil within a sustainable bandwidth in which Venezuela could sell oil commercially and then also initiate social programs and then also be able to provide it, as it did in the San José Accords in the 1970s, along with Mexico, to Central American countries, to Caribbean countries, that had to pay very onerous prices. So what Chávez’s government does is to use oil not simply to buttress relations with the U.S., but to buttress relations with Latin America in a very important way, to provide oil and long-term credits to countries like Nicaragua, like Dominican Republic, like Jamaica and other countries in the region, and including Cuba, and using that to create a tremendous amount of political goodwill, because it recognized that Venezuela has an important role, not simply as a purveyor of energy to the First World, to the U.S., which was its dominant trading partner, but really to Latin America.
And then that notion of economic nationalism, of economic sovereignty, spread throughout Latin America. We saw the same example in Bolivia nationalizing the gas industry. We saw Ecuador rejoining OPEC. We saw the creation of Petrocaribe, a Caribbean initiative that provided oil at short-term—long-term credit rates to the Caribbean. We saw the provision of oil to—of heating oil to communities in the U.S. under the banner of Citgo, so that Northeastern communities that had to pay onerous prices received oils at subsidized prices, as well. And we saw also Petrosur, the creation of a South American oil body that actually helped negotiate conditions for oil industry.
So, in many ways, many of that is attributable to the policies that the Chávez government instituted. And I think that’s what was sustainable. I think the previous system that had existed before 1998 was unsustainable. And the reality is that with that kind of recasting of oil, and of its symbolic importance as a part of the integral development of social development of Venezuela, we saw that clash between the imaginary Venezuela that saw itself simply as an international oil-producing country, and now reclaiming the oil industry as part and parcel of the social development within Venezuela, a major chasm had developed. And I think that’s what was healed under the Chávez administration.