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Meeting with Venezuela’s President Maduro

Interview with Anti-war activist Sarah Martin
Interview by staff |
May 16, 2019
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President Maduro
President Maduro (Fight Back! News/staff)

Fight Back! interviews noted anti-war activist Sarah Martin, of the Minnesota-based Women Against Military Madness. Martin traveled to Venezuela on a solidarity delegation organized by the U.S. Peace Council, March 11-18.

Fight Back!: The corporate media says Venezuela’s government, headed by President Maduro and the national democratic Bolivarian Revolution, has little popular support. What were your impressions?

Sarah Martin: This is one of the many lies told by the media, who once again are spewing the U.S. administration’s propaganda for a U.S.-orchestrated coup. Maduro is a democratically elected president. He received 67% of the vote in an election in an electoral system that is internationally recognized as one of the world’s freest, fairest, most open and secure.

The majority of the people of the country, including members of the government and Maduro, are black or brown and come from the working class and the poor. Maduro was a bus driver This is Maduro and the Bolivarian movement’s base. Whereas, the opposition is largely white and represents the elite.

When we arrived, the country was in the midst of a blackout caused by a U.S. cyberattack on the electrical system. This was supposed to cause great chaos and unrest resulting in the people rising up against the Maduro government. Instead, Venezuelans understood this was a coup attempt and they resisted and pulled together. The government distributed food and water and kept the buses running, There was no looting and the streets were calm. Venezuelans knew this was another imperialist challenge to their revolution and government and understood the importance of resisting and being unified.

They also understand that even though this attack failed, there will be more, and they must be prepared. To protect against a right-wing opposition attack on the president, unions, community, students, housing and women’s groups have set up an occupation outside the presidential palace.. Thousands of people are taking part.

On Saturday, March 16, the government called for an anti-imperialist pro-Bolivarian march. 1000,000-plus people came; as far as the eye could see in both direction a sea of red. These kinds of demonstrations have been held every week since Guaido self-declared himself president. In contrast, the opposition rally and march was very small. Clearly, the U.S. coup effort is failing and the political future of Juan Guaido, the self-declared puppet for Trump, is fading.

Fight Back!: What kind of damage have the U.S. sanctions, along with the economic sabotage of Venezuela’s elite, done to the economy, and how have these attacks affected the livelihood of the country’s working people?

Martin: The sanctions and economic attacks on Venezuela are worse than those on Cuba or Iran. They are criminal and a form of warfare. United Nations Human Rights Council said just a few days ago, that the International Criminal Court should investigate economic sanctions by the U.S. against Venezuela as a possible crime against humanity. And every day the noose is tightened. Factories have left the country. Goods were hoarded, prices were hiked exorbitantly and subsidized basic goods were smuggled out of the country. Business owners openly broke the country's labor laws, engaging in mass layoffs and shuttering plants without any warning. As the economy spiraled into crisis, the working class and the poor were made to feel great pain. Essential medicines are in a very dangerous short supply. The country could build its own drug labs but can’t because materials needed to build them can’t be imported. It’s difficult to import food. Government services and programs have been at risk because its accounts from oil sales are frozen in foreign banks.

Over the last five years, Venezuelan per capita income has dropped by 40%. Hyperinflation cut down on people’s ability to buy anything. This has actually stabilized recently. Furthermore, the country has lost billions of dollars in oil sales.

Fight Back!: What are the accomplishments of Venezuela’s government?

Martin: Since 1999 when Chavez first came to power, 50% of poverty has been eliminated and extreme poverty has disappeared. A Cuban-style health care system has been built with clinics on every few blocks. The Ministry of Urban Agriculture was created, which funds food and livestock production throughout the county. It is projected that by the end of 2019, 25% of the country’s food will be grown in this way. Illiteracy has been eradicated. Universities are free. Since 2016, 2.5 million units of low-income housing has been built.

While in Bolivia, Maduro rode a gondola which connected two mountain communities. Inspired by the idea, he has installed gondolas in many mountainside ‘shantytowns’ in cities around the country. Now people in these communities are a part of the city in all ways.

The Maduro’s administration has provided more than 4.8 million computers, over 100 million technology textbooks to students across the country, and more than 20,000 schools have received new computer equipment. Venezuela ranks sixth in the world in terms of enrollment in primary education and has increased its coverage of secondary education to 73% of the population There have also been gains in civil rights of historically oppressed sectors of Venezuelan society, like women, Afro-Indigenous people and the LGBTQ community.

In spite of the draconian sanctions, not one hospital or university has closed. The government’s CLAP program, a community food distribution system, provides a box of essential food, including corn, wheat, dried milk, to 6 million families every month at a minimal cost. In fact, the government has not cut back on any social program.

There is no question there has been a shift in power in Venezuela. The working class is advancing, while the bosses are in retreat. Venezuela has some of the most progressive labor laws in the world.

With the support of Maduro, workers have taken over shuttered plants and either turned them over to the government or to their community.

Fight Back!: Please tell us about the meeting with President Maduro.

Martin: We met with him, and his wife and son for 90 minutes. He explained the three parts of the U.S. attack on the electrical system causing the blackout. First was a U.S. cyber-attack on the brain of the electrical system. There is evidence it emanated from Houston, the home of the company that provided infrastructure for the grid, and Chicago. There was an electromagnetic attack on the power lines. Substations were attacked.

Technicians worked around the clock and by the time we meet with President Maduro, almost all power had been restored.

He said that for the last 200 years there has been a struggle between Simon Bolivar and the Monroe doctrine - between independence and sovereignty on one hand and colonialism on the other. And today it is a struggle between socialism and capitalism for the future of humanity.

He wants to keep talking to the U.S. but will not give up Venezuelan independence and sovereignty. He has offered to talk to Trump. His foreign minister met with [U.S. Secretary of State] Bolton but nothing was settled.

President Maduro closed the U.S. embassy in Caracas because it had become a dangerous place, actively working to instigate a coup, including U.S. diplomats offering bribes to generals to defect.

He has been to the U.S. and talked about going to Little Italy, Chinatown and liking Jimi Hendrix. He almost signed with the LA Dodgers. He was very pleased to hear about the Hands off Venezuela demonstration in Washington on March 30. When he heard the bus drivers in Boston endorsed the march and would be driving a bus to it, He said he would like to drive that bus to the march. We told him a Hands off Venezuela demonstration was happening in Minneapolis at the same time and he tweeted it out to his millions of followers.

This is a historic, important and critical time for not only Venezuela but the world. We must mobilize against U.S. sanctions, war threats and the attack on Venezuela’s sovereignty.