Grand Committee Room, Houses of Parliament, 2nd February 2005
Alfredo Toro Hardy (Ambassador to London of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela): Thank you very much, it's a great pleasure to be here tonight. I would like to express the gratitude of President Chávez for this movement, this network that has been so active, in which you have group of MPs, that under the leadership of Mr John McDonnell have been able to put down several motions in favour of the Venezuelan government. As well we have a group of authorities from British Unions, and of course we have a grassroots movement, Hands Off Venezuela, which has been tremendously active in promoting solidarity towards the Venezuelan government.
President Chávez is well aware of this effort, and as a matter of fact I spoke with him a few days ago and he mentioned that he would like to pass through Britain in a trip he must make to India at the beginning of March, to get in touch with you all and to personally convey his gratitude for this effort. Of course, this hasn't yet been scheduled but we are looking forward to it and we really hope he will be able to make a short stop-over here in London to meet you all.
Mr Galindez just made a very interesting approach to the problems being faced by the government internally. Perhaps I could talk a little bit about the problems being faced externally. And essentially I would like to refer to the problems that the Venezuelan government has vis-à-vis the Bush administration in the United States. Essentially I would say there are three areas in which differences emerge: political differences, economic differences and two different perspectives on foreign policy.
As for the political differences, I would say that President Chávez' government has been making a tremendous effort in order to empower the majority of the population that traditionally have been excluded. In order to do so, he has promoted a participatory model of democracy in which people have to act, in which people have to defend, people have to be vigilant of the political process. And as a result of that, since his election in 1998, he has promoted all of this. In any case there have been eight electoral processes in which people have been involved participatorily. In all those eight elections, in addition to the one that President Chávez won in 1998, President Chávez himself, his policies or his candidates, have won.
Notwithstanding that fact, the United States keeps insisting that we don't have a true democracy in Venezuela. The reason maybe lies in the fact that in the concept of American democracy there is a clear distinction between what they scornfully call "mass democracy" and what they call "liberal democracy". For them, there is an anti-majoritarian view of politics that goes against this kind of participatory democracy that we tend to promote in Venezuela. And in essence, what they clearly fail to understand is that throughout history - and again, I must say that for them the essence of democracy is the protection of minority - what they fail to understand is precisely that Venezuela, throughout its history, has had governments of the minorities, for the minorities, and by the minorities; and with the exclusion of the majority. And that is precisely what we are trying to correct. This difference is a fundamental difference which is very difficult to overcome.
But there is also the economic element. From an economic point of view, the United States tries to impose a market economy like in America, and they tried to impose the Washington Consensus within the region, which of course implies a decalogue of principles like trade liberalisation, privatisation, fiscal reform, and so on and so forth. But the fact is that within the application of these policies the results have been quite clear. Latin America is probably the only region, or certainly the only region in the world, whose economic indicators in the '90s were much worse than they were in the '70s. According to the Latin American Commission of the United Nations, Latin America's GDP decreased by almost 2% between 1997 and 2003. During that same period the number of people living in poverty in the region was essentially increased, as a matter of fact we have twenty million more poor people in 2003 than we had in 1997. So this whole concept of trying to promote this American concept, this market economy concept, of trying to promote economic growth through a market economy with a final end of generating a "trickle-down" that someday, sometime, someplace will generate social justice, is clearly not working in Latin America.
What President Chávez proposes is just the opposite: emphasising the human being, emphasising education, health-care, social and civic consciousness, new political parties, social capital. That is, trying to promote a more human society and a much more productive citizen. At the end of the day, instead of a "trickle-down" it's a sort of a "trickle-up", in which a much more conscious and prepared citizen will be able to produce prosperity.
There is also the main difference from the point of view of foreign policy. The United States promotes unilateralism, unipolarity, prevention of international laws, and of course a tight control of Latin America within the context of the Free Trade Area of the Americas; whereas Venezuela with President Chávez' government proposes co-operative multi-lateralism, multi-polarity, international law, and of course a Latin America as independent as possible, within the context of a Free Trade Area of Latin America.
Of course, this last point is perhaps the most sensitive for the Americans because they would like to see us as a part of their economy. But the example of Mexico speaks for itself. Mexico is a bordering country to the United States, which has a very powerful ethnic lobby within the United States. And notwithstanding that reality, Mexico is in a very difficult position as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico had to relinquish some fundamental sectors of its economy in order to integrate itself to the United States, among them agriculture. Those sectors have been totally swept off, and notwithstanding that fact, Mexico is cornered because it's incapable of competing with the Chinese products within the American market. If that happens to Mexico, what may happen to the rest of Latin America? Hence, President Chávez' emphasis on creating our own model of Latin American integration. It's not only about jobs, but it's rational.
There are some fundamental differences, but at the end of the day, we need the solidarity of all of you. It is fundamental because we are facing a tremendous campaign which every day is felt, through the mass media, the declarations of Washington authorities, and through many governments which are close allies with Washington. We need your solidarity and we are very grateful for it. Thank you very much.