Venezuelan minister of culture interview

Issue: 111

Héctor Soto, is the vice minister for Culture for Human Development (el viceministro de la Cultura para el Desarrollo Humano)

Culture not only about arts but it now includes an anthropological point of view, its about a culture of resistance and anti-imperialism. Resistance to the groups who economically control the world who want to create everything into a single market. The US leads this imperialism which promotes the principle of consumerism- to consume those very products of the US multinationals- so that we all eat the same hamburger, listen to the same music, wear the same shoes. This is referred to in Venezuela as a type of symmetrical or parallel war to impose an imperial culture on us. When they talk of US military going into Venezuela the fact is that the US already invaded through cultural and product imperialism. We need to reconstruct a national identity if we want to survive as a people.

Our resistance to this is through funding our own cultural diversity to strengthen our traditions: our culture, oral literature, literature, music. That’s our task. We have 26,000 students working in the barrios, accounting the history of the Barrios, the wars of independence, the traditional music, organising the population- recovering the historic memory of the people. Our struggle is a struggle against forgetting. In this Mission Cultura we function within the committees in every barrio. We act as mediators bringing together all the different groups- not just theorising but working in this-it’s not just a discourse-it’s a task of work we are learning

I don’t believe art is neutral. Art doesn’t exist in isolation- art expresses what the community feels. An artist living in the mountains is still an expression of the society he comes from. Art has an important social role to play in all human processes, especially the processes of liberation.

This doesn’t mean the government tells artists what to do. We don’t pressure artists. They express what they want. We allow expression without any censure. We believe that absolute freedom is the creation of a new role of art in liberation process and the creation of a new society. They tortured artists to conform in the past.

I’m not in politics because of Chavez. I’ve been involved in struggle for 25 years- I come from the lower middle class- my father fought the dictatorship that fell in 1958. Socialist thought was always present. In university I was intensely involved in organisations of the left.
I’m not a member of MVR. I was in liga socialista. I was in the Bandera Roja & MAS. Now they are against the process in alliance with the right. I think they never really were revolutionary socialists. It was only an empty discourse to get them positions in government.

Revolution is a positive principled position when it is true. I come from this. I supported the Chavista government- when it became clear that it was taking an anti-imperialist position, at the end of 2000, at the end of the coup, when it was clear the US had tried to intervene this radicalised the process. The President took a clearer anti imperialist position. This gave a big opportunity for us on the left to defend the government, for a lot of the left who had fought in Venezuela for anti-imperialist positions. The anti-imperialist position of the government made it easy to align ourselves- the introduction of socialism made it easier too. If the president wasn’t so anti-imperialist then the debate would be much more difficult

My position is there is a need for a radical profound structural change. I put myself more with Che and Sandina than with social democrats. Within the government I define myself as part of the socialist left. Chavez is coming from the centre and moving to the left. From the social forum in Brazil Chavez proposed socialism. The Chavez of today is not the same Chavez that came to power. In 1998 Chavez was more of social democrat on the left- now I would put him in the left camp absolutely. Chavez defines the project as socialist, collectivist, anti-capitalist- that wasn’t chavez in ‘98 or 2000. He has been learning from studies and practical reality that its impossible to have collective welfare improvements in a sea of capitalism. 8 or 10 of the 27 ministries are left socialists- others are just good technicians- but they don’t have clear socialist thought.

We don’t feel that we have the power. We only have a tiny part of the power- the government. Power is in the ideology controlled by the media. Venezuela is a capitalist society-still a great part of the society functions according to the mode of accumulation. But in 3 years 316,000 co-ops have been set up, many coops still use credit, but a lot of the coops we are trying to create are popular based and much more self-management. This self-management is co-existing with a market society that has existed for 200 years. We feel it’s slow progress but in 2005 for the first time in the Venezuelan economy the taxes that the state got from non-petrol sector was greater than from the petrol sector. This shows we are activating areas of the economy that didn’t exist before. We were a mono producer, a mono product exporter. This change has a lot to do with the co-ops, the small textile companies, the small farms- given more than 2 million hectares with the ley de tierra. Our position against the latifundia is sincere. This was a strong motivation for the coup de etat- the ley de tierra.

What about the exploitation of Indigenous as part of the mining of coal in the Zulia state?The interests of capital is the same in Venezuela as the interests of capital across the world- they don’t respect borders-they maximise profits and minimise costs. Capital trys to enforce its laws. We have made peaceful revolutionary changes. We are trying to undo the contracts from the previous government. We have undone it in the petrol. We tried to bring in legislation to reduce the impacts of the mining. The exploration of coal is crazy.

What about links with lula and kichner? Not better to support social movements in these countries than such neoliberal governments?It’s not that we like just any government – our allies oppose neo-liberalism and promote sovereignty and development. I had a lot of doubts about Lula and don’t like some members of his government. During the Paro Lula sent boats with grain to help us and in Mar del plata Lula stood with Chavez and Kichner against Bush. In this moment in relation to US Lula is an ally.

We did a survey in Venezuela and asked are you in agreement with socialism…53% said they agreed. Its not philosophical- people have a leader and a process that they are building- they are defending material gains, its false to say as some do that Chavez’s high popularity is due to charisma. Chavez himself has 75% support. The 53% agree with socialism not because 53% have studied Marx but because the people identify socialism with health improvements, socialism with 1 and a half million who can read and write. UNESCO said Venezuela is free of illiteracy.

The people are constructing their process. The president is introducing his discourse of socialism. We have incorporated the theory and practice. The process is participative democracy replacing representative democracy, democratically transfering the power to the people. Our challenge is to construct popular power. We have a saying-the first power that people have to have is knowledge. That they know what’s going on that’s why we have a profound education campaign: Robinson 1⁄2, Sucre Ribas, also have high level of political information. We have launched the co-ops –to give power to the people. The President said that our task is to make us unnecessary as soon as possible.

What about the social movements at the base?

We have a concern that there isn’t unity of groups. This has historic reasons- we have a fragmented history. To change this reality is slow. We have to reconstruct how to live collectively after 100 years of consumerism. We have to have a cultural revolution, a change of values, the construction of a new man. But the fact that these fragmented social movements exist is an advance. The Bolivarian Circles, the committees of urban land, MVR, health, PPT, before they didn’t exist. The unifying factor is Chavez-and for some years to come he is a necessary leader.

Each occasion we are advancing the position of the left as a response to the enormous popular pressure. This differentiates us from the ‘positive technocrats’. You can see this in the discourse of Chavez and others who are moving to the left. You can see it in the distribution of land, the recovery of factories and the creation of Co-ops.

Some take an ultra- left position and say we haven’t done anything –yet look at the consciousness of the people- now the people of Venezuela are anti-imperialist. Only a few years ago the dominant view point was capitalist dominated by the US- now wherever you go people, especially the most poor, know that the US want our resources, our petrol, our water- they know the enemy is the US.

Our political analysis is that internally we have the elections in December. But the right-wing have already committed suicide within Venezuela. The scene has now moved to an international level as the right wing here doesn’t have the force militarily or politically to take power itself.

The Inform de observadores de EU de eleciones de deciembre- (OEA) –the new strategy of imperialism s visible in the EU questioning the referendum of Chavez. Saying there is no independent power in Venezuela and that the army, executive and courts are all controlled by Chavez – this is the preparation of a delegitimisation of the process.

The withdrawal of the right in the last elections was attempting to portray that in Venezuela there is no democracy-there is only one party. Imperialism will play this card through a strong campaign of delegitimising. The church hierarchy pronounced against Chavez in June trying to diminish his popularity. Then there is the media campaigns. They will try an electoral victory with Maria Corena Machamo- president of Sumate who appeared in White House with G Bush. If their electoral strategy fails in December we believe that the US will probably declare us as part of the axis of evil and try to remove us with force. US imperialism knows that if Chavez wins in December that it will be difficult to reverse this process.

The situation in Iraq gives us optimism- this is the reason why Venezuela gets the message out internationally- also why the US is delegitimising us– they are trying to bring the confrontation to an international level and this is why we have to bring our voice to an international level. In travelling to Africa, Asia, Central America I see that Venezuela is not isolated. Brazil opposed the FTAA. The US tried to stop spain selling the planes- but couldn’t-they cant stop us trading with our energy and agriculture with other countries.

I agree with everything I read in En lucha except where it said that revolutions are spontaneous- nothing arises spontaneously. Venezuela has a large history in the last 40 years- 8000 deaths in the 80s-it’s not that Chavez is from God. Chavez is a product of a struggle that started with the indigenous against colonisation- that joined with the black slaves –we had independence struggles in the 18th and 19th centuries- the guerrilla wars of the 20th century- Chavez is not spontaneous – he is the product of accumulation of struggle. Chavez is a change- from the movements of 60/70/80s –he is a change from the defeat of the 90s-he changed the armed fight for an electoral one.
Whatever the contradictions within the process argued from Trotskyists’ analysis- I analyse it and see if the north Americans don’t like it then its good- if they do its bad. This resolves a lot of philosophy.

We are wining the battle at the first front at the field of ideas – later will come the material organisation of people- revolution- we are winning this battle. It gives hope to the world-we say publically that Venezuela is hope for another world.

It’s a peaceful revolution but not disarmed.

Captain Ramon Puerta – of the Chavez guard

The world social forum is important as a meeting place for ideas, for different views but the same challenge- to change the world- through liberation- to liberate ourselves from ideas imposed by imperialism like consumerism, materialism, and war. We want change through peace, unity, respect, sovereignty. The new socialism is day by day creating resistance to the traditional structures that brought poverty and misery. Its a fight through political equality, cultural change. The media try to create a fictitious reality.

Social changes are necessary- to satisfy like the liberator Simon Bolivar said to give happiness or equality to the majority of the population. Not just to the small oligarchy.

We have seen in Latin America an imposed mentality. The old military formations have been distant from the people- but the military should be part of the people- it should be helping everyone develop- and be clear in its historic role- like soldiers of Bolivar-who fought for the liberation of six nations- not for invasion or occupation or conquest of nations. It should be a liberating army-to liberate from imperialism- to get their independence. Old generals had old ideas now we think of our social and not just military roles.