An Interview with MAS' Teodoro Petkoff

September 25, 2007

Movement Toward Sociahsm (MAS) has been
Venezuela's third party, and the largest party on
the Left, since the 1 970s. Now MAS is a part of the gov-
erning coalition of President Rafael Caldera, and the
party has won greater congressional representation than ever before. The MASistas are, however, clearly the
junior partners in the Caldera coalitionthe unpre-
dictable social Christians of Convergencia are the domi-
nant partners. MAS is also in danger of being eclipsed
by the workers' party Causa R as a critical force on the
Left. The veteran MAS leader and theoretician Teodoro
Petkoff was a prime mover behind MAS' association
with Caldera. He was interviewed by Steve ElIner in his
Caracas office on January 24.
Caldera ca/Is for selective protectionism. What sectors
could be singled out and on the basis of what criteria2
Some sectors of agricultural production which gener-
ate the most employment in the countryside, as well as
small- and medium-size agricultural property, have to be
protected. I am thinking here of corn, rice, cereals. Of
course, large property-holders do not need any protec- tion and can perfectly well be exposed to competition.
Some sectors of small- and medium-size industry will
also have to be protected. Of course, protectionism
which implies discretionary powers on the part of the
government frequently leads to corruption, but we have
to run this risk because it is preferable to have a produc-
tive apparatus with a capacity to generate sustained
economic growth than to open the country to de-iridus-
trialization as occurred under the Perez Administration.
Caldera not only talks of selective protectionism but also
of selective privatization. He wants to study each case
individually. On the basis of what criteria should deci-
sions be taken?
Privatization has to be seen through pragmatic lenses.
It is neoliberalism that is bent on converting the issue
into one of ideology. Everything other than what com-
mon sense says should be run by the state, should be
destatized, which is a word I prefer to "privatize." Cer- tain parts of the state sector should be turned into
cooperatives, which would promote new forms of deci-
sion-making. I believe that the state sector should be
concentrated in two areas: upstream activity in the oil
industry and electrical energy.
Following his election, Caldera spoke of the "politics of
austerity." What sectors of the population should bear
the brunt of these policies?
First and foremost the government itself. The state has
to carry out a policy of reduction and rationalization of
spending and this implies, of course, the repression of a
number of privileges, and ostentatious and conspicuous
Since the collapse of Communism, the non-Communist Left has been
on the defensive. We were affected not by the collapse itself, but by th
idea that no alternative to capitalism exists.
expenses. And, in the second place, the
very rich. The Venezuelan tax policy has
to have two basic thrusts. First, the cre-
ation of a fiscal police force which is so
stringent and well-paid that it would be
more expensive to bribe it than to pay taxes. And in the second place, an
income-tax reform so that the rich pay
what they are supposed to. Nowadays, many in the upper-income brackets in
Venezuela pay no taxes at all.
Fedecamaras [Venezuela's Chamber of
Commerce] favors scrapping the system of severance payments for workers, a
position which important sectors of orga- nized labor argue should not even be
considered or discussed. What is your
position on this extremely polemical
In a country where there is absolutely no system of
social security worthy of its name, the worker's future is
not assured even to the most minimum degree. To dis-
cuss a modification in the present system of severance
payment, without the existence of a satisfactory alterna-
tive proposal, can only lead to lowering the cost of lay-
offs. This is what is called in the jargon of neoliberal
economists the "flexibility of the labor market," which
means, in effect, making layoffs cheaper and easier.
Workers have good reasons to oppose the "flexibility of
the labor market" since the burden falls completely on
their shoulders.
To what extent can the ideological examination which is
long overdue in MAS be enriched by a dialogue with
other progressive Latin American parties?
I believe that here in Latin America a new Left is
emerging. It includes the Workers Party in Brazil, the
PRD in Mexico, the M-19 in Colombia, Sandinismo,
groups like MAS, and perhaps also some sectors of the
Socialist Party in Chile. An all-important search is taking
place. This search is necessary for a Left that since the
collapse of Communism has been on the defensive. And I am talking of the non-Communist Left. We were
affected not by the collapse itself, but by the idea that
no alternative to capitalism exists. Now I hope this new
movement will be located in a position which can be
called "advanced social democracy."
With regard to this "new Left"...
I would actually prefer to call it the "emerging Left."
The term "new Left" is not so new anymore.
Would you say that opposition to neoliberalism is its
common denominator, or is it committed to socialism?
It is actually too soon to say. After
all, it takes in parties with distinct tra-
jectories. But none of these parties
even remotely resembles the old Left.
Perhaps the M-19 is in certain ways
ahead of the others because it did
not emerge from the old Left. These
parties are a far cry from the ortho-
dox Communist Left and Castro, for
instance, who has refused to accept
political competition in Cuba.
Would you say that these parties are
equal to the establishment parties in
their defense of democracy?
_______ They are far ahead. In Venezuela,
there is no doubt that MAS deserves the credit for the direct election of governors and other important
reforms that have been implemented in recent years.
MAS was pushing these measures long before AD and
Copei, which refrained from committing themselves to
them until the late 1980s.
Causa R displaced MAS as the nation's third largest
party. Does this show that MAS needs to adopt a firmer
discourse or build up its presence on the streets and in
social movements? In any case, how is MAS analyzing
the December results?
Yes, these results need to be seriously analyzed.
Causa R's electoral advances are in large part the result
of its success in capturing the anti-Perez sentiment, due
to its hardened opposition to his government. But we
also firmly opposed Perez. What happened is that MAS
has been around for 23 years, and people thus associat-
ed us with the "old" politics. Many people don't realize
that Causa R has been around almost as long. In fact, many people do not know that this was Andres
Velasquez' third presidential candidacy, since the first
and even the second did not draw much attention. This,
of course, is not to deny the effectiveness of Causa R's
work over the years, especially in select industries in the
"iron zone." And the errors that MAS committed can- not be overlooked either. Our trade unionists, for
instance, have negotiated good contracts, but they have not succeeded in completely differentiating themselves
from AD and Copei in the CTV [Venezuelan Confedera-
tion of Workers].
Nevertheless, the December elections were hardly a setback for MAS. Sure, we went from third to fifth
place but this descent was relative since AD and Copei
lost their near monopolistic status and we are thus in a
much stronger position with regard to the establish-
ment parties.

Tags: Venezuela, politics, MAS, Teodoro Petkoff, interview

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