You are spearheading a drive to bring the question of
Latin America's foreign debt before the International
Court of Justice. What is that all about?
We may go to the International Court of Justice or
we may bring a case involving a U.S. bank
before a court in the United States. We are still
exploring the possibilities. We want to bring the debt back
to the attention of the world because it is illegal and it is
crippling our development. Forty-five percent of Vene-
zuela's federal budget goes to paying the foreign debt. And
this reflects what is happening all over Latin America.
That is why the Latin American Parliament is involved and
prepared to take action. The foreign debt in Latin
America has already been paid. In 1987 Latin America
had a total outstanding foreign debt of $426 billion. Over
the next nine years we paid $648 billion on the debt and
despite these payments the debt stood at $611 billion. It
was a case of "the more you pay, the more you owe."
Latin America has paid more than 100% of the loans. And
it's the only region that has historically paid its foreign
debt. The United States has not paid all its debts. France, Germany, England have not paid all their foreign debts.
When Venezuela renegotiated its foreign debt in New
York in 1986, the 536 creditor banks chose the Chase
Manhattan Bank to be their negotiator, their "captain."
At the same time, the Venezuelan government was being
advised by the same Chase Manhattan Bank. Incredible!
And on the Venezuelan side of the negotiations was a
man named Pedro Tinoco who was a member of the
board of the Central Bank of Venezuela and at the same
time on the board of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Tinoco
was at the same time a debtor and a creditor. These are
the kinds of issues we would like to take to court. And
what's more, after negotiating with Venezuela in 1986,
Chase Manhattan has refused to hand over the debt-cer-
tificate deeds so that Venezuela can collect from private
and public companies. It has refused to do so. And since
I'm in charge of the commission that's investigating the
debt, I have asked Chase Manhattan to please send the
documents so that the government can collect. They
don't want to send them! So we are going to take legal
measures against Chase Manhattan.
Meanwhile the Venezuelan people are living through
a situation that we can only call paradoxical. We have a
government and a state that are immensely rich and a
population that is immensely poor. In the midst of
hunger and unemployment, the federal government has
accumulated a sum close to $16 billion in international
reserves. Last year, at the same time, there was three-
digit inflation. This was unknown in Venezuela. This is
the first time we've had such economic instability.
Venezuela has become tremendously poor. To give an
example, right down the hall, in the other office, is my
sister Pastora Medina. She is the mayor of the town of
Caroni. This town has a population of approximately
300,000. Last year, she handed out 300 small coffins to
300 mothers to bury 300 newborns that had died from
malnutrition. And Caroni is where the country's key
industries are located-aluminum and steel. Scenarios
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like this one are common throughout the country. People
are undergoing a calamitous, terrible situation. In short,
they are hungry, but hungry with a capital H. There are
people here that go to bed without dinner, many elderly
people awake without breakfast. In Argentina, San
Bonifacio is the most popular saint, because he is the
saint of miracles. In Venezuela, the equivalent is San
Onofre; he is the patron saint of the unemployed, and
like in Argentina, people go to San Onofre to ask him for
miracles and work. That's the level we've reached.
When Rafael Caldera was elected president of
Venezuela in 1993, even
though he was elected on a
the first things he did was
Venezuela are to make a pact with the
bankers. The financial cri-
by sis exploded in his first
the state. By year in office. We warned
him about that crisis. I
contrast, wages went to speak to Caldera in
in the country
December, 1993 with an
ex-treasury minister who
are controlled, knew about financial
and people are crises. And we told him:
"Dr. Caldera, we have a
earning report that says that of the
27 banks in the country, 17 are in bankruptcy. They are
wages. It's a bankrupt for this and this
critical situation, reason." He didn't listen to
us. We told him: "The
strategy in this case is to
nationalize the banking
sector, re-organize it, and then if you want, sell the banks
again. But we must nationalize to prevent a financial
bailout." He didn't listen to us and the financial crisis
What did that mean for Venezuela? When the bank
bailouts began, bankers just changed the federal-bailout
money into dollars from the Central Bank's reserves,
and took $7 billion out of the country and into interna-
tional banks. And Caldera did not arrest even one
banker; he suspended constitutional guarantees, but not
one banker was arrested. The dollar, which was worth
113 bolivares, surged to 200. It was controlled for a
while, and now it's near 500 bolivares to the dollar. And
that is what generated inflation in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
And it was also the result of other erroneous policies.
The bankers here are subsidized. By contrast, wages
in the country are controlled. People are making starva-
tion wages. There are professionals making 70,000 boli-
vares, or $120 to $150 a month. The minimum wage is
around $30 or $40 a month. It's a critical situation.
That's why I was saying that the people bearing the
brunt of the crisis are the workers and the common peo-
ple. By contrast, the government is still subsidizing the
nation's banks, and it is still subsidizing international
banking. It's a subsidy because 45% of the budget goes
to pay off the foreign debt.
What alternatives do you see to the present system?
We must find an alternative to this system that makes
us so dependent on the international banks. The
Venezuelan people have voted for fundamental change.
President Caldera was elected because he promised
fundamental change. The trouble is, there are two Dr.
Calderas. There is the Dr. Caldera who is the founder of
Venezuelan Christian Democracy, and one of the cre-
ators of Venezuela's political system after the fall of the
dictator Marcos PNrez Jim6nez in 1958. This Dr.
Caldera is a very traditional man. But the people didn't
vote for this traditional Rafael Caldera. They voted for
another Dr. Caldera who stood up in the Senate on the
day of the coup attempt on February 4, 1992 and ques-
tioned the suspension of constitutional guarantees by
President Carlos Andr6s P6rez. In front of the president,
the armed forces, the political parties, the Congress, he
blamed the government's neoliberal economic policies
for the attempted coup. At that moment, politically
speaking, he came back to life. He had been a political
corpse, low in the polls, but when he spoke "he revived
before the third day." So the people want change.
On an international level, I think that the UN could be
an important forum for discussing these issues. In the
case of Third World countries, which primarily export
raw materials, let them have a fair price. Let there be low
and stable rates of interest. Let Latin America have
access to science and technology. I think that if this hap-
pens, and there is equitable trade, then we could change
the world's economic prospects. We would have to
democratize the UN, get rid of the Security Council. The
UN should not just be the voice of governments. The
UN would have to be an expression of governments, but
also of a world parliament and NGOs. With those social,
political and economic criteria, we could reorganize the
Your party, La Causa R, is well-known for its local grass-
roots organizing, but now you seem to be moving to
Yes, we began with grassroots movements-the union
movement in the state of Bolivar, the neighborhood
movement in parts of Caracas and the student movement.
The first two were quite successful and became the basis
for a national political party. Now we are building on the
representation we have gained in Congress and in the
Latin American Parliament. We are confronting our
impoverishment at an international level, but the basis of
our political power is still at the grassroots.
You are spearheading a drive to bring the question of