The Sunday Mail
Venezuela Vice Minister for Africa Mr Yuri Pimentel was in the country last week. Caracas, just like Harare, is presently struggling under the weight of sanctions and a US-sponsored opposition. The Sunday Mail senior reporter Lincoln Towindo last week spoke to him on the importance of his visit
Question: What is the purpose of your visit to Zimbabwe and the message you have brought for your counterparts in the Zimbabwean Government?
Answer: First of all, we are glad to be here. It is my first visit to Zimbabwe as the Vice Minister for Africa.
I had the honour of meeting with your Vice President (Kembo Mohadi) twice at some other international events in Equatorial Guinea and in Nigeria.
I was very much interested not only as a person, but in my capacity as a representative of President (Nicolas) Maduro, to visit Zimbabwe, so we are very glad to be here.
We come first with a message of solidarity and friendship. Even with distance, people are very similar — we are the same people, with the same struggles for development and for better conditions for our people.
Historically, we have very good political relations with Zimbabwe.
Our late President, Hugo Chavez, had a very good relationship with former president Mugabe and with Zimbabwe. We cooperated a lot, especially in the multilateral arena in United Nations and as members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Former president Mugabe visited our country several times for the G50 meetings for the South American and African Summit that took place in Margarita, so he was always a good friend.
And with the changes both in Venezuela and Zimbabwe in the presidency, the solidarity is still the same.
So, we have to explore ways to increase this cooperation into a specific agenda of cooperation in different areas such as education, culture, mining and energy.
These are some of the sectors we have already identified that have lots of potential to increase our cooperation.
So my purpose is on one hand to express the solidarity, the friendship of Venezuelan people and government to the Zimbabwean Government and people.
Secondly, to start to work on the bilateral agenda of cooperation.
We are suffering as you know, as Zimbabwe, from what some people call sanctions, but I do not like this terminology because for us sanctions can be applied by the Security Council of the United Nations, and all these other measure are unilateral coercive measures.
These are not sanctions; these are unilateral measures that have been applied illegally and they are criminal measures against all people, and this is happening also in Zimbabwe.
Q: Can you highlight some of the issues that you discussed with VP Mohadi?
A: First of all, it was a clear message of friendship and solidarity of Zimbabwe to Venezuela.
The Zimbabwean Government understands very well what is happening in Venezuela and why it is happening in Venezuela. VP Mohadi made an extraordinary analysis of what is happening internationally and also spoke about Zimbabwe.
After he finished, I told him that if you change Zimbabwe and you put the name Venezuela, it is very similar.
They speak about human rights and other stuff, these are all lies because we know we have democracies. We have problems of course, but no one should be involved in the internal affairs of other countries.
United Nations Charter established the principles of independence, of sovereignty, of non-interference; so what these countries do is to try to take control of our natural resources.
You can see Libya, all the excuses to invade Libya, compare how Libya is now and how it was before. Is it better? Is the population in better shape? Go to Iraq — more than one million people died — is the population better now?
Go to Afghanistan, they even bombed hospitals with kids, is the population better now?
So, we have to fight back, we have to work together.
He also told us which areas we should focus on. Venezuela has a lot of experience in the energy sector; on the other hand, Zimbabwe has lots of experience in the mining sector.
Q: How have sanctions directly impacted on the people of Venezuela and how is the country dealing with them?
A: Normally, when you see some news from Venezuela or about Venezuela, it is through CNN — the big news agencies — and you see chaos, people fighting in the streets and people starving.
Recently, we had a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Caracas — Venezuela has the Presidency till October — and more than 100 countries sent their representatives there.
They could go and see the reality — everything is normal, people working, kids are studying.
The reality we are facing in Venezuela is the economic crisis — inflation is very high; we have shortages of some products.
But this does not mean we are fighting each other. Nobody is starving because we have lots of social programmes to attend to the needy.
But the reality is these illegal measures against Venezuela are affecting the people.
More than US$30 billion of Venezuela money has been seized by foreign governments; it has been stolen from us in the international financial systems.
They say because we do not recognise President Maduro, then, we do not let your government use this money, (but) this is Venezuelan money to buy medicine, to buy food, to buy whatever the country needs.
And they froze this money in international financial systems on instructions of the US.
Secondly, Venezuela as you know, is an oil-producing member of OPEC, a founding member.
We have a big oil company in the United States, it’s called Citgo.
This company is a subsidiary of our State-owned company in Venezuela. This company has five refineries and 15 000 gas stations in US, so it has lots of revenues.
Since January, when US decided not to recognise President Maduro, they took control of the company.
So, they stole this company from us.
You can understand very clearly because you have been suffering similar situations.
But what we are doing is increasing cooperation with other countries that do not obey the instructions of US.
We have very close relations with China and we are receiving lots of solidarity and help.
China is our first client, we buy lots of goods from them and we have a common agenda of investments with Russia.
We have a very close relationship with Turkey and with Iran as well.
We cannot stop and start crying because of the blockade.
As Cuba has shown us, these guys have kept these (sanctions) even when every year there is a vote in UN where all the countries on the planet say blockade against Cuba is illegal.
They have kept it for 60 years and they are even increasing the blockade against Cuba.
But we have to work very closely with Africa because sometimes, it looks like Africa and Latin America are far apart. This is not true. . .
What about if we start to cooperate more? What if all the things that Africa produces are sold in Latin America and vice versa? So we have to work harder.
Q: What sort of lessons can Zimbabwe draw from Venezuela in terms of dealing with sanctions?
A: We have to work closer to understand what Zimbabwe is doing and what Venezuela is doing.
I do not know if there is any lesson we can teach to Zimbabwe.
What I am sure of is if we try to go against these kind of measures one by one, we will be defeated. We have to work together even to denounce sanctions.
Even with the blockade, Zimbabwe has an important mining industry.
I did not know before this visit that you have a School of Mines; you prepare people for this. Venezuela is starting to prepare for this area — the mining sector. Maybe, we can send people to study here. On the other hand, in Zimbabwe you are exploring and it looks like there is a possibility of finding oil, and Venezuela has a university of hydrocarbons, then why not cooperate with Zimbabwe to send people there. Look at what Cuba has done in cooperating with Africa for a long, long time, how many thousands of people have studied there. And how important is that?
Q: Just like with the case of Zimbabwe, Venezuela has problems of foreign-backed opposition who act as proxies for Western interests. How are you dealing with that and what sort of lessons can Zimbabwe draw from your situation?
A: In Venezuela, it is not just one party: there are plenty of opposition parties that got together to go against the government. What they did in January, (Juan) Guaido is a parliamentarian and he proclaimed himself president, and he has been creating chaos. But that has all come to an end now, the streets are quiet now, they do not have too much support in the streets, but they have international support. One of the things we have done is to apply the rule of law, where there are procedures in place.
We have independent institutions: it is not like President Maduro can instruct them on what to do . . . some of them are starting to be sanctioned.
Because you cannot call for terrorist attacks, even for the invasion of your own country; to take illegal decisions against what is established in the constitution. If you read the Venezuelan constitution, there is nowhere that says a parliamentarian can self-proclaim himself as the president: its illegal and we are taking judicial decisions against these people. But the most important thing is not what judicial power does, it is what the people do. And we have been organising, and the people are much more organised and supporting the government in difficult times.
Of course we are suffering, especially with inflation, which is the biggest problem we are facing now, and people are suffering.
But when you have the consciousness of the people, when you have the political knowledge of why this is happening and who is responsible, the people always choose the side of the government and we have advanced in that sense. You can see people have mobilised to defend the political process, what we call the Bolivarian revolution. The people are very much dedicated on how to diversify their economy; this is the major task we have.
Because of oil revenue, we were used to importing a lot and now we cannot and we have to produce ourselves. We have to work harder to increase production inside the country.
For that, you also need political consciousness; that you are defending the principle of independence and sovereignty and in the end, you are defending the resources of the country.
Because the other way is to just surrender to foreign powers. These opposition people are just puppets. They have changed their so-called leaders so many times. When they do not like one anymore, because he would have failed, they create another one. These are creations forged by the media and the US.
Q: Where do you see Zim-Venezuela relations going forward?
A: As I told you, there are lots of areas of cooperation that we have already identified. When we start, we should focus on two or three things that can happen soon, because I am sure that when those things start to happen, other areas will become apparent . . . One of the things we spoke about are the scholarships in Venezuela to study medicine, sports and other areas, and I believe that very soon maybe the first Venezuelan students can come to Zimbabwe to study at the School of Mines.
That is what we want to materialise and I am sure the Zimbabwe Government also want this.