On Friday, January 15, a president of Venezuela gave his yearly update on the country’s condition before an opposition-controlled National Assembly for the first time in 17 years. It was the first time in nearly two decades that a Venezuelan head of state had to contend with the fact that most of the people listening to him speak in the legislature opposed what he was saying.
After Maduro’s yearly update, the president of the National Assembly – Henry Ramos Allup – offered his rebuttal.
Allup spoke openly and forcefully on a number of important issues that the PSUV-controlled National Assembly had never dared to voice in the National Assembly. His speech marks an important new chapter in the history of Venezuelan politics.
Maduro spoke for approximately three hours, and Allup spoke for approximately thirty minutes.
The video showing the entire event – both Maduro’s speech and Allup’s rebuttal – can be seen here.
Allup’s speech begins at 3:22:00. I have translated it into English below.
Well, Mr. President: thank you very much. We’ve just listened to your speech with lots of respect and lots of calm. It was partly read and partly improvised, and it was in the same discursive style as those of President Chavez [Maduro: Thank you!]. Of course, if – as you’ve promised – you send us the text, we will evaluate it alongside those parts that were improvised, we will study it, and then the National Assembly will issue its political opinion on it, because it is a well-known fact that we do not have the Constitutional authority to rule on the legality of a Presidential measure. We can only censure Ministers.
Mr. President, we all know that it took a lot of work to get to this session. What should have been a normal session actually took a lot of work to achieve because we hit a lot of bumps on the road after the elections. Finally – with fewer or more resources – we will achieve a clear and invariable result. At times, Mr. President, when I hear the clapping [from the PSUV deputies], I think, “Wow! Could it be that we lost the elections?” I think that due to the sound of the clapping, but we know that the reality is different.
I say that it took a look of work to get to this session because of all of the incidents that we had to deal with, from the day the deputies were [declared winners] until today. Well, as we politicians now, it is sometimes better to bend in order not to snap. But let there be no mistake: this is now an autonomous constitutional power that will debate, legislate and exercise control. Moreover, Mr. President – and this is something that all of the powers that are present here today should remember [points to head of the Supreme Court, head of the National Electoral Council and the Comptroller General] – the only two powers that are given legitimacy by the vote are the President of the Republic and the national legislative power. All other powers are weaker, and are the subject to the control through order: not by the whim of those who are currently the majority, but rather by Constitutional norms.
Throughout this whole time, we’ve all come to accept things and we’ve all made mistakes. This is the truth. By the way: making a mistake and then continuing to make that same mistake – I will never tire of saying this – creates a dynamic that tends to ensure that successive mistakes will be worse and worse. If, instead, you correct the mistake, then there is a possibility to move forward.
Mr. President, we’ve been living for seventeen years – seventeen years! – under this regime, this model, and this is the first time that a dialogue has been called. [PSUV deputies react in outrage – Maduro signals for them to calm down]. [To the PSUV deputies:] Don’t be nervous. Calm down. Be patience and have some tolerance, because even though you don’t want to listen, I’m going to say what I’m going to say. These past seventeen years have adhered to an economic model, a model of development that has not had good results. Corrections were required a long time ago – enough with all these names! “Plan A”, “Plan “, “The Homeland Pan” — Mr. President, the economic consequences become worse with each day because the model has gone astray. The model is erroneous, and we have the figures and the results to prove it.
By the way, if there was a sincere willingness to dialogue and to rectify these errors, then of course we’re willing to as well! Who wants the lines, the inflation, the insecurity, the collapse of social services, etc. — no one could want that. [PSUV deputies begin heckling]. [To PSUV deputies:] If you don’t want to listen, you’re going to have to plug your ears or leave this hall because I’m going to say what I have to say.
In fact, I’m also going to say something to the Armed Forces because they’re here and because I’m direct. The alleged attack because I ordered – not the Assembly, I – ordered effigies that are not of El Libertador [Simon Bolivar] removed. Let me explain. The President has been kind enough to gift me some images of El Libertador – I have it here. It’s a portrait by an anonymous painter from 1826, the one from [inaudible], the one from [Veucci?] from 1830, the one from Jose Maria Espinoza from 1829 — but it’s missing the one that we hung up out there, the one from Gil de Castro from 1825, the one that El Libertador said “is most exact to my likeness”. Fine. The image of El Libertador that was reconstructed after the exhumation of his remains – which the Academy of History has unanimously [unintelligible – but the Academy of History decried the exhumation] – warped the face of El Libertador, and so for us that is not his face. For us, his face is not what someone says his face is. For me, and for us [motioning to opposition deputies], his face is on the Gil de Castro painting that we’ve hung up.
I want to say something else. The outrage here is not the removal of the images: it is their placement. I’m going to explain something to you. Since the Constituent Congress of 1811 up until today, no one had put up a picture of a President here, living or dead. Not even Jose Tadeo Monagas, who executed the Congress on January 24 1848 dared to put his picture up in here. There are no images of Presidents here, living or dead. Imagine if each political party wanted to put up a picture of its own president here. Us Adecos [a party] would come in here with five pictures, and the Copeyanos [another party] with two. How could that be? Not Nicolas Maduro’s, and not Chavez’s. This building cannot house images of heads – or former heads – of the executive branch. We can only have El Libertador, the national shield, the flag and the national anthem here, [inaudible].
The amnesty law, President Maduro; the amnesty law. [PSUV deputies heckling]. [To PSUV deputies:] You’re going to have to listen to what I’m going to say. If you don’t like it, you can plug you ears or you can leave, but I’m going to say it. We listened respectfully to President Maduro, so I’m going to say what I’m going to say. Your screams don’t throw me off – I’ve got a lot of kilometers on me.
President Maduro: the amnesty law. I’ve heard it almost incessantly that the opposition murdered the forty three people [who died in the 2014 protests]. [PSUV deputies heckling]. [To PSUV deputies:] Calm down; I’m going to say what I’m going to say. Forty three people died. One person died from [a metal wire hung across a road], and one person was killed by a sniper. But who cracked down on the protests? People died once police and military repression of the protests started. By the way, I’m not going to evaluate whether the protests were just or not. I believe that everyone has the right to protest. In fact — [intense heckling from the PSUV deputies and citizens in the stands]. [To the citizens in the stands:] The stands, please — let us have silence, because I’m going to say what I have to say. A demonstration as an act of protest – whether or not you agree with it – sometimes generate excesses both from the protesters and in terms of repression. This is something that no one can deny. Now: do a real analysis – a true, real analysis – of the 43 people who died in the protests to see who actually killed them. This analysis has not yet been done. [Maduro: Let’s do it!] I agree! We should do this analysis.
Now, what you can’t say — look, Mr. President, we talked about the amnesty law, and that is not just an icon of our campaign. The Amnesty and National Reconciliation Law, which is what we’re calling it — we can’t continue to do this until the political prisoners are released, and there are political prisoners in Venezuela, Mr. President. There are also those who have been exiled for political reasons. [Opposition deputies chant: “Freedom! Freedom!”] Well, as it happens during serious events — [PSUV deputies chant: “Justice! Justice!”] — for example, Mr. President, when I went to Miraflores to dialogue, what ended up happened? Sectors of the PSUV and the opposition stood in opposition to it, because some on our side thought that we were trying to cool things off on the streets, and on the PSUV side — [Outraged heckling from the stands. Someone yells “Shut up!”] — We’re going to have to use… what’s the name of the suppositories that Diosdado [Cabello] offered me – moringa? We need some of that moringa sent up to the stands.
Anyway, some within the government believed that it was impossible for the government to sit down with the opposition, and there were some within the opposition who believed we shouldn’t go to Miraflores because that would cool things off in the streets. It was a legitimate argument on both sides, but in the end what turned out to be a debate instead of a dialogue did not work to set an example for the country to see that it was possible for the government and the opposition to sit down and exchange opinions regarding some national matters. That was a positive thing, but what happened was that that meeting did not yield any results. In fact, I remember that at the end of the talk I told you, Mr. President, “This can be saved if you make a decision, because you’re the head of state, the head of the government! And if you don’t make a decision, this event will be wasted”, and it was, in fact. This is why if you propose a dialogue now, I’m in complete favour of it, but make it a dialogue with results, one with concrete measures. And when you offer peace, let it not be the pax romana, the peace of the graveyards and the cemeteries; let it not be the peace that we who are now victorious impose upon you. No! Let it be a peace of equals, a peace for today and tomorrow.
Mr. President, please forgive me for being so crude when it comes to certain things: the economic war, the economic war, and the economic war. By the way, I want to say something: you’re not the guilty party here because you’re in a terrible situation. Terrible! If Chavez was here instead, things might be even worse given his personal characteristics: messianic, invasive — well! [Intense heckling from PSUV deputies and the stands] Whether or not you like it, look — get used to it. Get used to it, because the image of public figures, living or dead, is open for discussion. Anyway, you inherited a situation that was the end result of a very complicated process. It’s hard to believe that – to give you a cushy number – [that we had access to] $1.5 trillion dollars, plus internal revenues. Then, oil prices decrease, the ability to finance an absolutely ruinous model disappears, and the collapse begins. A country that has to import 70% of everything it consumes – food, capital goods, repair parts, chemicals, raw materials — when the oil prices fell, there was no money with which to import these things. That’s why the economy collapsed.
This is why the economy collapsed. “How much is the dollar worth?” The price for the dollar in a market of scarcity is not set by a website [in reference to dolartoday.com]. The price of the dollar is set by the market. If someone needs dollars to import and access the market and they can’t find them because the government – which provides the majority of foreign currency – does not provide them. the one who needs them will find the one who sells them. How much does it cost? Whatever the one who needs them is willing to pay, and whatever the one who sells them is willing to charge. It’s that simple. If we’re importing 70% [of everything we consume] and the government does not provide foreign currency – because it was looted, or stolen, or because it was poorly administered — the Venezuelan state administered foreign currency poorly. Now, if the public and private sectors were complicit in the disappearance of foreign currency, then that’s another story that has to be examined. It needs to be examined thoroughly.
So, cuentas claras y chocolate espreso [I’m not sure what this idiom means. It literally means “straight talk and thick chocolate”. It might mean “Now that everything is out in the open you can enjoy a treat”]. The economic war, the previous enemy, the internal enemy and the external enemy. The previous enemy: the Fourth [Republic]; the internal enemy, the right wing, the oligarchy, etc.; the external enemy, imperialism. Let’s plant our feet firmly on the ground and let’s try to fix this huge problem that the country is facing.
[Heckling from the stands] Ouch! Another thing – I hope I’m in cadena [when every TV and radio station is mandated to show a program for its entire duration], Mr. President! – [Maduro: Of course!] Thank you! That’s great because I would have been terrified that after listening to your speech you’d flick the switch and take us off the cadena. That would have been truly terrifying. Mr. President, you always cite me, sometimes incorrectly, sometimes worse and sometimes horribly, but I thank you for [inaudible]. [Responding to banter from Maduro and the PSUV deputies] Exactly! And if you’re talking about the state-owned channel, then every program — well, and without the right to reply, which is the worst thing. Well, whatever, I’m used to it.
In any case, I’m going to give you some facts that will serve as a diagnosis for our current situation. It would be good, Mr. President, to take inventory of all of the companies of all sizes -small, medium and large – that have been occupied and expropriated; buildings, real state, ranches, etc., industries of all sizes – so that you can see, Mr. President, the horrifying situation those companies find themselves in. Do it! FEDECAMARAS [the largest private business group in the country] has the numbers, but they don’t dare release them. FEDEAGRO [an agricultural organization] and the other producers’ associations also have them, but they don’t dare release them. Let’s take stock of that, let’s investigate that and see what happens.
I’m going to give you just one example, Mr. President. Take note of it, because someone has to speak to you truthfully some time. I think that the Terminator must have passed through the companies in Guayana. The Terminator! I’ll give you one example, Mr. President: a tonne of aluminum sells for $200 in the international market. Producing it in Guayana costs us $2,000. The Venezuelan government loses $1,800 dollars for every tonne of aluminum it produces. Look at the situation SIDOR [a metallurgic company] is in. Look at the number of workers and the number of steel beams it produces. So, examine that situation and then – sincerely — if we want to correct our errors and move forward, we have to do like the Christians do: confess our sins, contrition of the heart and [unintelligible] so that we don’t commit the same mistakes again.
Mr. President, I will now talk about the Gran Mision [the social housing program]. Look, on the topic of the Gran Mision Vivienda Venezuela: what happened was that the government of President Chavez went through a house-building drought for many years. When he pointed out the drought he started the Gran Mision Vivenda Venezuela. Who can deny that the program has built homes? Lots of homes! Now — [heckling from PSUV deputies] Wow. So nervous. I’m not nervous, the ones that are nervous are those who don’t want to hear what I’m saying. Look, the Gran Mision Vivienda Venezuela and the project that it undertakes is really good. Really good! [heckling from PSUV deputies; they smugly tease Allup for admitting this]. Listen to this second part so that you can clap a lot: the project that deputy Julio Borges has proposed [to give ownership deeds to people living in subsidized housing] is not a project to create a capitalist market parallel to those homes. It’s about granting deeds to that those who live there precariously can have a deed with certain limitations so that they can’t commercialize [their homes]. That’s what this is about.
Now, Mr. President: you say that with the homes that your government has built you won’t allow — Mr. President, those aren’t your own private homes. Those neighbourhoods don’t belong to you. Those neighbourhoods belong to Venezuelans. Let’s think about this together: the project that deputy Borges is proposing is good. It’s not trying to say that the government built those homes. My God! It’s just trying to say that the homes that the government [can be formally given to tenants through deeds] for the benefit of those who live in them.
Our currency, Mr. President. John Lock, a classical English liberal — and of course you know that I’m neither a liberal nor a neo-liberal. My track record speaks for itself. I’m neither a liberal nor a neo-liberal, and I have written books on this. [PSUV deputies heckling] [To PSUV deputies:] You know this is true, and those books are open to academic scrutiny, even by far-left professors, just so you know. Anyway, John Locke gave us a basic but perfect definition of money: it is a durable thing that men must maintain without ruining it. A perfect definition. Giving it to the temptation — where’s the president of the Central Bank? I can see you there! – giving in to the temptation of having more and more bolivares with the same amount of dollars equals having more bolivares with lesser value, because inflation has been, is and will always be an economic consequence of political decisions. It’s that simple. An economic consequence of political decisions. Who could want a devalued or worthless currency? It is pathetic and terrible that our Bs. 100 bills has less value and has less purchasing power than the paper and ink with which they are printed. Let’s not even talk about our coins, which is even worse.
Mr. President, I have no problems admitting that the elections that we’ve just had had a lot to do with the punishment vote [people who voted against the PSUV rather than for the MUD]. Of course this is true. Why? Because people evaluated the government’s performance negatively. When the government does well, the government wins votes; when the government does poorly or people perceive that they are doing poorly, that also has electoral implications and consequences. It’s possible that someone may have voted for some candidate over there who they really liked, but the majority of voters reacted in this way and this is something we have to admit. Now, this requires making a correction, because if someone wants to win and they’re aware that people voted against them as punishment, they should change their ways so that they won’t be punished in the future. This is true here and everywhere, even in countries that are more politically advanced than ours; this is how things work.
Another thing, Mr. President: some say, “Wow! The counter-revolution won!” Look, revolutions have a tendency to name things that is really pathetic. Names, titles that are solemn sometimes but they crash against reality. I remember the first solemn title that came about – by the way, a misuse of El Libertador‘s [Simon Bolivar’s] name – was the famous Plan Bolivar 2000. No one ever looked into it. It was terrible. Terrible! I don’t want to go into any more details because now isn’t the right time, but this is something we need to investigate some day.
It’s not enough to name things – what’s important is for the policies that we put in place to have results. The punishment vote does work — [heckling from the PSUV deputies] — Wow! So much fear. Do not be afraid — I’ve been polite with the President. I haven’t been rude to him. Let’s see – the dialogue. We welcome dialogue, but it must be permanent. Here, dialogue makes the news because it’s so rare. I assure you, Mr. President, that if the conversation between the opposition and the government was frequent, they wouldn’t make the news. They’d just become routine. By the way, I applaud your decision to name Aristobulo Isturiz vice-president. I think that’s a very important step. I’d better stop naming [PSUV deputies] because I’m embarrassing them.
Look – another thing. You’ve brought us the economic emergency decree today. There are two interpretations: one which says that we have to make a decision on this in 48 hours, and another that we have eight days to do it. Is it eight days? Ok, great; then we have 8 days to examine this thoroughly and ask — it’s better to have eight days because we can talk about it more. And you know, we don’t use interpellation as a tool irritate. We’ll need to ask some government officials for more information, and of course we can count on President Maduro’s attendance.
One last thing – I’ll say one last thing because I don’t want to encadenar [meaning, “I don’t want to talk ad nauseam“] — I mean, encadenar meaning that I keep going and going and going just for the sake of talking. Look, when we went to Miraflores on April 10 2014 to talk – which, by the way, I think was a very positive event that carried political costs for the opposition and the PSUV, and we all understood that we should do that more often as long as it yields results – when I was there, I said something that I want to repeat here. For some strange reason – maybe historical atavism – whenever someone touches in the topic of the military, they do so with a kind of fear and repulsion, in a panic. “Wow! Be careful!”. No, this is a topic that must be discussed openly and with respect.
When I went to Miraflores, I said that for us, the definition of what the Armed Forces are is in the Constitution. It’s really clear. It’s the “Armed Forces” without any surnames: “National Armed Forces”. Without surnames! When I read the Constitution, it says “National Armed Forces”. It can’t be political, it can’t be deliberative, it can’t be subject to any political partisanship. If an active-duty military officer wants to be partisan, he should hang up his uniform and go be partisan. Do you know why? A civilian cannot debate with an armed man. A civilian can’t debate a uniformed man who is politically partisan; this is not the army of such-and-such party, it’s the army of the entire country. It’s my army and your army; it’s everyone’s army. [Heckling from PSUV deputies] [To PSUV deputies:] Even though some of you are tuning out — Mr. General [addressing a uniformed general in the audience].
Well, Mr. President, you’ve known me for a long time so you’ve got to believe me: when the coup d’etat against President Chavez happened [PSUV deputies smugly tease Allup for admitting this] [To PSUV deputies] Listen: there was a power vacuum and then there was a coup, I don’t have a problem saying that. When we were outside at the gates of this building, I made a comment to journalist Doris Villaruel — President Chavez was there, and you were there as well. I made a statement to her, “A military coup is underway by plutocratic sectors and guerilla officers”. William Lara took that newspaper to Miraflores and Iris Valerea – and I don’t remember who else – they showed it to President Chavez and he said, “No, this is just some Adeco [Allup’s party] talking nonsense”. He didn’t believe it. Eleven or twelve days later, he got hit by his own army high command. The high command that he had personally named!
Mr. President, believe me when I say that we don’t be on coup d’etats because we’re not stupid enough to believe that because someone carries out a coup d’etat because they have at their disposal airplanes, tanks and rifles is going to hand over power to a civilian. That’s why I’ve said, and I’ll say it again, there are no good coups. Every coup is bad. We should only trust civilian methods. Let’s not encourage our demons, because they spring to action. Venezuela and Latin America has a terrible historical atavism when it comes to military officers participating in politics. The military cannot participate in politics. I’m not just saying this for no reason – this is what we believe, and we have to say it.
Lastly, Mr. President: you can count on the fact that if you want dialogue, you will find dialogue.Do not doubt that for one second. If you want to discuss issues here — and this doesn’t mean that anyone has to give up their ideological positions; you have yours and we have ours. But if we can find points where we can all agree to help solve this terrible, terrible crisis. It is a crisis that takes place every day and it is becoming worse every day. It affects us all. If we can agree on some points to help us out of this crisis, we won’t be the ones to deny Venezuelans that avenue to solve these problems, problems that aren’t the government’s but rather those of all Venezuelans.
Mr.President, I’m very thankful for you coming here today. In fact, your speech gave me a chance to make some changes to my own. So now [heckling from PSUV deputies] They don’t want to listen! [Maduro: You have to end by saying “Independence, and a socialist homeland!”] Well, it doesn’t matter. [PSUV deputies mockingly yell, “Keep talking! Keep going!”] Fine. You’ll be going home really nervous today. Diosdado should hand out really, really high moringa doses.
Well, now that the objective of this session has been completed, we thank you Mr. President for coming here. We will study the economic emergency decree very carefully and with the best intentions. [Allup formally declares the session to be over].
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