Vladimir Villegas: Chávez’s Chess Piece in Mexico
By Raúl Tortolero | El Universal Online – Mexico
The Embassy of Venezuela in Mexico has been shown, by very different sectors in that country and in Mexico, to be an instrument of the ideological propaganda and political expansion of the personal interests of Hugo Chávez. Observations of interventionism include giving electoral support to the PRD [Democratic Revolutionary Party of Mexico], even "espionage," as well as a presumed importation of high caliber weapons and contacts with the FARC, ETA and Al Qaeda.
Mexico City | Tuesday, 15 November 2005 | Vladimir Villegas is a person of Euro-African heritage showing a good sense of humor and charisma. Tall, robust, sporting glasses and a smiling mustache, he has been residing in Mexico for only five months. His hair thinning, and dressed without any display of luxury, very much in accord with his perennial socialist ideals that have possessed him since he was a communist student leader, he wears plastic-soled shoes.
Well, then this man is accused of televising illegal recordings in order to attack Hugo Chávez’s opponents, of creating international spy rings, of being the architect of the Venezuelan funding apparatus for Lula [in Brazil], of advising and providing funds for the campaigns of Marcelo Ebrard and Andrés Manuel López Obrador [in Mexico]. Ah, and another detail: the PGR [Office of the Attorney General of Mexico] is investigating him concerning weapons shipments from Venezuela supposedly intended for the EPR [Popular Revolutionary Army].
This is the gift President Hugo Chávez presented in the guise of a Venezuelan ambassador to this country. The Bolivarian Revolution. There was more to come.
Lino Martínez —the previous Venezuelan representative— stated to the national press that López Obrador was a “ray of light," even capable of leading the masses into a revolution, seeing as Vicente Fox had not fulfilled his campaign promises and there was misery. That being said, he and his big mouth left and flew back to his country. Then Hugo Chávez decided to stimulate us with a new representative. He did not choose someone of a more moderate profile, a tea drinker, a polished international statesman. He chose Villegas as new ambassador.
Vladimir is married to a photographer. He has several children. And siblings: Mario, Esperanza, Ernesto. He is the son of the late Cruz Villegas, an honest labor union leader of the left. His mother was of Slavic origin. By way of both his first name alludes to Lenin.
He has no background in professional diplomatic studies. He says he used to be a journalist. He writes a column in El Nacional (Caracas), and was a director of the government’s Venezolana de Televisión, “Channel 8.” Linked to Chávez since 1998, he has always been a leader of the left, a promoter of Marxist communism. His previous public office was as undersecretary of the National Assembly. He was a militant in “Patria para Todos,” a Chavista party. But his ignorance in matters of diplomacy does not matter for Chávez: he is a sharp political operative.
William Barrientos, president of Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) in Zulia [an oil-producing state in Venezuela], describes him this way: "Vladimir has a good way with words, he is agile. He is a creator of political spaces for implementing Chávez's politics, so as to solidify his Bolivarian project. He is his unconditional follower and has merely expanded the Castro-Cuban concept."
Before being ambassador to Mexico, Villegas served as ambassador to the land of the Mardi Gras, while Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva fought for the presidency from within the PT [Brazilian Labor Party]. Lula becomes president on Wednesday, the 1st of January of 2003. Vladimir arrives in Brasilia in July of 2002 and leaves toward the end of 2004. Legislators of the opposition have accused the PT of having illegally received, during that same period, funds from Venezuela, Cuba and the Colombian FARC, for the leader’s campaign. During those dates, Vladimir stayed there as long as he was needed. And now he comes to Mexico, where perchance important electoral processes are underway.
For Hugo Chávez it is not relevant whether or not his ambassadors are diplomats, as long as they are of absolute trustworthiness to him. Who is his ambassador to Cuba? His brother Adán Chávez.
The Cuba-Venezuela relation is a key to understanding the modus operandi of what Venezuelans ironically call ”Cubazuela.” I am speaking with Assemblyman Carlos Berrizbeitia, of the Proyecto Venezuela Party, and of the National Assembly's Finance Committee.
When you see that Chávez handles more than 50 billion dollars from oil revenues per year—he becomes incensed—that is to say, 350 billion dollars in seven years, "you realize why he spends all his time traveling with a checkbook under his arm.” He can finance whomever he wishes. “I believe that the largest financial source, for candidates of the left in the Americas, is through Cuba.”
The Fidel Castro-Chávez nail-flesh relation is no secret. In Venezuela —Berrizbeitia explains— there are 20 thousand Cuban physicians who have been bartered for petroleum. The Venezuelan State pays money to Cuba for the exchange program, and since there is no control over the flow of money it is easy to finance whatever comes along.
One example: in Cuba they opened a branch office of the Banco Industrial de Venezuela, which belongs to the government. “It is the only commercial bank on that island, but people there have no savings accounts, not anything!" And when you see that the ambassador is Chávez’s brother, that they open a bank and, furthermore, that they open a PDVSA —Petróleos de Venezuela— office, and that Havana has always been a tax haven, "do not doubt for a moment that the revolutionary left of Latin America is being financed."
Another focus of alert identified by Berrizbeitia is the Cuban espionage at work in Venezuela: "Our telephones are tapped. Then they take the recordings to the Congress as proof against anyone. Here, since the 12th of April, after the attempted coup against Chávez, the Cuban intelligence service has been in the country. The innermost security circle around Chávez is civilian, you even see him at Venezuelan Army events, surrounded by Cubans. Chávez has said that Fidel protects him: there is no grey area, it is a normal fact. Airplanes are constantly arriving from Cuba at the airport."
Venezuela is a country where Chávez has Cuban security advisors.
Immigration experts attribute to the Chavista expansive plan the increase in Colombians, Dominicans, Brazilians holding Venezuelan passports, or with dual nationality, who might vote for Chávez in the next elections, or travel to other countries on "special” missions. Moreover, an anonymous source informs us that they ”arrive in Mexico as exotic table dancers, at expensive nightclubs, go to bed with politicians and extract information from them. They also arrive as musicians. That is the Fidel Castro school. Whenever you go to Cuba they will provide you with whores who are spies and they squeeze the facts and the dollars out of you.”
I ask Villegas for an explanation concerning the rise in the immigration flow from Venezuela into Mexico. "I believe that is a Latin American phenomenon," he declares. He points out that he does not have a census available to him. He believes that there are between three thousand and five thousand Venezuelans residing in Mexico. Only 600 of them voted. “If there exists an immigration flow, I do not have an explanation. I have not studied that in depth,” he laments.
But despite his predecessor’s having to leave the country, Vladimir is none too cautious. On the one hand, Chávez last Wednesday, on the 9th, called Fox “a puppy dog of the empire,” while on the other hand, Villegas arrives here on June 9th and already on July 24th he appears at a campaign event for Marcelo Ebrard of the PRD, where an appearance was also made by the chargé d'affaires from the Cuban embassy, Eduardo Vidal, and personnel from the Coyoacán delegation who called the gathering. Furthermore, last Thursday, on the 3rd, he went over to the Lower House to an event, again with the Cuban delegation and PRD legislators, to talk "about education.”
I ask him if he has signed an agreement with the federal government: he says no, but that he maintains very good relations with Michoacán, a state favorable to the PRD. And that he has been to many universities. He is identified as a promoter of the Bolivarian Circles, which he says serve just to promote solidarity with Venezuela, but which members of the PAN [Vicente Fox’s party] and the PRI [traditional party prior to Fox] assure are citizens’ networks in favor of López Obrador.
The School of Philosophy at the UNAM [Autonomous National University of Mexico] —among others— is a hotbed of Bolivarian Circles. There, it is considered normal to join them and “stickers” that say “I AM a Bolivarian Mexican” [gender-neutral Mexican@ Bolivarian@] and “Venezuela is: Democracy and Sovereignty" are distributed.
Connections among armed groups, from Venezuela and Mexico, converge in the case of a Mexican student: Alondra Durán (Oviedo). She traveled "to study” in Canada, but presumably her real political objective was to work in support of clandestine organizations. Alondra was arrested at the Ottawa airport a few months ago for having carried "subversive propaganda” from the Bolivarian Circles, the EPR and the FARC. Her name is linked to the FZLN [Zapatista National Liberation Front]. She appears on this organization’s website as one of the “signatories” of a letter of protest against the lack of a follow-up to the case of the assassination of Pavel González González, a student at the UNAM. Intelligence sources link the Bolivarian Circles to the EPR and the FARC.
There is a hypothesis that the EPR is purchasing weapons. The PGR [Office of the Mexican Attorney General] in its official communication PGR/SIEDO/UEITA/4078/2005, dated this past September 11th, and signed by José Cabrera, coordinator of the Special Unit for the Investigation of Terrorism and the Storing and Trafficking of Weapons of the SIEDO [Organized Crime Unit of the Office of the Attorney General] has requested information from Villegas —La Revista [section of El Universal (Mexico)] has a copy of the document— concerning the arrival of weapons from Venezuela into Mexico a few months ago.
Chávez's expansive zeal is no secret and his propagandistic incursions into Mexico are nothing new, and neither is support for his projects from Mexican groups. One example: outside of the hotel where a press conference by the Venezuelan president was about to begin, at the Special Summit of the Americas, in Monterrey, January of 2004, there suddenly arose a “spontaneous” demonstration in his favor, with a Venezuelan flag and everything.
TELEVISION MEANT FOR BASHING
Telesur is an international broadcaster funded with capital from the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay. However, its contents function for Latin America as one of Chávez’s instruments of ideological penetration. I remind Villegas of the discomfort it caused the president of Colombia when Telesur used images of Tirofijo [head of the Colombian FARC guerrillas] in its first broadcasts.
“It was an image of Manuel Marulanda, [known as] Tirofijo [Sure Shot],” he admits. "Well, it turns out that he is a unique personality in Latin America, who has met with the president of Colombia, with ambassadors and ministers.”
And he confesses: "Of course the Colombian government did not like it, but to say that Telesur’s programming is for promoting the FARC or ideological penetration is not true." For him the aim of Telesur is to generate a communication medium that allows everyone to see Latin Americans from a Latin American perspective. “It will not do for me to have to find out about what is happening in Mexico through CNN," with ideological manipulation. “We want to promote a broadcaster with our values and idiosyncrasies. Because we are misinformed.” And he sharpens his tone: “We know more about Michael Jackson than we do about Bolívar."
A perpetual protector of Chavista zeal, the ambassador, before coming to Mexico, was at the forefront of the Venezuelan State Television, “Channel 8.” There he was publicly accused of broadcasting recordings obtained from espionage activities. Teodoro Petkoff, director of the nationally circulated daily "Tal Cual” and former presidential candidate in opposition to Chávez, was illegally recorded and his private conversation was broadcast at the hands of Villegas. Petkoff published a letter. Here we gather some fragments:
“I am writing you —he tells Villegas— because we have been friends. But most of all because you are Cruz Villegas’ son, with whom I shared years of struggle and friendship. I would like to know if you believe that broadcasting a private conversation over the channel that you direct has anything to do with the ethics that the elder Cruz taught you… You know that what was done through Channel 8 constitutes a felony, one which you yourself denounced many times whenever others did it." Article 48 of the Constitution —he reminds him— guarantees the secrecy and inviolability of private conversations in all their forms. They cannot be interfered except by an order of a competent court, in fulfillment of legal dispositions and keeping secret the private matter that has no relation to the pertinent legal case."
And he concludes: "Vladimir, Quirós and I had had one of our fundamental rights violated. Who made the recording, I do not know and, in any case, I would not be able to demonstrate it, but who broadcast it and violated the privacy of that communication was Channel 8, of which you are president…
Petkoff confirms these happenings by telephone.
Behind the presence in Brazil of the Chavista Trojan Horse there are multiple accusations concerning illegal Cuban, Colombian and Venezuelan funds that have generated a new corruption scandal around Lula. I place a call to Brasilia to Senator Arthur Virgílio, leader of the "Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira” (PSDB). He offers me information and later sends me this e-mail: "It is not known how the money got to Brazil. VEJA magazine, which made the denunciation, did not find that information. But it gave all the details of the operation within Brazil, which are now being confirmed. The money was in three cases of whiskey.
A private airplane, belonging to a businessman, was loaned to the PT so as to carry the shipment from Brasilia to São Paulo. There, an armored automobile received the shipment and took it to the headquarters of the PT. The owner of the airplane confirmed having lent the aircraft, the pilot confirmed the cargo, as described. He says that, because the destination airport was shut down, he landed at an international airport, where the shipment would have had to go through inspection, in a nearby city. But shortly thereafter they received an order to take off in the direction of another airport, a domestic one, located a few minutes away. It was confirmed that an armored automobile awaited the shipment. It means that nobody saw the money, but the details are confirmed. Personally, I have no doubt as to the veracity of the information."
And I probe deeper:
—Was there any money from Venezuela for Lula? From the FARC?
—I will answer the three questions at once. The Brazilian press has already published information concerning monetary help from the FARC for the electoral campaigns of the PT. There is no proof. But for me everything leads one to believe that these denunciations have grounds, owing to the close relation and affinity between Lula and his party, on the one hand, and the FARC and President Hugo Chávez on the other.
I also get in touch with Senator Alvaro Dias, of the same PSDB. By e-mail he sends me his evaluations:
“One has to continue investigating the monetary donations from the FARC to Lula da Silva. It is assumed that they gave five million dollars to the PT in 2002, the same year in which a shipment of three million dollars from the Cuban government had taken place. On recent dates VEJA magazine has revealed an investigation by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) concerning a supposed collaboration between the FARC and the PT, but no proof was found. It is my belief that the case is not closed.
The versions provided by the ABIN do not convince me. Two agents prepared reports concerning a meeting that took place 40 kilometers from Brasilia, with the promised money. At another meeting in that city, the transfer of the money was carried out. I have been informed by persons in the area of military intelligence who speak of evidence of that international connection. It is difficult to prove, but necessary to investigate. It was an assault on our national sovereignty.”
And he concludes:
“Rogério Buratti, former secretary of the physician and Treasury Minister, Antonio Palocci, says that it was three million; another former assistant to the minister, Vladimir Poleto, speaks of 1.4 million that must have come from Cuba to Brasilia, nobody knows exactly how much or they do not consider it wise to say so.”
Faced with all these connections, Mexican legislators are feeling irritated. The legislator from the PAN party, Fernando Guzmán, secretary of the National Defense Committee, is of the opinion that: "The moment lived by the country amidst this globalization entails a very open debate. But without a doubt under whatever circumstance the sovereignty of each government is to be respected. It is irresponsible for an ambassador to get involved beyond the national borders to which he has obligations under international law. And if his career is more political than diplomatic, he is thereby not exempt from responsibility.”
Guzmán believes that even if “we all were to agree with Bolívar's ideals, that would be no reason for the Bolivarian Circles to be an instrument for taking a position and meddling in national politics and supporting a particular candidate. That is not the duty of an ambassador."
As for a possible funding of the PRD, given that in Brazil there is a scandal going on for similar reasons, the legislator from Jalisco says that "one would have to have the evidence, given that if it is done once, it then likely becomes a habit. We have to be alert so that it does not happen and if it happens, let measures be taken.” He recognizes that there are reports of Venezuelan espionage that ought to be investigated and “consequently proceedings ought to be initiated against those who might be committing those felonies in the country under the cover of diplomatic immunity."
Legislator Rodrigo Iván Cortés, a member of the Foreign Relations, National Defense and National Security Vigilance Committees of the PAN [Fox’s party], makes the following evaluation: Diplomatic activity is supposed to heed the boundaries inherent to its proper function so as not to step over into the realm of meddling. "Activity carried out by the former ambassador, Lino Martínez, and the current ambassador, Vladimir Villegas, does not heed these principles nor respect those limits.” Our attention is piqued by a conduct resembling that from the worst of times when plenipotentiary ambassadors from the North American empire, who acted in each country so as to dominate and meddle in the affairs of each nation without respecting the countries’ sovereignty.”
The support, “whether explicit or secretive, that Ambassador Vladimir Villegas gives to AMLO [Andrés Manuel López Obrador] as well as to Marcelo Ebrard is reprehensible." Given that in “cynical” fashion he repeats not only the attitudes but also public acts in clear support of AMLO, “one might suspect that the support might fall under other rubrics, such as the financial." This ambassador needs to have in mind that he is already under admonishment by the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs for having participated at one of Ebrard’s campaign events in Coyoacán. His statements ought to be more cautious if he in any way respects our national sovereignty."
Legislator Adriana González Carrillo is president of the Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the National Defense Committee. She comments: Ambassadors are to be front row observers of the internal processes and of the electoral process of 2006. Every diplomat is to adhere to our laws, for which reason, ”in no manner are they to declare themselves in favor of a candidate running for whatever office in a popular election.” And Villegas, she becomes more specific, “has made public his preference for a candidate in Mexico City, not only by making himself present at a proselytizing event but also by manifesting his favoritism, as did his predecessor.”
She is referring to the events in Coyoacán, to which “are already added various instances in which the Embassy of Venezuela in Mexico has disregarded official protocol” against active participation in proselytizing events, in favor of a pre-candidate and violating the Political Constitution in its Article 33. “We cannot allow foreigners, let alone ambassadors or high officials from diplomatic delegations in Mexico, to meddle in the country’s political affairs and to participate in political and electoral processes" that are the exclusive duty of Mexicans alone."
Concerning the probable diversion of funds from Venezuela to the PRD, she is of the opinion that should resources be obtained abroad in support of whatever candidacy, "that would be a violation of electoral laws and norms.” And that the Mexican State cannot allow actions that attempt “against its democratic stability” much less while embarked upon elections as important as those of 2006 at a local and federal level.
“HE IS ONE OF CHÁVEZ’S GAME CHIPS”
I place a call to Caracas to Assemblyman Carlos Berrizbeitia, of the Partido Proyecto Venezuela.
He is determinant:
—There is no doubt that in Mexico and Central America Chávez is financing candidates of his ilk. He withdraws money, for example sending it to Brazil, as part of bilateral agreements that do not go through the Congress. He has done it in the case of Argentina, Brazil and Cuba. When in the Foreign Service political game chips have been set down there must be a lot of money, not just for the Mexican candidate, but also for Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega. There was money for Lula. If Petróleos de Venezuela was going to finance a Samba School with 500 thousand dollars, how could it not also do the same for Lula? We have no doubt that he financed the latest Summit because he was the protagonist and the headliner at the Mar del Plata event.
William Barrientos, of the MAS party, describes:
—Most likely Chávez sent money to Lula, because the president is using public money without any fiscal audits, the money passes directly from Petróleos de Venezuela into his hands and does not go through the vaults of the Central Bank, which is supposed to regulate everything and things are managed under a criterion of discretion. The money is used to boost insurgent movements in Latin America. In countries such as Brazil, for the piqueteros in Argentina, Evo Morales, the Sandinista Front… And Mexico. The money, let there not be even the slightest doubt, arrives by way of second and third parties, who are not publicly identified, thus ends Barrientos.
But let us have Carlos Berrizbeitia conclude:
—I know Vladimir. Chávez dismantled the Foreign Service by assigning his political lackeys and partisans, instead of persons with a diplomatic career. It should come as no surprise that Vladimir, who has always fought for his ideals and for the left, which casts suspicion, does not aspire to become an assemblyman or something, but rather he is sent from Brazil to Mexico. And in times when there are electoral processes underway. Perish the thought that after Mexico they will send him to Nicaragua...
"WE ARE MOVING ALONG"
By Raúl Tortolero | El Universal Online – Mexico
Tuesday, 15 November 2005 | No diplomatic glamour, just pure revolution. Plain ordinary cloth cut in the shape of a grey pair of trousers covers his dark legs. And an oversized sweater the color of tuna-can-grey shields him from the cold during the early hours of the day, up on the 11th floor of this building on Schiller Street, in Colonia Chapultepec Morales [a neighborhood in Mexico City]. His eyes are barricaded behind frames with lenses of medium refraction. He very much resembles United States actor Cuba Gooding Jr. But the Venezuelan ambassador who presented his credentials here this past 9th of June wears a mustache and not even a pinch of the United States is to be found in his blood, nor is there an inch of Hollywood flowing through his veins.
Au contraire, this man of forty-some years is the antithesis of the "values” Hollywood has for sale. Instead, his bones are held together by Latin Americanist calcium, and a socialist and Chavista inner fervor definitely guides each and every one of his steps. He never studied any diplomacy, and this makes his critics, Venezuelan or Mexican, suspect the real reason for his stay here. Likewise, they are apprehensive because Vladimir Villegas had previously been ambassador to Brazil… just when Lula was on the campaign trail. Something which coincides here with our electoral season. The troubles the Venezuelan has already caused have led the foreign office to admonish him.
But there are other matters. On the 17th of September of 1999, Nelson Castellano Hernández, former Venezuelan Consul in Paris, affirmed that Villegas was seen —together with Tarek William Saab, another personality of the Chavista government— at the “Bar Botxo” in Bilbao along with people from ETA. More precisely, with Sebastián Echaniz Alcorta, later jailed in Nicaragua, following the explosion at a clandestine weapons depot, and who upon being detained was using a Venezuelan passport under the name “Rafael Camilo Castellón Ruiz”...
Villegas explains that he went to Spain to a municipal event in Bilbao, where there were a lot of people. “I have not purposely met with anyone from ETA.” That is to say, he does not know —I doubt it— never met, and has never spoken to Echaniz Alcorta…” Most likely they introduced him to me, but how should I know, it is hard to know who you meet at gatherings…”
I tell him:
—And what about the Venezuelan passport?
—The passport counterfeiting industry is international. There is no clear evidence. No degree of association between ETA and the Venezuelan government.
A Venezuelan flag, a desk similar to one from the IMSS [Mexican Social Security Institute]. This place does not lack a picture of the hero Simón Bolívar, born in Caracas on a 24th of July of 1783. He speaks over the telephone. He says good-bye: "Chévere.” Then he becomes cheerful: Hugo Chávez, today, Thursday the 3rd of November, is news in Argentina. When I write this a few days later we all know why.
He sits down. I ask him about relations between governments as different as that of Mexico and his own.
“They are good,” he says. And as proof he states that two months ago the San José Agreement was ratified, providing petroleum to Central American countries under special conditions. And that the Extradition Treaty between the two countries was ratified.
But he admits: “These are countries that have different positions on crucial and important subjects. But that does not stand in the way of a good relationship.” It is impossible to think that Latin American leaders can have a single vision when faced with economic, commercial and political matters. Bilateral trade, as it advances, maintains its figures.”
Villegas judges having been well received by the Mexican government. Well, "normal.” Of course, upon meeting with Fox, for the two of them the pleasure lasted only a few minutes: “It was brief, as those encounters are… because that is how it is typified…” He does not clarify where it is typified that bilateral meetings are to be "brief." And in order to not prolong the preamble I ask him:
—What brings you here, Mr. Ambassador? What is the reason for your arrival in Mexico on the 9th of June?
—The need to replace an ambassador who left for Venezuela —he says laughing— Ambassador Lino Martínez.
Martínez was “invited” to leave the country after making declarations which were interpreted as being in support of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Villegas does not recognize the cause.
—Yes? And why did Ambassador Lino Martínez leave?
—He had already been here in Mexico for four years. For Vladimir that is “more than enough time to make one think of rotation.” And he anticipates: “I do not know how long I am going to stay, you already see that this is an appointment where one is at the discretion of the president of the Republic, and for example in Brazil I lasted a year and a half…”
That is true; his stay in Pelé’s home country was short. Luiz Inacio "Lula” da Silva assumes the presidency of Brazil on Wednesday the 1st of January of 2003. Vladimir arrives in Brazil six months earlier —in July of 2002— and stays there until November of 2004. He arrives in his homeland to assume the presidency of the State’s TV Channel. There, he faces "a very difficult time, because we waged the media war, and then my nomination to the embassy in Mexico came up.”
He says that he comes to strengthen the ties between both nations. And —he emphasizes— not just in commercial matters, but cultural as well. During these months he has brought in musical groups. Nothing outstanding, because he assumed his post after the year was underway; he will make plans up until 2006.
For other matters he was lacking in support. His cultural attaché, David Rodríguez has barely landed. The fact is that he has not signed any agreement with either the federal government or the states. Mr. Hely Vladimir Villegas Poljak believes that the first thing to do would be to establish an “educational cooperation” agreement so that Mexican students can take coursework in Venezuela and vice versa.
He admits to having frequented universities. The School of Philosophy of the UNAM, the one in the State of Mexico, and others where he talks "of the process in Venezuela.” It does not appear accidental that he is delighted with all forums “of the left.”
That same afternoon he was to attend another event that would provoke resentment: he went to the Green Room of the Lower House, and together with the Cuban ambassador and legislators from the PRD, he talked about education in Latin America...
“We are moving along, aren’t we? There is much curiosity about what is happening in Venezuela,” he smiles.
But the hard part of the interview had to begin.
The Bolivarian Circles are the Venezuelan equivalent of the PRD's citizen networks in support of El Peje [López Obrador's nickname, which refers to the peje lagarto, a gar-like fish of Tabasco, his native state]. They are neighborhood structures, by barrios, going beyond all political parties. Vladimir knows this. And since in Mexico these networks are being established, simultaneously with Bolivarian Circles throughout the whole nation, one thereby can deduce a connection between one set of groups and the other.
Venezuelans and Cubans must have been advising PRD members to these ends. He is being accused of this, for example, by federal legislator Carlos Flores Rico of the PRI. But furthermore, these circles must have been linked to the EPR and the Colombian FARC.
—And they missed mentioning Al Qaeda! —Villegas laughs out loud— It makes me laugh. I recommend to people who present those views to dedicate themselves to literature.
—To whom? To Deputy Flores?
—To all of them. It is a lie. It is part of a little campaign. The Bolivarian Circles were created in Venezuela with the intention of promoting social participation in the barrios and also of nurturing the revolutionary process. Now there are solidarity movements that have been created in different parts of the world, and some of them are called Bolivarian Circles, but their function is a solidarity role and here in Mexico we have groups who are in solidarity with Venezuela. A Committee of Solidarity with Venezuela is being assembled.
—Then, indeed, there are Bolivarian Circles being formed here…
—With that intention that you have in questioning me there is nothing that we are promoting.
—But we have them indeed, and we are in the midst of the electoral calendar...
—No, what there is are groups of solidarity with Venezuela and they have different names. We are structuring things. They can be from different political currents, students, workers, entrepreneurs.
—Yes, but by your presence at different universities it is said that you are rendering advice for the formation of these circles in order to support Andrés Manuel.
—Ask the Dean of the School of Philosophy at the UNAM, or any of the authorities at the University of Michoacán what I went there for… They are just chats. To have them try to keep me from stepping out of the embassy, that I cannot allow. We do not want to get involved in Mexico’s elections.
—If Andrés Manuel were to win, what would be your proposals to him?
—I cannot enter into a hypothesis such as that.
—But it would be to your advantage to have the left win, right?
—We are not suggesting scenarios such as that.
—But if he wins, a continental leftist block would then result for certain. Do you not see anything wrong with that? Or do you?
—It is an analysis you can make.
CHÁVEZ THE EXPANSIVE
Latin America has a new political geometry. Its strongest economies are of the left (aside from Spain). All that is missing would be Colombia and Mexico, which is lining up for the elections and the leading candidate is López Obrador.
—How do you see this panorama? This reconfiguration? President Chávez…?
—Look, I am not going to be led into the temptation of approaching a subject concerning Mexican internal politics…
—This is international…
—Internationally, evidently, we are advocating a change… Venezuela promotes, of course… in Venezuela we are creating a change, as part of an event that belongs not just to Venezuelans, but is worldwide, the quest for a change, for social transformation and we identify that with a sentiment of the left…
Then he becomes serious:
—I am a person of the left who does not hide it. I come from the left and have no complexes about that. We cannot get involved in the internal affairs of another country. But we are indeed creating a revolution in democracy, in liberty. We are doing so in our country and it is not our fault that the successes we have had in social matters, in health, education, are seen with good eyes by other peoples. For some reason it happens that President Chávez is being accepted by 74 percent of the Argentines and President Bush is being rejected by almost 70 percent.
—The Venezuelan government has a transnational Bolivarian project that supports the brotherhood of the Latin American peoples…
—Our project is the integration of ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas], as opposed to ALCA/FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas]. But to go beyond that and suggest that we are interfering in what is happening in another country, we have no intention of interfering in the internal politics either of Bolivia or of anybody.
—You [and your government] support Evo Morales, don’t you?
—There is a relationship with him because he is a person in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution. It is nothing new, but goes back many years.
—And that includes having you give him financing, logistics…
—No, neither in Bolivia nor in Mexico. Our country does not export the revolution…
WEAPONS THAT ARRIVE BY SEA
While the Bolivarian Revolution is in a process of expanding or not expanding, the PGR [Office the Mexican Attorney General] maintains open an investigation that might implicate Venezuela in weapons trafficking.
—In theory you would be under investigation by the PRG because of a shipment of weapons from Venezuela to Mexico. (Dossier: PGR/SIEDO/UEITA/110/2005).
—What knowledge do you have of this?
—Here they have been fabricating a campaign during the last several months, before my arrival, with the goal of trying to implicate our country in an alleged trafficking of weapons into Mexico and other places. These are, to my way of thinking, rumors spread by weapons dealers.
—What is clear, Mr. Ambassador, is that a weapons shipment did arrive having originated in Venezuela. Who sends it, where was it going?
—Let’s put things in their place. Any weapons shipment, originating from whatever place, can arrive. Attempting to implicate a government already involves high level language. Up until now there has not been even one bit of evidence, one serious journalistic item, coming from any serious communication media, which would give credible evidence of weapons trafficking between Venezuela and Mexico.
And he continues:
—There is a context: we have designed one, a sovereign policy for petroleum, trade, and defense. We have decided to diversify our sources for Venezuela's weapons requisitions or weapons updating. We have purchased rifles from the Russians, in order to replace some ordnance consisting of old National Armed Force rifles. The problem is we did not buy those rifles from the United States. There are a few persons here who have entered into this game and who make evident dirty war agreements the United States has promoted in order to make Venezuela appear as a destabilizing factor in the continent. All of that information forms part of a media intrigue being set up in order to fabricate a "Venezuela dossier.”
—Are you saying that the Mexican press must have been receiving United States money?
—I do not have [evidence] to tell you that they have received direct help, but at least they are willing spokesmen for U.S. policies at no cost, I have no doubt about that. That campaign reappears and with a double intention: one, to try to implicate Venezuela in Mexico’s electoral campaign and two: to try to destabilize our country on the Latin American level.
I raise the issue to Villegas that I have heard some Venezuelans here who feel they are being followed by people supposedly sent by Chávez. But it is not only they who say it, but it has also come to light that there may have been sectors of Mexican intelligence, frankly disturbed because of presumed "espionage" work being carried out in Mexico and attributable to Chávez.
—That is another chapter from another soap opera about Venezuela. I have had an open door policy at the embassy. I have met with all kinds of people. I come to persecute nobody. All of the opposition parties except one voted in favor of my appointment. But we do not even have the capability for setting up an espionage network here. It is ridiculous. But everyone has the right to feel persecuted. There are many paranoid people. It gives me the impression that it is part of…
—No, not you. I am not saying it is you. [I speak] of a grand stew of information against [Venezuela], without any sense...
STRANGE ELECTORAL COINCIDENCES
Looking elsewhere, I remind him that he was ambassador to Brazil exactly when Lula was campaigning for the presidency on the side of the PT.
—That is seen by some sectors as if you were sent to lend support, in any way that might be necessary, to Lula, a man coincident in the policies of President Chávez...
—I would like you to ask if they saw the Venezuelan ambassador attaching Lula propaganda to some wall or speaking at some rally in favor of Lula or promoting meetings of sympathizers of the PT. That is not true. That would be the same thing as saying that Lula won because I was there and it makes no sense.
—But you did lend a hand, didn't you?
—It is evident that I did not.
—But the time frames coincide, Mr. Ambassador.
—But that does not mean that he won because of me. I am not a career diplomat, but I know well the boundaries pertaining to how far I should go.
—Right now there is a scandal going on in Brazil and you know and understand it… Supposedly there was financing by the Venezuelan government for the Lula campaign. Several legislators have made assurances about it.
—There is none of that, my friend. I believe they are toying around trying to destroy Lula.
—Why did you go over there? What was your mission?
—With my mission as ambassador. During my term we accomplished six bilateral entrepreneurial meetings; many presidential visits were carried out…
—But it has to do with the issue of the time frames, Mr. Ambassador, it is all very obvious, you were there during Lula’s campaign, and now you are here during AMLO’s campaign [referring to Andrés Manuel López Obrador]… it would seem as if your mission, very specific, would be to lend support so that a certain sector of the left, Lula in Brazil and López Obrador here, would rise to power…
—We respect others so that we may be respected. We wage a dispute with the U.S. in order to keep them from meddling and we are not going to do the same thing they do. We have denounced the financing of the Venezuelan opposition by the U.S. Stemming from that matter concerning the weapons, stories have begun to circulate that it all forms part of a plan to finance a political group here.
—You were seen last July 24th at one of Marcelo Ebrard’s campaign events in Coyoacán. You were indeed at a campaign event.
—That is not true. On the 24th an event organized by the Cuban Embassy and the Coyoacán delegation took place at the plaza in Coyoacán, to which different personalities were invited, an event commemorating the Assault on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba... They invited me to give a salutation, there I met Marcelo Ebrard.
—And who invited you?
—The Cuban Embassy and the delegate.
—And didn't you know that Marcelo was campaigning?
—I go to the event, the people from Cuba participate, etc., and then I speak, I salute Cuba, I speak about the Bolivarian Revolution, about what we are doing… The date coincided with Simón Bolívar’s birthday… I spoke about that. Marcelo Ebrard brought the ceremony to a close and said some things that were not to the liking of the Mexican government. That merited a note being sent to the Venezuelan embassy. We responded: the crux of the matter was that we had not responded to some things that Marcelo said during the ceremony, concerning Mexican foreign policy toward Venezuela. And our government responded that it was not our ambassador's function to clarify what was being said by Mexican persons. At that time Marcelo was and is a PRD pre-candidate for the government of the DF [Federal District that includes Mexico City].
—Now that we are deep into the subject: It is evident that President Hugo Chávez would see the triumph of López Obrador in 2006 with good eyes.
—We are going to get along just fine with whatever the Mexicans decide.
—But might there be more coincidence with the left, wouldn’t you agree?
—I cannot enter into that area because I would be stepping on a mine field...
(Published in La Revista section of El Universal, Mexico City, Monday, 14 November 2005)
Translation by W.K.
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