The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil spoke to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza just hours after he returned from a consequential visit to the UN in New York
By Anya Parampil
Just hours after returning from meetings at the United Nations in New York, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza sat down for a one-on-one interview with The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil. The two discussed Arreaza’s effort to reaffirm international support for the concept of state sovereignty amid the Trump administration’s campaign to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
While in the United States, Arreaza announced the formation of what he described as “an important group” of UN members states which are “concerned over the need to maintain respect for the principles” guaranteed by the international body’s founding charter, such as territorial integrity, self-determination, and sovereignty.
Arreaza explained that the idea to create this coalition was conceived in New York. “When I arrived on Monday, I went to the reception for the 40th anniversary of the [Iranian] Islamic Revolution, and then several ambassadors gathered, and they came up with the idea — and I said we agree.”
“One of them said if we let this happen to Venezuela, who’s next? So we can’t let that happen,” Arreaza told The Grayzone.
These dignitaries included Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jafaari, The Grayzone later confirmed. Syria’s involvement in forming the alliance is significant because it underscores the terrifying reality many Venezuelans fear looms on the horizon: a catastrophic Syria-style regime-change war spearheaded by Washington.
The Arreaza-led initiative to refocus dialogue at the UN around the organization’s foundational treaty is an attempt to preserve Venezuela’s sovereignty before the battle reaches a bloody stage.
“Syria is a big lesson for all, that’s why this group in the UN is being created,” Arreaza said. “They prevailed. But how many people died? How many cities were destroyed? It was a bloodshed all over— so we don’t want that to happen, not in Venezuela, of course not in Nicaragua, Cuba — that this man Bolton has said are “The Troika of [Tyranny]”.
Read the full transcript of our interview with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza below:
ANYA PARAMPIL: Here inside Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry, the legacy of violent US intervention in Latin America looms large. You can see a monument and room is dedicated to the memory of Salvador Allende. I just wrapped up a wide-ranging conversation with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza— we discussed why he believes Washington’s efforts to overthrow the Maduro government have failed and why he’s leading an international movement to reaffirm support for the ideas enshrined in the UN’s Charter: territorial integrity, self-determination, and sovereignty.
Mr. Foreign Minister Arreaza thank you so much for making time for me. You’ve just returned from the United Nations in New York where you made quite the major announcement about the formation of a group of countries which will be dedicated to preserving rights guaranteed in the UN’s Charter. Which countries are participating with you, how will the group function, and why is reemphasis of these principles needed at this time?
JORGE ARREAZA: It’s really important the group because it’s not about defending President Maduro or even Venezuela, this is about defending international law, the principles of the UN Charter that all the countries signed and subscribed to and have to respect. You cannot be a member of the United Nations and not respect the most basic principles of the United Nations. It wasn’t an initiative from Venezuela, this was a suggestion from our friends. When I arrived on Monday I went to the reception for the 40th anniversary of the [Iranian] Islamic Revolution and then several ambassadors gathered and they came up with the idea— and I said we agree. It’s necessary— and one of them said if we let this happen to Venezuela who’s next? So we can’t let that happen. It’s still being created, still some other countries are joining— but important ones I mean because of the size, because of the the demographic as well— like China, like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and many others that are beginning to join and many from Africa, many from Asia, some from Latin America the Caribbean. And the most important thing is that it it’s like the non-aligned movement when it was created, but reloaded, adapted to the 21st century.
AP: Well it’s interesting because the opposition claims to have the support of the international community but it sounds like you’re saying your experience that the UN this week doesn’t support that assertion?
JA: The so-called Western — European and American governments that are subordinate to Washington — they all agree. Even very far away countries that have no connection at all with with Venezuela like Macedonia or even Ukraine — yeah there’s nothing we, have nothing. But they are taking decisions not because they want to, but because they have to. They have been pressed to do so. The American — when I mean American, North American, diplomacy is pressing all over — all the ambassadors are going to the ministries of Foreign Affairs in all the capitals of the world, pressing in order to un-recognize our government, and recognize this fiction that has been created in Venezuela.
AP: So now you will take the lead in showing there’s a group of countries that are dedicated to: territorial integrity, self-determination, and sovereignty. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister said this week that the UN Security Council will not pass any resolution that’s hostile to the legitimate government here in Caracas. You may remember in December when Russia sent a military plane here, your counterpart in the States, Mike Pompeo, denounced the message and described it as quote “two corrupt government squandering public funds and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer”. How do you respond to Pompeo and how important is Russia, your relationship with Russia, in weathering this storm?
JA: Our relationship with Russia has been improving I mean, since at least 2000. Our President, our late President Commandante Chavez, he was aware that we couldn’t have a unipolar world and that we could not, that we had to stop being a colony from the United States. So he opened Venezuela to the world and to new relations, especially new poles like the Russian, like the Chinese and others others in even in Africa. So our relationship with Russia is fair, it’s transparent. When the United States cut all the military assistance to Venezuela, all our equipment, military equipment, was originally from the States, but then they cut, they blocked everything. So we had to defend ourselves, we had to protect our people, so we looked over to Russia. So we have but there’s no way you can tell, that you can say that this relationship is against someone. No, it’s not against the States or whomever, this is in favor of the Venezuelan, in favor of the Russian people as well, and it’s our right to have relations with whomever we choose.
AP: So how do you react when Pompeo takes to Twitter to say things like this?
JA: Nothing surprises us from the US spokespeople. I mean they are obsessed with Venezuela. They create a made-up story every single day, they recognize this fellow who was self-proclaimed President in the middle of the square, of the street. So they are, you couldn’t say they are logical at the moment. So nothing surprises us, but they are wrong about Venezuela, they are mistaken about things.
AP: When you mentioned the relationship with Russia that’s gotten stronger since 2000, it’s interesting because since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has been able to wage regime change war, or carry out coups from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Haiti—without any international counterweight. But that cycle seems to have broken in Syria, where the Assad government— with the help of Russia— was able to resist us objectives. What lessons do you take from Syria?
JA: Syria is a big lesson for all, that’s why this group in the UN is being created, because we cannot let this happen. Syria was… because okay they made it— no they prevailed. But how many people died? How many cities were destroyed? It was a bloodshed all over— so we don’t want that to happen, not in Venezuela, of course not in Nicaragua, Cuba— that this man Bolton has said are “The Troika of [Tyranny]”. And nowhere in the world. So we have to stop it from happening, and Syria is very important. And Mr. Trump said, no, it was a mistake to invade Iraq, it was a mistake to invade Afghanistan, Libya. And he his withdrawing from Syria. So it’s lessons for us in the world, but also for the United States. They did things wrong, they killed people, they never found weapons of mass destruction, they never proved anything in the other cases, and just because they wanted oil and natural resources or because they wanted to dominate the world.
AP: It sounds like almost you believe the international order changed through the process of this war. Do you think we’re experiencing that now — this is part of what you’re doing at the UN?
JA: The international order, it was supposed to be come after the falling of the the Berlin Wall. Everything indicated that it was going to become a unipolar world that was going to be ruled by Washington and by the European countries allied with Washington. It didn’t happen. No— other poles began to be forged, and now we have this situation in which we have to defend all the peoples, and in order to defend all the peoples we have to change the international order. But not only from the point of view of politics, also the financial, the economics of the international order have to be changed. Because now you see this commercial trade wars, now there’s a different kind of warfare happening, and using the dollar in order to press economies, and blocking, and all these so-called sanctions against countries. So we have to change the rules of the game in order to protect the rights of the people.
AP: The Trump Administration’s eagerness to implement sanctions not just against Venezuela, but Iran, has even forced Europe to search for alternatives to things like the SWIFT financial system to make payments to Iran, and also it appears to have pushed countries like Turkey and India into your orbit. How are you working with countries like that to circumvent US sanctions?
JA: It is like the natural flow of a river, now we come together because it’s the only way to survive. The US elite is attacking all of us, so we have to join, we have to be together and stop this from happening. So we are working, we have a very good relationship with Turkey. India also, the oil we were sending to the US— to our company, CITGO— now we’re going to redirect it to India, to China, and we’re going to be paid cash, in the prime market price. So it’s… the damage that they intended to do with the sanctions was not so bad. Of course it is, because those are assets for which cost over ten billion dollars, and that from the Venezuelans. We couldn’t repatriate the profit since 2017, that was already… but now we’ll send our oil to other refineries, in other parts of the world, so we have to find ways out, new pathways in order to satisfy the needs of our people in spite of the United States government.
AP: And how did the historic election of AMLO in Mexico open up opportunities for Venezuela, politically and economically, that weren’t previously available under other administrations like Pena Nieto’s?
JA: The victory of the popular movement in Mexico is important but not only for Venezuela, for all of Latin America and I would say even for the world. Because, I mean, it’s one of the most important countries of this hemisphere, it’s on the border with the United States and now we have a government there that respects— the difference between the former governments, and the Lopez-Obrador government, is that he respects his Constitution, and he respects international law. He sees some something so basic, so simple, that should happen all over the world, makes a difference in Mexico, and makes a difference for Latin America. So it’s a good news for the Mexican people, for Latin America, and for the world.
AP: I want to transition now to some of the work you’ve been doing in the States. The AP has reported, citing two senior Venezuelan officials, that while in the state’s you have had two meetings with Trump’s envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams. And it specifically said during a meeting on January 26, that he threatened Venezuela with US troop deployment. Is this true?
JA: No, I mean we had a meeting on January the 26th, after the Security Council meeting about Venezuela. For the first time Venezuela was the topic because we are not, we don’t pose a threat to security or to peace in the world. But the United States made us a topic and then immediately after we met in the headquarters of the United Nations, but it was like an exploratory meeting now and…this is the first time in many years that we have someone appointed by Trump or, by that that group that has hijacked the White House, and the American government… and it’s the first time, so we have to be able to communicate, to meet with him, or with whomever that is appointed for that. Dialogue is the main tool that we have in the Bolivarian Revolution, always with our people, with the entrepreneurs, with the private sector, with the opposition, with the United States, with other countries, so we have to be really fair and saying that we consider it’s a good opportunity in order, for the first time in many years, in order to maybe make our voices be heard. And we’re going to continue sitting with him, or with whomever is appointed, if they want to sit with us.
AP: So you didn’t find it so threatening? Because the report did say that this was something specific he brought up.
JA: I mean the threats of the US government happen every hour now, but it wasn’t that threatening now.
AP: Did you notice a change between the two meetings, does the Trump administration seem as confident in their policy now as they were at the end of January?
JA: Times changed and their plan failed. Now the momentum they were looking for was over, it’s over, and the coup didn’t happen. Our military stood up loyal to our Constitution, so I believe that the think tanks and all these people must be working 24 hours a day trying to understand what’s happening in Venezuela because nothing that they have planned about Venezuela happens as they would like it to.
AP: It’s not the first time think tanks are wrong about something, at least the ones in in Washington. I heard you say in another interview that this moment marked the first time the US, you know, declared a coup before the war was even won, you also have Trump administration officials speaking openly about the fact oil is a major motivation behind their aggressive policy. The mask seems to be off, so how is it different for you as Venezuela’s top diplomat, dealing with the Trump administration compared to a Democratic administration? What differences do you notice?
JA: There are many differences. This administration is shameless, they as you say, they took the mask off and say exactly what they want out loud, and all the interests they have are clear, so—“we want the Venezuelan oil, we don’t want an independent process and government being in Venezuela, we hate socialism, and we have to destroy that government, we have to make this happen soon, we want our companies to take the Venezuelan oil to the United States”—so in a way it’s better, because we know exactly what they want and we can negotiate on a real basis. But of course, it’s also sad that the world and international organizations, organisms, accept such a government to exist now, and that the American people voted for such a government, no maybe they were framed before they voted…
AP: It’s Russia’s fault!
JA: Yeah, it’s always someone else but I mean, that’s not politics, that’s not international relations. That is like they’re like pirates, no? It shouldn’t happen. Not in this time, not in the 21st century. That’s why we created a group in the UN. Because that is unbelievable, that the most important government— because it’s very strong— with the most important and powerful Armed Forces, threatens everyone, threatens the peoples, wants the natural resources from everywhere, and they do it openly. No, maybe before they also had this as their goals, but they had another kind of behavior, and they respected at least until some point, international law.
AP: The opposition claims to have some officials working abroad, working on their behalf, meaning people in your ministry currently. Is that something you’re actually worried about?
JA: No because it’s not really representatives from the opposition, it’s representatives from the White House or from the Secretary of State, no? So we are not, it doesn’t bother us. Especially these men and women that have been appointed to Latin American governments, because it’s so sad, you know, to see our — the governments of our neighborhood, you know some countries of our neighborhood, being ruled by such governments. It looks like if this was a big company, and Trump is the CEO, and the presidents of these countries are the executive directors, so they have to do what they are said to do by Trump, they have to do it well in order for Trump to promote them, and so that they can be re-elected, or whatever. So it’s sad for Latin America, but it doesn’t bother us. Our main focus is Washington, because even I would say— we can have dialogue with the opposition now, right now, if they want to, it would be very important. But because the opposition is so dependent on Washington, we would rather have dialogue as I have with Abrams, President Maduro with Donald Trump, and I am sure that we could find lots of solutions to all these situations.
AP: It sounds like you’re very hopeful and that your visit to New York reinvigorated that hope.
AP: Thank you very much for speaking with me about it.
JA: Thank you, and you thank you very much Anya.
Anya Parampil is a journalist based in Washington, DC. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula, Palestine, Venezuela, and Honduras.