Exclusive Interview with Juan Guaido’s Former Ambassador to Colombia
In a long-form interview with the PanAm Post, the former ambassador spoke at length about the corruption, his differences with Juan Guaido, and the political situation in Venezuela
The reader may not believe that I had ever spoken to him. I only saw him once and was introduced to him. At that time, Humberto Calderon Berti was the ambassador to Colombia. Now he is the former ambassador.
Calderon was appointed 29th January this year to represent the interim government of Juan Guaido in the Republic of Colombia, perhaps the most important country for Venezuela after the United States. His term lasted only ten months. However, his dismissal on 27th November did not surprise anyone. We were all waiting for it. It was a long time coming.
I said in an event just a few hours ago that the dismissal of Calderon Berti and his statement to the press was a watershed moment in this process that already looks too consumed. Calderon, with a gesture of decency and frankness, that all Venezuelans needed, likely represents that symbol of dignity that brings civil society together. He represents the society that categorically rejects the vices that led us to this tragedy.
I wanted to interview him since we published the article on the diversion of funds by envoys of the Government of Juan Guaido. I persisted. I needed to talk to someone who was immersed in a scandal that cornered both of us. The answer was negative for several months. But not anymore. Humberto Calderon Berti took out the ammunition and released it. He has a good aim and does not hesitate to shoot. It is time.
The prestigious Venezuelan politician, former minister, a former parliamentarian, petroleum expert, and geologist spoke to the PanAm Post about the incidents that discreetly contributed to the evolution of the interim government of Juan Guaido. The corruption. We primarily talked about corruption. About principles and ethics.
Also of his perception, now, thanks to his newly acquired independence, much more frank, about the direction the president of Venezuela is taking, the parties that surround him and who, according to Calderon Berti, is really behind him.
“They have become evident,” says the former ambassador about the ethical contrasts he has with Guaido’s interim government and the political party Voluntad Popular. “I was not going to resign because that would imply an admission of wrongdoing,” he says, adding, “I was not going to give them the pleasure of my departure. I was never going to do that. I knew the relationship was going to be uncomfortable; I knew things weren’t right, but I wanted to put them in the spotlight.”
Here’s the long, cluttered conversation about the fundamentals. We went through the case of Cucuta, how much money was embezzled, who handled it, also through the case of Monomeros and the stubbornness of a Venezuelan political leader to meddle with Pequiven’s subsidiary. He referred to the mistakes made by the Venezuelan opposition this year and gave some advice to whoever aspires to lead the cause for the recovery of Venezuela’s freedom.
First of all, Don Humberto, thank you for the interview, for the integrity and the gesture of decency at your press conference yesterday. I think the country needed that.
That is my obligation. And I didn’t want to talk to you earlier to avoid tainting what was being done, or I didn’t want people to think I was involved. It is not that I am against this being reported, no. It was going to be public three days later, because you publish it on the 14th and I took it to the Attorney General’s office on the 18th, and I didn’t do it before because I had the flu. But on the 18th, I was at the prosecutor’s office handing this over. Everyone was going to know it. And the complaint was about the same thing you said, so I had no interest in hiding anything. I very much respect the media and the press who have the right to inform, and the citizen has the right to know what is happening.
This is the first time, in fact, that you and I are talking. Many people, factors within the interim government – and they have suggested it publicly – have said that you have been behind this, what we did. What do you think about it?
Well, you are the best witness to whether or not I have been there.
Look, I am not going to do that, I never did that, and I was not going to do that. Not because I wanted to hide it, but simply because I was going to go to the Attorney General’s office, and I was not going to filter the information. Now, the problem was that instead of focusing on the main issue of why that happened, they focused on the fact that there had been a leak, a meaningless and absurd question.
Because it was going to come out anyway, I was going to do it four days later. The audit report was delivered to me on Saturday the 15th; on the same day, I sent it to Guaido, Leopoldo Lopez, and Julio Borges. Leopoldo Lopez was aware of these two months before it was published, so I didn’t hide anything at all.
I want to touch on two subjects in-depth with you: first, the case of Cucuta, because I have information that I would like to cross-check in this conversation with you; and, second, the case of Monomer. But before that, I was talking about this narrative that has been created about you being behind the investigation to harm the interim government and Guaido. The thesis has emerged that you want to assume an interim presidency. Three days ago, you were linked to Mikel Moreno and Padrino Lopez. Yesterday, journalists came out saying that you were egoistic because you wanted the presidency. What do you say to that?
Well, let’s go for the first part. First of all, you are aware, because you were the person who published the Cucuta report, the information did not come from me.
Yes, of course…
Secondly, I started the investigation for a reason: there was a rumor in the circles, insistent comments in the networks not only of the military but of the people who make a living in Cucuta. They published many things until one day, some prominent people from the Colombian government contacted me and told me that they wanted to talk to me. They were coming to show me some information that seemed sensitive, and I said this should not be happening, give me more information, they gave me some additional information, I handed that over to an embassy official.
(Telephone call interruption).
Ah! The first thing you know is that I had nothing to do with it. I had seen you one day. We shook hands and were introduced. I said to you, “nice to meet you, how are you?” nothing else. The second topic was… what was it?
This kind of campaign clearly has a purpose and is intended to discredit and neutralize it, I imagine, to dilute the accusations. They published in El Nacional and other media, articles linking you to Mikel Moreno and Padrino Lopez…
Uh-huh, wait. I don’t know Mikel Moreno or General Padrino Lopez. I have never spoken to them, never in my life. I haven’t participated in any attempt. I didn’t join the military feat of the Altamira Bridge.
Sure… They are the ones who have to explain.
They are ones who have to explain, the ones who appeared there, not me. What am I going to explain? This is conjecture and manipulation that they should explain why they did it and who was involved because there were many rumors, and there was never any explanation of how military feat arose.
I have some information that I received from someone who did participate, who passed through Bogota, General Cristopher Figuera, but I will keep it to myself. I won’t say anything, but he told me everything, and those who appeared on the bridge are among those who were in the picture. I had nothing to do with that. They didn’t invite me to participate.
Besides, it is very clumsy to involve you with that to try to discredit you when it was others who were really involved. Some say that what you did yesterday was a grand egoistic act to undermine Guaido’s presidency and prop yourself up.
What ego can a 78-year-old person have? I was already Minister of Petroleum when Guaido was not even born. When most of the current leaders weren’t born yet, I had already been president of INTEVEP, Director of Reversion, Minister of Petroleum, President of PDVSA. What ego can I have in that sense, please, what happened is that I was looking at many things.
If I hadn’t participated in the interim government, I wouldn’t know about things. And maybe I would have been confused.
But I want to clarify why it is quite important: the three fundamental factors that distanced me from them – and which they are taking into account because I told them – were: the case of Cucuta, which, from the first day when they informed me, I informed Leopoldo Lopez, on the first day, do you understand me? And he is in charge of absolutely everything. To be honest, he didn’t try to influence me not to do anything. I am not going to tell a lie as a result of all this because I don’t tell lies. Secondly, the investigation was carried out thoughtfully and responsibly.
What I do want to clarify, Orlando, and what is very important is that they are aware of my opinions on that. First, about Cucuta, from the first moment Leopoldo, Julio Borges, and people who passed through here were aware of it, linked to the political parties with whom I met, and I showed them the information I had. In other words, I never hid it.
The other thing was Monomers. I was the one who raised the issue of Monomers in the beginning. No one else. They didn’t even know that it existed, and I took all the steps very discreetly because it was necessary to do so to prevent the regime from torpedoing the company’s control operation. From the outset, I worked on this with the attorney Jose Ignacio Hernandez and Leopoldo Lopez seriously and professionally with some advisors that I have, a lawyer specializing in these issues and an oil baron that also dominates the matter.
When the time came to appoint the Board of Directors, Leopoldo Lopez asked me to compile a list. I am not a petrochemist, I am a petroleum producer, so I took advice from my colleagues at PDVSA – some of whom are petrochemists – and they gave me a list that I passed. The only worthwhile considerations while integrating that list were professional merits and moral and ethical trajectory. I gave it to Leopoldo. Then things took a dark turn, and they put people there for political reasons.
I didn’t think that was convenient, but even so, most of the members of the Board of Directors were professionals and started working immediately. And so professional that the company that was producing 50%, began to produce 100%. But it was not producing 50% because it had been destroyed, that is not true; the company was functioning, but because of the OFAC measures, it had enormous financial restrictions, it did not have access to dollars to buy raw material nor could it do international operations.
I worked on the lifting of sanctions with the people of Washington; I think Vecchio and the prosecutor himself worked a lot on that. The company recovered. Now, what’s going on? It seemed to me that it was not pertinent, that it was not a good message to the country, or to my colleagues in the oil sector, to politicize that. That there were party quotas there of the four parties that are in the G4.
When did my responsibility end? I went to Barranquilla, I swore the oaths to make their designation formal, and I never appeared again except in a meeting (I explain, the embassy office is half Monomeros and the other half was given to the embassy to function). One day, while I was in my office, someone from the Monomeros board approached me and requested me to go to their meeting. I told him I had nothing to do there, but he insisted that it was just a moment. When we opened the door to the Monomeros meeting, I was surprised to learn that Manuel Rosales was leading the meeting.
It seemed to me that this was not normal, that he had nothing to do with it, the only people who should be there were the Monomeros executives with the members of the Energy and Mines Commission of the National Assembly. I sat down and saw that people were being run over, insulted, and mistreated unnecessarily.
Did Manuel Rosales mistreat them?
No, no. Manuel Rosales didn’t speak while I was there; there were others.
I didn’t like that, and when I saw that they were making claims because they hadn’t attended to people they had sent and things like that, I said, “This is not about me, I am not going to stay here endorsing this with what I don’t agree with.” I stood up and left. I never knew anything about it again. I washed my hands of the whole affair. That was the second, they knew I was upset, and the third aspect was related to the dialogues. When I heard about the dialogues -because nobody knew it, not even Julio Borges knew it was getting ahead of him!
The Government of Colombia found out from the press.
Of course! And the Colombian government is our main international ally.
Well, Almagro told me to my face (and I don’t even know what to say because of the shame) that he had also found out from the press. Almagro, our great ally…
That is not normal. It is impolite and shows a lack of solidarity with our allies. I have never proposed that we should ask Colombia or the United States for permission to do things, no. But there is one crucial thing, Orlando, out of courtesy, you have to share fundamental issues with them.
Venezuelans must always make the decision, I do not doubt that, but at least we have to consult them, ask for their opinion. And to me, because of the position, I held here – which allowed me access to all important levels of this country – I personally know, they did not tell me, I know the discomfort that there was here in that sense. Quite frankly, it was a great nuisance. And I told them, I communicated to them in writing. I sent a note to President Guaido that he did not answer, but I sent it to him.
What month was that?
That was when the dialogues were going on; it would be like August.
The Cucuta thing had already happened. There was already a distance between you, was not there?
Cucuta and Monomers had already happened. And I would say to them that it seems that it is not natural, that it is not proper to do these things on the sidelines and without consulting the most important allies.
What would this project be without the support of Colombia, the United States and Brazil, major allies, and the international community in general? It is going to be a disaster! I acted responsibly. Now, why do they know my position on dialogues? Because before that I went on television one day with Idania Chirinos. When she asked me about it and, I said, carefully and prudently, that I regretted that the regime was taking advantage of the good faith of the opposition and that they were deceiving, manipulating, and ordering it around.
You can look it up in the archives. That was the expression I used. That is a very Spanish expression, and it is used a lot here as well, it is ‘guaraliando’… making people dizzy.
And I didn’t believe in that. Because what the regime had shown so far was that they were looking to buy time. And I didn’t agree with it… Well, that made them angry. That made all the difference. Now, do you think it is normal that I, ambassador to Colombia, from June until last week, never had any contact with the interim president?
Don’t you find that not only abnormal but also unacceptable? Colombia is a key ally and the fact that the president did not have personal contact with you, and we know that today, is that not a sufficient reason to demand the resignation of Juan Guaido?
I don’t want to go into those depths…
But I find that unacceptable.
What was it that mitigated all that? The presence of Julio Borges here in Bogota with whom I have an excellent professional and personal relationship. I think what they did to Borges by including him in my removal letter was a dirty trick.
Wasn’t Borges aware of your dismissal?
No. Borges had told me two or three times that these people were mad at me and that they wanted me to leave. I said, “Sure, I’ll leave when they want me to, but I am not going to quit. And I was not going to quit because that implies an admission of guilt. And I was not going to do that. I said the same thing I said many years ago to Lusinchi, to the Minister of Energy and Mines of Lusinchi, that while I was president of PDVSA and he came to see me and asked, “What are you going to do? I told him I didn’t understand the question. “Are you going to resign?” I said, “No because resigning would mean that I made a mistake, an error, that I did something wrong.” “So, what do we do,” he insisted. “Well, whatever you want to do, if you want to remove me, you remove me, but that is up to you. They called an assembly, and they dismissed me. Perfect, nothing happened.
They sent me a letter… All right, I am leaving, and I have no resentment. Why will I be resentful?
Okay, here are some points I don’t want to pass up. First, do you think that those three impasses: Cucuta, Monomeros, and the dialogues were the ones that ultimately led to your removal from office?
I hope that is it. What else could it have been?
The other thing is that you say that Julio Borges did not endorse your dismissal.
Borges found out about the letter because I showed it to him. He didn’t know.
And don’t you think Borges should denounce this? This is unacceptable… He is being involved!
That is his business. What I am telling you is that he found out (Julio was in Panama) when he arrived here at night. I showed him the letter, and he told me that he had not been consulted. And why did they do it? To compromise him, they knew that a deluge was on its way, and that part of the deluge would fall on him.
That is done with all the betrayal and evil in the world. And I told Julio. But everyone is as they are. I am not going to tell him what he has to do because he is an adult. He is my friend, and none of these incidents is going to alter that friendship. I know there are people who criticize Julio Borges a lot, but why do they criticize him? Because he has been the great articulator of Venezuela’s international politics. He has been! While others are out there giving speeches and spreading lies, Borges is doing useful things. Borges is primarily responsible for all the international support Venezuela has garnered, and the regime knows it. That is why the regime upholds and promotes all those smear campaigns against Borges. You have to be a fool not to realize that is the way it is.
Now, the other point is that many ask. It is one of the biggest concerns – before your final gesture of decency – why did Humberto Calderon, who saw the process being degraded and corrupted, continue there? If they had never dismissed you, would you simply have gone on?
I was not going to give them the pleasure of leaving. I was never going to do that. I knew the relationship was going to be awkward, I knew things weren’t right, but I wanted to put them in the spotlight. They would have to explain to the country why I was dismissed, something they haven’t done yet.
What they claim in the communication is that they are going to restructure foreign policy. They don’t believe that themselves. That is not true! Why do they have to resort to a lie? I am not a man of lies. I studied at the La Salle school in Barquisimeto. I was trained there, and what the La Salle brothers punished most was lies. That is how I was formed. When my children commit a mistake and tell me the truth, I forgive them quickly. I get very upset when they lie to me because I don’t believe that the human being should go ahead with the lie and the political leader much less. People say… “Well, that is naive. That is the way things are. And I am 78; I am not going to change. This is who I am, and this is how I will die!
Do you believe that there are very indispensable ethical and moral contrasts between yourself and what the interim government has become?
They have been exposed. What happens is that their reaction to Cucuta was not one of support for me. Instead, they rewarded whoever sent the money. They put it in the strategy commission.
Who are you talking about? Sergio Vergara?
Was he the one sending the money?
He was the one who sent the money.
On Juan Guaido’s orders?
It was his sister-in-law who received the money.
On Guaido’s orders?
Well, I guess, I don’t know.
Look, Orlando, I want to clarify something: I don’t know how much they sent; I don’t know where the resources came from; I don’t know if what they told me they sent was really everything they sent.
What I can tell you is that they spent a hundred million pesos, 30,000 dollars, in one month at the hotel where they lived in Cucuta, the Hilton Hampton…
Well, one has to eat more than I eat, huh? 30,000 dollars! I found out later. The ones who received the money didn’t report it.
Oh, and they didn’t report it!
No, never! What happened is that the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, which does know how to do things, and is a functioning institution that the country trusts, what did they do? They went to the hotels. And what did they collect? All the hard drives of computers. What happened there? I don’t know, but I can give you that information because it came from an excellent source.
Do you think it is humane that while people are working, when they are dying crossing the high plateau of Berlin (Norte de Santander), walking through Colombia, looking for a way to escape from that humanitarian tragedy in Venezuela, some scoundrels are stealing money or embezzling it?
Emphasizing the case of Cucuta, do you think this boils down to two Popular Will party members? How big is it?
Look, I don’t know. One of the arguments I heard was that it was a small amount, about 90,000 dollars… That is not the truth. Two things are unacceptable: 1. That it happened, and 2. Saying that it was little money. As they are accustomed to hearing that those of the regime steal 10 million, 100 million, 200 million, one billion, maybe 90 thousand is insignificant to them. No, that is not the case; whatever it was, it was an act of corruption. That is the issue.
I imagine you warn Caracas of what is happening- Guaido and Leopoldo, what is their response?
I spoke to Guaido only later, when he was about to deliver the report. It was Leopoldo with whom I had very frank communication.
And what was Leopoldo’s response?
To continue doing what I was doing.
He never tried to mediate for Rossana Barrera?
I did what I had to do. And I did it for two reasons: my conscience forced me, and because of my obligation as a public servant. I couldn’t keep that hidden. I told the people who brought the crucial information from here in Colombia: “What would the Colombian government have thought if I had hidden what had happened?”. Did it do the Guaido government any good to hide things? On the contrary, it would have been a discredit to him if I had hidden that.
Why did the interim government react like this to those who spoke out? Because we were also terribly attacked at the time. Why was there a reaction against those who revealed what was happening, and, during the process, did they not attempt to dissuade you?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it was out of respect for me, I don’t know. They can say whatever they want about me now. But people usually respect me. I am not a newcomer to this. My service record is visible to everyone. I am not 30 years old; I am not a newcomer. When you are 30, you say, “I am honest, I am honest.” All right, you haven’t had a chance to prove it. But when you are as old as I am and you have been through all the important jobs in Venezuela, and you are still working…
And why do you think people reacted the way they did? Because I am not an upcoming newcomer. People had followed me and know that when I left PDVSA, I never came back. I went there once or twice in 20 years. I was invited to talk about some state things. But I never went to look for contracts with PDVSA. I went to work abroad; that is what I have done all my life. I have worked in the Middle East, Belgium, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico. I have been everywhere. I have been a wanderer, that is what touched me, and that is what I chose.
Now they say I had a conflict of interest here. Look, the other day I was going to call my wife, and I dialed a wrong number, and I called a journalist friend of mine whom I love very much. She says to me, “Doctor Calderon, here I am seeing what a guy said about you having conflicts of interest.” And I spoke to him, and I sent him a public deed in Spain from a notary’s office in Madrid where I resigned my status as a member of the Board of directors of the company I had founded. It is a public document. I have renounced that, my remuneration. I worked ten months here ad honorem. In the last five months, I covered all the operating expenses of the embassy: staff, travel expenses, and operating expenses out of my pocket. The military in Cucuta, one day, they were going to be evicted, and they called me twice. One day they called me urgently to tell me that they needed 300,000 pesos and when they called me again it was almost 2 million pesos. While I was in an important meeting here in Bogota with members of Congress who had come from all over the world, they called me saying that people were going to be taken out of the hotel and, you know what I did? I sent them 8,000 dollars out of my pocket so they wouldn’t be evicted. I paid 27 million pesos for the hotels. And it was worth it.
Look, Orlando, I came here because I wanted to serve my country in tough times and I thought that with my experience in a country where I lived for a long time, where I have worked for many years, where I have a network of meaningful relationships with people in government, political parties, the business world, the intellectual world, the media, relations of respect and consideration, I thought I could be useful to my country. That is why I decided to come here. They offered me to stay in Spain, and I said that I preferred Colombia, which is much more important because of the current circumstances in which we live.
Yes, I think you can sleep peacefully, which others can’t. I go back to the press conference. In it, you said that you were waiting for the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office and that, while you would respect and abide by any decision, you asked that we be vigilant against attempts at manipulation. What exactly do you mean?
For example, I am referring to the report by Transparencia Venezuela. I got the initial version from them, and they agreed with everything I had said, and then, a week later, a new made-up version arrived, and I said: this is not the same.
What was altered in the second version?
They put some vague things in there. I was very disappointed. I trust the institutions of Colombia. I believe in the separation of powers in this country. I think they will not be manipulated. Although I know, they already called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking how the process was going.
I will withhold the name. The chancellor told me so.
Did someone from the interim government call?
Indeed! And what was the response of the chancellor? “We don’t know what is happening because the attorney general’s office is an independent entity.”
Is there more, or is there anyone more influential than those involved in this case?
I don’t know; I honestly don’t know. I have no record or certification of that.
Do you think it is possible, given the campaign against you, for them to try to involve you in this case?
In this case, impossible. In what way? If I, first, did not participate in the appointment of people. Not a penny ever went through the embassy. So, what can you involve me in? Nothing. All I have done is put my hand in my pocket.
Let’s move on to Monomeros that I want to specify some things, and I link the previous question with this. A prominent official of the interim Government, I will withhold the name, mentioned to me that you had been behind what we did at the PanAm because you wanted to harm Juan Guaido since you had supposedly asked for contracts in Monomeros and hadn’t gotten those.
I authorize whoever, you, or whoever wants to go to Monomers and ask if I ever suggested a name for anything. And, that if someone connected with the embassy did something… let them give the names because if they did, it is their responsibility, not mine.
You never asked for a contract at Monomeros?
Ask the president, the general manager, Carmen Elisa Hernandez, who is the president of the Board of Directors if I have ever mentioned, said something, or if there is someone from the embassy who has done it. I authorize you to publish it tomorrow in the press because if anyone did, it is their personal responsibility, not mine.
You mentioned Manuel Rosales. I will tell you what I know, and you will tell me if it is true or not. I know that Manuel Rosales was actually at a meeting in Monomeros, where he was complaining to the Board that they had not attended to people from his group, they had not fulfilled their demands. I understand that Monomero’s president is changed because they do not comply with Manuel Rosales’ demands. Is this true?
I don’t know. I don’t know. What I can tell you is that during the time I was sitting there, which was like half an hour, Manuel Rosales said absolutely nothing. I did listen to some parliamentarians rebuking the members of the Board of Directors and making some demands that were not appropriate for their job. Do you understand?
Parliamentarians from which party?
…I believe that there was a design error, and that is that the members of the Board of Directors could not be line managers. I agree with the National Assembly on this point. If you were on the Board of Directors, you couldn’t be a frontline manager, because managers are supposed to report to the Board, that is logical. I think what they should have done, at least what I would have done, is: these are the managers and you leave the Board, period. And nothing happens. But what they did was they removed Bilbao from the position of Chairman of the Board and General Manager and continued as Director.
Why are they taking Jon Bilbao out?
I don’t know. It must be that he did not lend himself to what some wanted. What I do know -perhaps he can confirm it to you- is that before he was formally named, there were meetings in Caracas making demands of him. They were at the Amazonia restaurant. Two meetings in Amazonia and another meeting here at the Marriott Hotel making demands of him, ask him who they were. Ask for the list of those who have gone through Monomeros asking for things. Let them publish that list-all of them, without exception.
Who were they?
I can’t tell you, but they were people.
Was Manuel Rosales one of them?
I don’t know.
Members of the Assembly?
Members of the Assembly, yes. Some of them were members of the Assembly.
But I think it is an interesting job you can do. Call and formally ask who was here in Bogota. Publish the list of all those who have passed through there, asking for things, all without exception.
Whatever it was. It seems that urea is very desirable. People who wanted to sell urea. Buying raw materials, being intermediaries in negotiations.
A Democratic Action congressman, right?
Call Bilbao and ask if they tell you who they were.
Isn’t urea used for cocaine production?
It is a precursor. But I am not saying that. I don’t want to get into those depths. But it is a sensitive subject that needs attention. Why so much interest?
A Democratic Action congressman has asked for urea contracts.
Ask Bilbao. He has to know; I hope he has the strength and courage to tell the truth.
Is there a list of people?
It should exist. Because when you go to a company, it keeps a record of who goes, who they are, and what they ask for. What I know from the first moment I started to listen… just as it happened with Cucuta. When I began to hear about visits, pressures, demands; I said, “This isn’t about me,” and I withdrew from that, I didn’t want to be implicated.
And are you aware of any contracts ever distributed?
I don’t know because like I told you and I am telling you very sincerely, I closed that chapter. I didn’t want to be involved in that.
Now for closing…
I think it would be beneficial if the person who told you what he told you about Rosales – and you said to me that you had heard a recording seen a photograph… Call him, whoever it was, and ask him to publish what he said to you, to authorize you, to give you that information and allow you to publish it. That is what public welfare is, that is what you have to do if the person who told you has the courage to stand by it. You know that there are also people who are weak and succumb to pressure.
You said at the press conference that you recommended Guaido to surround himself very carefully. Some time ago, we published a text about Henry Ramos Allup’s relationships and, although it was a scandal, a week later, Guaido appeared at an event with him, where Ramos Allup raised Guaido’s arm. Do you think that at this point, it is still that Guiado does not surround himself well, or is that Guaido is part of the problem?
Look, I’ll tell you something. I have known Henry Ramos for many years, because I was a member of parliament for a few years, and I had known him before. Personally, I can’t say anything about Henry Ramos. I can’t say it because I would be lying because I really don’t know anything at all. There may be comments in the press. You know that sometimes the comments are not totally accurate. Now, here a few months ago, a person close to President Guaido came to see me, and I told him two things because he asked me what I suggested that he tell President Guaido. Two things. One, to check his surroundings very well because there are toxic people there. Two, that he shakes himself, that he doesn’t let himself be just a nominal leader led by someone else, that he exercises his responsibility. Because I believe that it is vox populi that there is a person guiding him, and he has to practice his duty as president in charge fully.
Your first suggestion – he should be careful about whom he surrounds himself with – whom are you referring to?
I had the opportunity when General Cristopher passed by, to talk to him and some of his comments really gave me the creeps regarding some people near to Guaido. Call Christopher and ask him to tell you what he knows if he tells you.
But is it about people involved in corruption?
People in his surroundings. And he told me some of those things that I thought were half Kafkaesque. That is what he told me.
And your second piece of advice is about Leopoldo Lopez?
Without a doubt.
Do you think Leopoldo Lopez is one of those toxic elements of the interim government?
What I believe is that the big mistakes of the opposition have all been the responsibility of the actions of Leopoldo Lopez, who has inexplicably been leading all the opposition parties. That the fourth party of the National Assembly controls the first three, I don’t understand.
Who invented Cucuta? What did they tell the presidents who moved to Cucuta that it was going to happen? What did they tell Almagro? I don’t know. They must have told him something because Cucuta isn’t exactly a place for tourism because, among other things, seeing the human drama there is depressing. And who invented the military feat of the Altamira Bridge? Who initiated the dialogues behind the backs of all his comrades in the opposition and the international community? He, Leopoldo Lopez, let him show his face, let him respond!
Would you then take the responsibility away from Guaido?
No, I wouldn’t take it away. My aspiration was always for him to rectify.
Do you believe that he is a victim?
I don’t know. But he must be aware of whatever is going on because he is no fool to have gotten there.
When you accepted the appointment and practically left your life for this cause, did you expect to be involved in this?
No! No, no. But I thank God that I came to Colombia because it allowed me to see things that I wouldn’t have seen living elsewhere. And He put me in the right place, at the right time, to fulfill my conscience and fulfill my responsibility.
What I want is a different country, Orlando. For my children, my grandchildren, for people who deserve something different. That is what I want. Now, may I have aspirations? Do you think that at the age I am, I am going to be getting involved in campaigning in Venezuela? I’ll be crazy (laughs). I have already done much campaigning, a lot of campaigning, and by the way, I have always done pretty badly (laughs). That is part of the experience.
You know, something good always comes out. I wouldn’t have known the country as I know it, our country Venezuela if I hadn’t been a political leader. If I hadn’t had to go through the country back and forth. I wouldn’t have known the western neighborhoods of Caracas if I hadn’t been a senatorial candidate. There isn’t a neighborhood in the west that I don’t know about. But not by car, on foot. I have walked through them all, and I know their needs, problems, deficiencies. You can’t talk to me about that. I have seen extreme poverty in the popular neighborhoods of Barcelona and Cumana. I have seen people going through work… How will it be now if I witnessed it personally 20 years ago, during Chavez’s crusade? How it will be now after this tragedy and this disaster!
Orlando, I would appreciate it if you can highlight one thing. All these things I said to them, all without exception. I am not talking because I am resentful because this is not my style. I am not talking because I was removed. They are aware and so is the country because I denounced Cucuta, I spoke about the dialogues, and about Monomeros, people knew what my discomfort was from the first moment. Look, I have many friends in Colombia. They often expressed their concern and anguish to me because they didn’t want me to be involved in anything strange, and they told me and alerted me, and that made me aware of what could happen and of the risk that could be presented. It was one of the reasons why I distanced myself from these things.
Is it possible to successfully recover Venezuela’s freedom with these people directing the process? Do you see it likely today?
What I believe is that there is generational sectarianism here that is unacceptable. The fact that you are over 40 years old cannot contribute, that you are an old, sclerotic… Everyone who is 50, 60, 70 years old. It is not about age; it is about ability, competence, honesty, and ethics. That is what it is all about. Anyone… You’re a boy, but I feel the same as when I was 25 with some ailments. Sometimes my back hurts, but my brain is in very good state. These accumulated years have fortunately given me a lot of experience.
Are you optimistic?
Of course, I am optimistic! But what I tell people is to wake up, not to be self-conscious because they are old, that they have a lot to contribute to many people. We have those working in the oil industry. There are thousands of them in Colombia, Mexico, the United States, Kuwait, Qatar, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, those are the ones who have to lead the oil industry, not the newly arrived experts, who have no idea what they are dealing with, who are sometimes so audacious that they write books and who know that oil is black because they see the asphalt on the streets.