I'm translating selected excerpts of Venezuela de Primera leader Roberto Smith's online forum at Noticiero Digital. The questions are posed by Noticiero Digital readers.
Q: What's different in your offer from what we've seen and lived before?
A: We offer something no one has ever offered, not the bolivarian generation, nor the generation of '28, nor that of '58, nor those in power today: to build a first-world country economically, socially, politically and culturally, within one generation. To be the first country in Latin America to be a first-world country, like Singapur, South Korea, Taiwan and Lebannon did, among others.
I'll transcribe the opening of our statement of principles:
"Never in our history has a generation set out to turn Venezuela into one of the best countries in the world. We take on that challenge and we begin here a new era in the history of our people: the era of the construction of a first world Venezuela, a people known as one of the greatest in the world.
Our starting point is clear: all Venezuelans hope for a First World Venezuela, a society like the most successful in the world in all areas of human life, prosperous and poverty-free, with work for everyone without exclusion or marginalization, free, pluralist and republican, free of populism and authoritarianism, with an effective and just government, free of mediocrity and culturally creative. There is no other acceptable destiny, and so a First World Venezuela is the only national project that can truly unity all Venezuelans on a great common enterprise."
There is no country in the world with our potential for prosperity and social justice. We refuse to accept a mediocre destiny. That is VERY DIFFERENT from the offers that the Venezuelan people has heard before.
Q: Are you Rodolfo's son?
A: I am not related to journalist Rodolfo Schmidt, whom I admire. My father is Roberto Smith Camacho, from Churuguara, Falcon State, an engineer and first rate man, and my grandfather Juancho Smith, who was a peasant.
Q: If, right now, unity is the most important thing, what's the point of coming out to compete at this time? Doesn't it just strain the atmosphere and atomize the opposition even more?
A: I agree with you that unity is key, but I mean the unity of ALL Venezuelans around a new project to turn us into a first-world country. That, in my humble opinion, is the only "unity" that's worth anything. The idea that the country is split in two chunks is wrong. There is a huge majority of Venezuelans who don't want what we have now or what we had in the past. Together we should build that more transcendental unity, which will eventually encompass everyone. I don't see what could be bad about setting out to compete by proposing a project for real national unity.
Q: Don't you think the Opposition's possibilities for success would be more realistic if they recognized the lies and errors they've imposed on their followers over the last seven years?
A: I agree with you.
Q: Will you be the leader to recognize once and for all that there was no fraud in the referendum, that April 11th was a planned coup and that the opposition has been in the minority in Venezuela since 1998? Or are you scared of being rejected like all those who have gotten "close" to the government?
A: I don't identify with the Opposition, but rather with a new proposal (in spanish "proposición") to build a first world country. I think the Opposition allowed itself to lose the referendum ("se dejó ganar"), with or without fraud. I have severely criticized the events of April 2002. I marched peacefully along with hundreds of thousands and I was infuriated by the violence that day, but I was much more indignated by what happened afterwards.
I believe most Venezuelans today are not on one side or the other, but that they aspire to a new proposal for a First World Venezuela, without conflict, with national unity. In the past, a large majority systematically backed a project for change that offered much that was positive. But time passes, while the people still suffer and wait...
I want to unite 100% of Venezuelans, not just one part.
Q. The opposition has suffered 10 defeats since 1998. Every defeat has been decisive. Isn't that a sign that in Venezuela today there is an irrefutable rejection against everything that has to do with the political past and a firm determination not to go back?
A: I endorse the idea that THEY SHALL NOT RETURN (NO VOLVERAN) - that includes much from the not-so-recent past, but also lots from the recent past. I share the predominant concern with the excluded and the poor in the current discourse, but I am very worried about the inefficiency and corruption that are a consequence of public mismanagement.
Q: Since you are part of that political past (reference to his stint as communication minister in the early 90s), how do you intend with the stigma?
A: The only thing no one can change is their past. I am proud of my career, marked by efficiency, honesty, social commitment and good management.
Q: Do you think of yourself as right wing or left wing?
A: Part left, part right...I'd rather think of myself as first wing, like all Venezuelans. The right-left axis isn't very meaningful anymore because we live in the century of diversity, of creativity, and that axis is too simplistic.
Q: Do you think the alliance with Cuba is a positive thing?
A: I love Cubans, I hate their dictatorship. It's a historical anomaly, and I dream of helping Cuba find the liberty, the democracy and the prosperity they don't have today.
Q: Do you think CNE is legitimate? If not, why do you participate in the elections put together by an illegitimate CNE?
A: The electoral system, on the whole, is "depressing", not "First World" ("deprimente, no de primera"). We believe in elections, not in abstention, but we're demanding CNE to allow the people to count all the votes, and to get rid of the thumb-print scanners and electronic rolls that undermine the secrecy of the vote, and to clean up the electoral registry. We will keep on demanding those things until they are achieved. If they are not, we will take other steps in due course.
Q: Do you believe in Twentyfirst Century Socialism?
A: I've been studying social and political doctrines since I can remember. I was a democratic socialist (read MAS supporter) when I was at university, but I've left such simplistic views behind. Today my heart is full of solidarity and justice, but my head is focused on efficiency, that's why I believe in a proper balance between market and state, between solidarity and efficiency - I think "isms" work only to justify systems of domination. I believe we should shift from the hegemony of domination to the predominance of cooperation.
Q: Do you really think you have enough support to become president?
A: Our project for a First World Venezuela has the overwhelming support of the population, they want full employment, zero crime, a home for everyone and a First World democracy. Turning that into a vote for president demands, nonetheless, a huge effort. But history is full of election surprises. Fujimori had 0.6% in the polls 8 months before he was elected. Uribe was at 6% just 6 months before his election. Kennedy was on 3% a year before his election. And the current president had 2.5% 10 months before his election. (Note how he NEVER mentions Chavez by name, even when he - exceptionally - talks about him. -ft) Nothing is settled until the people make their choice.
The main tool I use to reach the people is to be there, to live , suffer and share with the poor people of this country. There is no other way to understand the problems of the majority except from inside the poor barries and the most misery-stricken towns. In those barrios and those towns you find the First World people of Venezuela. Those who long for a first-world country, those who want to improve their lives together, those who want to leave the fighting aside and reconnect once again in a world of opportunities for all.
Q: I want to live like they do in the Nordic countries. Will you achieve that? It's impossible: nobody wants Venezuela to be like that. Why did they take down Carlos Andres Perez? He had that goal and they wouldn't let him.
A: We Venezuelans want to live like the richest and most prosperous people on earth...but keeping our culture, identity, originality, beauty. The idea isn't to copy anyone, but to be better than everyone. How? Just two examples:
1. We will become the biggest energy superpower on earth, producing 10 to 12 million barrels of oil and gas per day, processing them to maximize their added value. That will allow us to finance the projects for First World education, First World health care, and others, as well as generating over 1.5 million new productive jobs.
2. We will become a tourism powerhouse, bringing 15 million tourists a year (not the mere 300,000 who come now) on the basis of our biodiversity, our coasts, our mountains, and especially our beautiful and gentle people. That way we would create over 2.5 million jobs with good wages.
Those are just two examples, but I could go into our plans for new export industries, for a knowledge society, for modern agroindustry. Finland is a good example of a country that went from being really backward to being one of the most successful, because they rode the wave of the information society. Why can't we do something similar or better?