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“If Venezuela Moves toward Socialism, Then the State of Zulia Ought to Move toward a Free Market”

by Fernando Gualdoni | El

Madrid. 10 March 2006 | Few people were aware of where the Venezuelan State of Zulia was until President Hugo Chávez recently sounded the alarm concerning a movement that encourages the separation of that region, which is rich in petroleum and other resources, from the rest of the country. Last Sunday, on his radio and television program, Hello President, the chief executive denounced a conspiracy among the Rumbo Propio [Our Own Destiny] group (instigators of a publicity campaign in favor of autonomy for Zulia), the regional Government [a part of the opposition] and the US White House. Midweek the Venezuelan government’s prosecutors had already launched an investigation as to who in Rumbo Propio was responsible; meanwhile the cell phone belonging to the vice president and spokesman for the movement, Alberto Mansueti, lit up will calls as a result of all the international attention.

“We have nothing to do with [Governor of Zulia] Manuel Rosales nor have we ever established contact with the US Ambassador to Venezuela [William Brownfield],” explains Mansueti in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS, speaking from Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia. This person, originally from Argentina, a resident of Venezuela “for many years,” says he is a university professor of Law and Political Science and a “Biblical teacher,” which, according to what he says, means that he uses Sacred Scripture in order to teach good government administration. Furthermore, he defines himself as being a follower of Argentine liberal economist Alberto Benegas Lynch.

Mansueti is number two in Rumbo Propio, a movement led by Venezuelan economist and cattle rancher Néstor Suárez. The third person within the upper circle is businessman and retired military officer Ildemar Ferrer.

“We do not want Zulia to be independent from Venezuela. We are not separatists, let me make that very clear,” says Mansueti. “Nor do we belong to the extreme right, as someone has gone around saying; rather we are the new right,” he adds. The spokesman relates that they hired a private firm to conduct a poll that asked the people of Zulia if they wanted an autonomous region and 71% answered affirmatively.

Mansueti did not rule out having the movement turn into a political party with eyes set on the State governorship. Zulia and the island State of Nueva Esparta (Island of Margarita) are the only two states that are not in the hands of Chavismo, and members of Rumbo Propio know that they have an opportunity to gain regional power. “Support for our project is growing faster than we expected,” the spokesman acknowledges. Zulia is a very wealthy region: 40% of oil production comes from that western State, which borders on Colombia. Furthermore, some of the largest agricultural and food producing industries are concentrated there.

The pillars of the Rumbo Propio project, according to what one can deduce from the conversation with Mansueti, are autonomy and a market economy for Zulia. “We want one country and two systems, such as Hong Kong vis-à-vis China,” specified the spokesman. “If Venezuela is moving in the direction of the socialist model, then we want the market economy model for Zulia. We are liberals in matters of the economy, conservatives in matters political and Christians in matters of principles. Have I explained myself?

Translation by W.K.

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