Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks on Democracy Now! in his first interview in the United States. Chavez discusses the war in Iraq, President Bush, the role of the media in the aborted coup against him and Venezuela’s request for the extradition of Cuban anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles.
In a speech before the world body, Chavez accused the US of trying to hijack the UN summit and described the US as a terrorist nation because it is harboring the tele-evangelist Pat Robertson who recently called for his assassination. He has accused the United States of being behind the aborted coup against him in 2002, condemned the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Scores of world leaders have come to the United States for the United Nations summit. Among them, Venezuelan President Chavez. In a speech before the world body Chavez accused the U.S. of trying to hijack the U.N. Summit and described the United States as a terrorist nation because it’s harboring the televangelist Pat Robertson who recently called for Chavez’s assassination. President Chavez also accused the United States of being behind the reported coup against him in 2002. Chavez condemned the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States. Democracy Now! met with president Chavez on Friday, in his first sit-down interview in the United States. I interviewed him with Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez and Margaret Prescott of KPFK. We talked to the president at the Venezuelan ambassador’s home here in New York.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President Hugo Chavez, your assessment of president Bush, of the invasion and occupation of Iraq? And do you think if it weren’t Iraq, it would have been Venezuela?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: The imperialist government of Mr. Bush planned. What is the U.S. government looking for? And the elite governing this country? They’re looking for oil. This is part of the crisis that is looming in the horizon. You should know that the U.S., I already said this, 5% of the world population lives in this country and you consume 25% of the energy. That this consumption is partially rational, I am convinced that the U.S. people will wake up to the reality of things. Yesterday morning, we were coming from the airport for instance, it was the traffic jam time, it was very packed in the highway coming from the airport here. I talked to the people in my car, looked outside, looked at the cars surrounding us. Out of a hundred cars, ninety-nine were occupied by a single person, the driver only. Cars occupying the highways, and burning fuel, how many gallons of fuel were burned yesterday morning, polluting the environment? That’s the extreme of individualism. And public transportation, we don’t see large buses coming from the airport here. So this is pure individualism, this is capitalism.
This planet cannot stand this model any longer. I think developed countries– so-called developed countries should reflect upon the way of living and the waste of energy. And the government knows this. The big trans-nationals know this. The U.S. only has 20 billion barrels of oil in reserve. It seems as though there is no more oil around. Venezuela has 300 billion barrels of oil in reserves. Iraq has like 150 billion barrels of oil. Iran, close to 300 billion barrels of reserve. Oil for 200 years of course. Now, it is clear that the U.S. government wants that oil. That’s why they planned, first they tried to get the Venezuelan oil and, of course the coup, they staged against us. That was an oil-motivated coup. They want to have the control over Venezuelan oil before going for the Iraq, for Iraq’s oil.
They failed in Venezuela. So they went to attack Iraq. And the soldiers. And when I saw on TV how they were broadcasting in the evening news of the tanks attacking Baghdad, advancing toward Baghdad, and they said the Baghdad population were going to receive the American marines with flowers. I said, those people are nuts. They’re insane. These people have been combating for centuries. This is the Mesopotamian people. I know a little bit of the spirit of the Arab countries. Those are warriors, ten times more warriors than we are. They’ve been struggling in war for many centuries. They’re going to receive, not with flowers, they’re going to resist the occupation. That’s the reality we are facing today. The U.S. government, they fooled the U.S. soldiers, telling them, no, its going to be a piece of cake, that your going to be received as heroes, that the Arabian girls will throw flowers at them. They are drowning in a quagmire of blood and it is very painful. That’s the risk that is hovering over the world today. They are now threatening Iraq. There are still threats over Venezuela. They still think about assassinating me. There are also plans to invade Venezuela. Now, when you know the way of thinking of those in the White House, any insanity is possible. Now, let me tell you this, if the imperialist government of the White House led an invasion against Venezuela, well, the war of 100 years will be unleashed in South America. Because with our teeth, with our nails with our knees, we will go to struggle and defend our dignity in South America. Now, I aspire and I pray to God that this will never occur. We want peace. We want life. We want to have eternal relations with these sisters countries, sister nations.
The U.S. people have a major role to play to solve, to save this planet. Because we’re talking about the government. I was reading recently, Noam Chomsky, I read him very frequently. And in one of his most recent books, Chomsky, I would like very much to shake hands with Chomsky. I’ve been reading him for a while. I admire him enormously. The name of the book is “Hegemony or Survival” its what Rosa Luxemburg used to say, “socialism or barbarism.” We changed to Capitalism, and we’re going back to the caveman. Chomsky in his book, he says that two superpowers in this world and I was really shocked by that idea. I think he’s right after all. I think the key to save the world is one super power, this government? And it’s military power? Might? Fear? Technological might space power, economic might and so on. But what is the other superpower that could perhaps stop this government. That could even put an end to imperialism so we can have a true democracy to help the peoples of the world.
The U.S. Government which will be fully aware of the needs of Africa, the needs of the poor. Let’s assume that we have a government here in the United States that overnight decides to cut in half the military expenses and withdraw the troops from around the world and declare it is the champion of peace of the world and declare itself an enemy of imperialism and then devote billions of dollars to the poor. Last year the defense budget was $400 billion in military defense. Just for one single year. One single year. For those $400 billion we can go to Africa, in the poor countries of Asia, in the Caribbean and Latin America, we can help them.
I’ve learned to appreciate the thinking of John Kennedy. John Kennedy once said, and that’s why he was assassinated, listen to the South, he said once. The recent revolution going on in the south in Africa, in Asia, and Latin America. It was in the 1960’s, where the people, the black power was raging. Che Guevara said, one, two, three, Japan, and Vietnam and Asia. The world was fed up with misery and inequities. As he said, the cause of all the revolution is poverty. And he said this sentence, today more than ever is valid, he said, those who shut down the doors to peaceful resolutions open the doors to violent revolutions. That’s a reality. I do believe that the U.S. people – is the other super power that Noam Chomsky is referring to. What is the other super power? Public opinion. The peoples of the world. That’s the other super power. And the U.S. People have a major responsibility in the world. I think that we’re going to save the world. And I hope that you take part in this struggle in the same way we are doing today. And many other people, women and men in this country, in this soil.
MARGARET PRESCOD: President Chavez, speaking of the other super power, the Bush administration via Rumsfeld referred to you as a threat to the region. Many of us translating that on a grass root level assume that means that you’re doing something that really rattles the Bush administration and means also that you’re wildly popular in the region. Which we have seen. I want you to comment on two things. In relation to women and also the relationship between the middle class and the grassroots. You’re the only president who has said that to deal with poverty, you have to give power to the poor, 70% of whom are women. Why did you say this? And how are you putting it into practice? And also in relation to the middle class and the grassroots of that relationship, some of us have often seen how middle class professionals who are used to being in charge, instead of putting their skills at the service of the grassroots, cling to power and keep the grassroots out. How are you addressing the class issue in Venezuela so that the movement here can learn from it?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: That’s a very important issue you are raising there. Because you are touching the core, the very core of any transformation process. Beat reformists, beat revolutionaries, beat an abrupt process or aggressive process, moderate or radical. In any transformation process, social transformation process, economic transformation process, political– is doomed to fail without the participation of the grassroots and the population. The people, the communities, they are like the fuel. They are the fuel of revolution, of the processes. Without them there’s no revolution. It’s like water. It’s just a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. Or air, oxygen is important for this mixture to occur. That is why when you go to the plenary sessions of the U.N., I feel like oxygen is missing there. Because it is so removed from the reality of the people, of the needs of the people.
You ask me then, in the Bolivarian revolution, the role of the grassroots communities, the women and men, as well of course. But the grassroots and communities, their role is vital, and it’s more dynamic. It’s very beautiful in the roles they have to play. Just to give you an idea of some of the experiences we have had in Venezuela. I leave for Venezuela this weekend. Next week we are going to have an event in Caracas with thousands of people who are part of the Urban Land Committee, the C.T.U. in Spanish. These committees of urban land are all over the country. They are in each neighborhood, poor neighborhood. You have a committee. The members of this committee should watch the whole neighborhood. And then they draft the map of the neighborhood. They go house by house, family by family and they assess all the problems. If they lack running water or if some of the houses are unstable and they could fall down. How many children they have. The schools. The health care system in the neighborhood and so on. So these are the urban land communities.
We also have the technical commissions of water. These technical commissions of water interact with the urban land committee. They take care of the water supply and also the sewage system. There are other technical groups to take care of energy supply, electricity supply especially. We have also the health committee. The rural land committees in the rural areas. We also have housing cooperatives. In large networks of grassroots organizations, as you know, in the constitution that we have drafted, in the government we foster these grassroots movements. Here we have been trying the democratic model. It is the revolutionary democracy. But it is not only a representative democracy. It is a participatory democracy and beyond that it is a fully and meaningful democracy. And Abraham Lincoln already said this: the government of the people, for the people and by the people. That what we say here is to transfer power to the people, especially the poorest of the poor. If you want to get rid of poverty, we need to empower the poor. Not to treat them like beggars. And this week we’re going to give money, we’re going to give financial resources to these neighborhood committees, grassroots organizations, we’re going to give them technical resources, equipment, we are going to carry out the housing schemes, infrastructure schemes, water supply, electricity supply schemes. So this is a beautiful task we are conducting.
Because there, we are reducing to zero, the possibility of corruption because we give the money to the population themselves. And they put it in the bank, they help to make withdrawals and then execute the budget. They have to save some money also. And, of course, the money is to better used. They do the social oversight of the use of the moneys. Efficiency, because the work will profit them. It not a private company that is going to do the job and they take the profit and in the end the community is poorer than before.
And let me tell you this. In all these committees, cooperatives, the women play a major role. Without women there would be no revolution. Artists are never wrong when they paint revolution with the beautiful dress and with the sword. On the horse or by foot. Because revolution is a woman. A woman is the revolution. But the poverty also is the face of the woman. And the hopes is also woman. And nature is also woman. There will be no probability of success without the creative participation and the powerful participation of women.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. President, there’s no longer any doubt that the majority of the people in Venezuela support your government. But there are still those in Venezuela who say that you are using that majority support to stamp out the dissident views. Recently, I participated in a forum at Columbia University with Gustavo Cisnero, the head of Venevision, where he insisted that you are not allowing a free press to continue to function in Venezuela. I asked him, well what is the press of Venezuela doing organizing political coups? But I’d like you to talk about the role of the press in your democratic revolution and the importance of the press in general in communicating ideas to the mass of the people.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: Ignacio Ramonet recently wrote a piece called “The Media Dictatorship” because most of the media, not only in Venezuela but all over the world as well, they are in the hands of very powerful people. Very powerful economic people. For instance this person you refer to is a clear example of that. And he was one of the ones taking part in the coup in that time. And he use all his media power and all the private channels in Venezuela and all the media, the press, newspapers and private TV stations even succeeded in fooling the international public opinion for some time. They depicted me as a tyrant who massacred his people. The tyrant was defeated, was overthrown, was toppled. However, a few hours after that, the people who toppled the tyrant brought the tyrant back. So they were naked before the world, of course. So that is one of the problems the world is facing today, the media’s tyranny and that we have been denouncing around the world. However, at the same time we are very encouraged by the fact that we have excellent shows.
Every day the more the truth is being revealed in the Hurricane. I was watching CNN during the Katrina disaster, and you can see how the journalists– I remember a lady who was in the eye of the hurricane, Inez Fered, I think the name of this lady. I watched a lot of TV at the time during Katrina. Well she started to interview people and telling the truth. And then another journalist, and they started to criticize the government for the way they reacted to the tragedy. So the powers could not silence the truth. Not even through CNN. And other media, large media. Now in Venezuela we have full freedom of the press. I doubt very much that there is any other country where freedom of the speech is so respected in Venezuela. For instance, Luis Zapatero, the president of the Spanish government, he arrived late, and I waited for him in the palace the next day. When he saw me, he told me, Chavez, I had many news about you and about freedom of speech. Now, this morning I saw two hours of TV shows. And I read the papers. I have no doubt in my mind that here you have full and total freedom of speech. And this will continue to be so. And all these rumors and attacks against us are totally untrue. And I think here in the United States you have a journalist in jail because she did not reveal her sources. This has never, in other parts of our history, never happened. Journalists who were in jail and journalists killed or persecuted. Today, there is total freedom Venezuela. This is part of the dynamic of the revolutionary democracy. And what the capitalists of the media do not forgive us, forgive the people because we have demonstrated that the people are fully aware of the reality defeat the media campaign.
You ask about the middle class. I forgot to mention the middle classes. This is important. The same struggles — the same reality that was discovered openly in the world is touching today the middle class. In Venezuela, middle class’s current is appearing all over the country. And they are adding up. They are joining the process. After the coup there is this movement called middle class in positive this is a movement which is growing every day. When the medical doctors, the Cuban doctors arrived in Venezuela. The media launched a campaign against these Cuban doctors. And they succeeded in making the middle class to oppose the presence of the Cuban doctors in Venezuela. They succeeded in preventing Venezuelan doctors to join these health care schemes. It was insanity, total insanity. Today, however, we have thousands of Venezuelan doctors joining the Cuban doctors in these programs. We have dentists, ophthalmologists, and the “Into the Neighborhood” project, the health care program, today, two hundred million of doctors seeing patients in poor neighborhoods. We have twenty-five million people. It means that it’s four times the population. It’s like each Venezuelan has gone to the doctor four times, and these being free of charge procedures with the medication. The Venezuelan doctors today are joining this scheme. And together with Castro, we have signed an agreement to form, to train two hundred thousand doctors in ten years. To train them in South America, Africa and the U.S., social doctors, doctors who are not charging, those who are saving lives. People who are giving a lending hand to the poor. That’s the medical doctors we need. We have also started a project called “The Miracle Project,” and we put this project today to be at the disposal of the U.S. If you know someone – tomorrow when you show this broadcast this show and you have people who have eye problems and they cannot afford an eye surgery, please, go to the Venezuelan Consulate in the U.S. Go to the U.S. Embassy in Washington. Go to CITGO. We can guarantee the transportation of these people to Caracas and Havana free, totally free of charge. These people could undergo eye surgery. This year we have conducted close to 100,000 eye surgeries, cataracts. In children, when you do not operate these cataracts, they can go blind, cornea operations, estavism, myopia and many others. You wear glasses and you are writing pretty well, right? If you remove your glasses, you cannot read. It’s going to be difficult. The same thing. I am 51 years old. So I have problems with my eyes. I need glasses. There are people who cannot read because no one has told them that they should wear glasses. They don’t have glasses to read – millions of human beings. So we have this plan with Fidel, and we have agreed to do this in the next 10 years, and we have already started, 2005 to 2015, we are going to operate to conduct eye surgery to a million people. 600,000 people per year. That’s a miracle surgery. And that includes the U.S. people, especially the poorest of the poor. Help us to help these people who are suffering from eye diseases.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, I know you have to go, but why are you calling for the extradition of Luis Posada to Venezuela?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: Well, you know that this gentleman – there is ample evidence that this guy is a terrorist, clear evidence that he took part and he masterminded, among many other terrorist attacks, in the blowing the Cuban plane that was coming from Barbados to Caracas. It was blown up, and 73 people died as a result of this terrorist attack. But also in Venezuela this person occupied a senior position in the political police force, and there are many evidences of tortures, of people missing as a result of his acts. It was in the 1960’s and the 1970’s. So this gentleman, Posada, was already condemned in Venezuela for the blowing of the plane. He was in jail, but he fled. He escaped with the connivance of friends in jail. So we have the duty, once we located him – and we located him here in the U.S. – well it is our duty to request that he is extradited to Venezuela because he is a murderer. He is an assassin. He’s a terrorist. He’s a very dangerous person. He has caused a lot of harm, and he could even cause more harm, by himself and in a network he is leading, because he is very active. If he were in jail, he would be the mastermind of the terrorist network that already took part in the coup attempt in Venezuela, like snipers for instance, they were sent to kill people. So they blame me for those deaths. So this person should be extradited in Venezuela.
Read part 2 of the interview… click the link below… well worth it!