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Transcript of BBC's Robin Lustig interview to Hugo Chavez

BBC World Service Radio | Talking Point | 14.00 hrs | 23rd October 2005 Presenter (Robin Lustig): Welcome to Talking Point, Iím Robin Lustig and today weíre in Paris for a special programme with a special guest, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. His country is the worldís fifth largest exporter of oil, it provides 15 % of Americaís oil imports, but its relations with Washington are not good and it seems they are getting worse. He says President Bush is plotting to have him assassinated, he calls the US a Ďterrorist state and says the US is planning to invade his country. The Bush administration says heís subverting the region, and that heís offering sanctuary to people who Washington regards as terrorists.

So why is there so much hostility between the two governments? What kind of a man is Hugo Chavez, a man some call Ďone of the most dangerous politicians in Latin America. He came from a humble background, he joined the army, and in 1992 he mounted an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the then Venezuelan government. When it failed he told his supporters to give up Ďpor ahoraí for now, and that became his slogan. Since he took office after winning an election in 1999, heís mounted what he calls a ĎBolivarian revolution. Heís renamed his country Ďthe Bolivarian republic of Venezuelaí all in honour of the 19th century liberation hero Simon Bolivar. Heís a man of the people, a champion of the poor, but his opponents say heís well on the way to becoming a dictator. They accuse him of ignoring democratic principles, of gathering too much power around himself and just a few trusted political allies. They say heís squandering the countryís oil wealth on extravagant welfare programmes, spending too much now and investing too little for the benefit of the countryís future.

Over the past few days heís been touring Europe with a delegation of leading Venezuelan business people, meeting European leaders, and discussing ways to increase trade and co-operation between Venezuela and Europe. To his supporters Hugo Chavez is a hero. They approve of his anti-American rhetoric, but do his policies bring them lasting long-term benefits? To Washington he is a threat, his closest political ally in Latin America is Fidel Castro of Cuba, against whom the US has been imposing economic sanctions for decades. Heís close to Iran and to Libya, and he never loses an opportunity to criticise the US as a dangerous, imperialist power. He is one of the most controversial political leaders in the world, and he is with me now.

President Chavez, welcome to Talking Point. We have a huge number of questions for you, I know we wonít be able to get through them all, but letís start with this question of your relations with Washington. Why do you think that the US administration is so hostile to you?

President Hugo Chavez:

First of all, thank you for your effort to come here from London, thank you for this opportunity to talk with you, Robin. Well, we have an imperialist government in the US, a government that says it is fighting terrorists, but is protecting terrorists. A government that is lying to the world. With Clinton we had a good relationship, we used to talk and meet and discuss about different topics. Even though we have different opinions, we used to have a dialogue. The Bush government is throwing stones at Latin America. You said that Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world. We produce 3.3 million barrels of oil a day, and every day we send 1.5 million barrels to the US.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Is President Chavez a threat to the United States?

President Hugo Chavez:

Not at all, in Venezuela we have a democracy, we are democratising the economy, we are developing the country. This year there was a 10 % growth in GDP. We want open relations with the whole world, we (?) all the world, we are not a threat to anyone, absolutely not.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Hereís an e mail from a listener in the United States. Brian Mahoney in Tallahassee, Florida asks do you believe that closer co-operation between yourself and the United States is either possible or desirable?

President Hugo Chavez:

It is desirable and it is possible. Not too long ago I went to New York to the summit of the United Nations and I met with US businessmen. I went to the Bronx in New York, I met with religious leaders like Jesse Jackson, and we are opening new mechanisms to sell oil and fuel to the poor people. There are a lot of new American investments in Venezuela. Two weeks ago I delivered a licence to produce gas to Chevron-Exxaco, and we have a large investment in the US.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

So you say America on the one hand is a terrorist state, but then you sell oil to that state, youíre selling oil to a terrorist state?

President Hugo Chavez:

Well,, we sell oil to a people, to a nation, to a country. I am hoping they will tone down these political differences, I am getting ready for a summit in Argentina in two weeks time. I am going to meet President Bush there. I hope there will be a constructive dialogue, and thatís what I want. From here I am going to visit President Chirac, I have lunch with Prime Minister de Villepin, I talk with Prime Minister Zapatero and Prime Minister Berlusconi. We are friends. We have good relations with the whole world, except with the US government.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Why do you say that America is planning to invade Venezuela?

President Hugo Chavez:

Well, we denounced this offence. A coup attempt has already happened (?) by the US government. Not by the big nation of Whitman or the great nation of Martin Luther King. We have many friends in the United States, the George W Bush government plan a coup díetat against us. What do they want? Our oil. Like Iraq, the invasion of Iraq was due to oil. The coup against Venezuela, the threats, are because of oil. We have detected, based on intelligence information, that there are military (?) in order to invade Venezuela. We are certain that this will not occur, but we have to denounce it.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

So you think that because he invaded Iraq he may also want to invade Venezuela for the same reason?

President Hugo Chavez:

The oil. Let me tell you Robin that Venezuela today has the largest oil reserves in the world. We have proven reserves of more than 300 billion barrels of oil, the US only has 20 billion, and they consume 20 million barrels a day. This is horrible, the squandering of energy in the US, so these attempts by Mr. Bush is what is leading him to invade Iraq, and the coup díetat in Venezuela against the democratic government and people. It is the most radical and right-wing thinking to think that they can invade Venezuela. Let me tell you something, not too long ago there was a Reverend Pat Robertson, an adviser of Mr. Bush, who requested for Mr. Bush to kill me because it is cheaper to kill me than carry out an invasion. So they are thinking of invading.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

All right, but Pat Robertson is a private citizen, he has after making that remark, he has said ĀEIíve seen it on his website ĀEheís apologised, heís said he shouldnít have said it, and the US State Department has also moved away and said it was an inappropriate remark to make. You canít judge your policy, you canít make your policy, on the basis of what Pat Robertson says?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, of course not, Iím not saying that based on what he is saying, Iím just denouncing the terrorist attack. According to international law, to threaten the head of a state is a terrorist act, and it is an international agreement. Mr. Robertson should be in jail, he should be in jail in the United States, but instead of that the US government is giving him a very important task in the rebuilding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Mr Robertson then said he didnít mean to say to kill me, but to kidnap me. Not too long ago he said that I am working to launch an atomic bomb to the US. We donít pay much attention to this but it is a terrorist act, and that government should punish this person.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

I know you are a great admirer of Fidel Castro, of Cuba, and I read somewhere that you speak to him on the telephone every night. Is that true?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, of course not. Iím not bothering him every night. We talk from time to time.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

What is it about Fidel Castro that you admire so much?

President Hugo Chavez:

Weíre great friends, and I have a lot respect for him, as do the rest of the Latin American people. If you conducted a survey of the people of Latin America you are going to find there a great respect because heís a figure of history in our country. He has been resisting for 45 years the attacks of the United States, heís a great leader, no doubt.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Hereís an e mail that came to us from Lazslo, whoís in Ottawa in Canada. He says when are you going to stop supporting those like Castro and Mugabe who refuse to allow their citizens political and economic freedom? He says itís no better than the way you say President Bush is behaving?

President Hugo Chavez:

Well, I donít want to compare but in Venezuela we want to co-operate with the rest of the world. (?) in order to answer these questions. Many people in the world think like that, but they are the victims of these media attacks, of the media dictatorship because people are not told the truth. So with Cuba we have the co-operation mechanism, together with the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean countries, providing oil to them. We are a poor country, we are not a rich country, we have a lot of poverty, inherited after many, many years of underdevelopment. We want to co-operate with the world, we are selling oil to India and to China, we have co-operation with Paraguay, with Brazil, with the United States. As I said before, weíve 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

You were with President Mugabe just a few days ago in Rome, and he said on that occasion that President Bush and Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, were like Hitler and Mussolini, because they had formed an alliance to invade an innocent country. Is that your view as well?

President Hugo Chavez:

These are different times altogether. We condemn of course the invasion of Iraq, of Afghanistan, and any abuse against any country, but these are different times. We are good friends of Mr. Mugabe, we respect his ideas, but we do not share everything he says. But we condemn the invasion of Iraq, who can bombard a city like Fallujah with toxic gases, weapons of mass destruction, even the dogs and birds were killed during that attack.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Do you believe that Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, should be considered as, in the same way as you consider George W Bush?

President Hugo Chavez:

I donít really want to make the same comments. I have met Prime Minister Blair several times. We have a different approach, of course, but we donít want to have any confrontation with the United Kingdom, we have good investments from British companies. We would rather like to get closer. With Berlusconi, for instance, we are good friends. Berlusconi mentioned these things in Milan when we were talking, we have good relations with him and weíd like to improve relations with Prime Minister Blair.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

So you do not regard Tony Blair as the leader of a terrorist nation in the way that you regard George Bush?

President Hugo Chavez:

We donít have any frictions or confrontations with him, and we are not planning to have any with him.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But you do regard the invasion of Iraq as the invasion of an innocent country. Do you think that Iraq under Saddam Hussein, even if there were not weapons of mass destruction, was an innocent country, that Saddam Husseinís regime was an innocent regime?

President Hugo Chavez:

Itís not up to me to judge him. It is not my role and I cannot judge the government of Saudi Arabia or any other country. We were against the invasion of Kuwait and the war between Iraq and Iran. Saddam Hussein was armed by the US, Bin Laden was armed by the US for attacks against the Soviet Union. They equipped Saddam Hussein against Iran. Those realities should be known by the world.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

You have a radio and television programme in Venezuela, every week you talk to the people of Venezuela, you tell them whatís on your mind. You said recently that the global capitalist model is responsible for recent earthquakes, the mud slides, the hurricanes. I wonder if thatís what you really think, because there were natural disasters long before there was global capitalism?

President Hugo Chavez:

Capitalism is responsible for an earthquake that is destroying many people, millions of people dying from hunger and misery. The equivalent of 40 million people every year. Capitalism is a perversion, it is the elite exploiting the majorities, so that is why Venezuela and you in Europe have talked to socialists, to people like Zapatero and Perestrino. We have discussed how to find a new path through socialism. Hurricanes, and this has been confirmed by scientists, are the result of global warming. As one scientific magazine said, it is the melting of the Antarctic, the poles and the huge acid rains that contain many toxic acids, it is the hole in the ozone layer that is responsible. This is the result of the development model of the 20th century and the 21st century, so in Europe we need to find people to take up the challenge to save humanity.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But thereís a real paradox here, isnít there, because you sell oil and it is the burning of oil that is a major contributor to global warming, to climate change. If people used less oil, if people believed what you believe, that would be to the great detriment of your country?

President Hugo Chavez:

Not at all, we have to use oil in a rational manner. Weíre asking people to use oil rationally and we are taking measures in Venezuela. For instance, now we are producing green gasoline, we no longer have leaded gasoline. I am asking the rest of the world to do the same, we are investing for instance in alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar energy, the peaceful use of nuclear resources. We need to be rational in approaching this, we are asking for a large debate on the energy crisis to stop consumption.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

So let me ask you then what view you take about the price of oil, because obviously itís gone up a great deal, thatís very good news for Venezuela, you get much more money that you can spend on all kinds of programmes for the people of Venezuela, very bad news for the people that have to import oil. What do you think should happen to the global price?

President Hugo Chavez:

Well, weíre going to run out of oil. Itís a non-renewable resource and the world should understand this, especially big consumers. The main cause of the big increase in the oil price is, on one side, that we are producing at the top of our capacity, and we are running out of many very large reservoirs, especially the lighter oil. At the same time there is an increase in consumption, especially in the US and lately in China and India. In general consumption has increased, and reserves are lower, so prices are up. Add to this the invasion of Iraq, which destabilised Iraqís production of oil, which was like Venezuela almost 3 million barrels a day. According to the last report, this has dropped to just 1.5 million barrels a day. There is a drop in their production. Another factor in the increase of gasoline is the lack of investment in refineries.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

What do you think is a reasonable price for crude oil?

President Hugo Chavez:

Well, you know, seven years ago when we came to power we proposed to large consumers and OPEC price bands, minimum 22 dollars, maximum 28. We succeeded. I remember President Clinton, last time I saw him he said he like the price bands. I explained the bands to him and the large consumers, and OPEC accepted the bands. We stabilised the bands for three years between 22 and 28. Now this band has been destroyed, it is part of history now. So we needed to find another band, which is higher of course, around 40 dollars a barrel as a minimum. We donít want the price of oil to keep increasing, and I asked large consumers to take measures to standardise this price.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Hereís another e mail, this one comes from Iran, from Kurush who is in Teheran. Mr. President, why are you so supportive of the Islamic regime in Iran?

President Hugo Chavez:

We are great friends of the Iranian people, we are great friends of ex-President (?) and good friends of President (?) , and we have a strategic alliance with him. And we think these governments are taking these people to development, respecting their culture, respecting their traditons, which is essential of our foreign policy. Respect sovereignty of peoples, respect other nations, respect self-determination of these peoples.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

There is great concern in the United States and in Europe about what they believe is a programme in Iran to develop nuclear weapons. There was a resolution about it at the International Atomic Agency in Vienna very recently, your country was the only country to vote against it. Do you think Iran should have nuclear weapons?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, no I donít think so. No-one should have nuclear weapons, by the way. Thatís a horror Hiroshima, Nagasaki, who produced that? Iran? The US launched these bombs, and they have many nuclear bombs, they should destroy all nuclear bombs because that is a threat to the world. Now I do believe what they have explained to me in Iran, and they have the right, who can deny a country the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful ends in order to generate power, thatís the rights of the peoples and Venezuela wants to do that. Argentina is doing that, Brazil is doing that, we cannot demonise them and fall in the trap. This is a trap.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But you think Venezuela should have its own nuclear power programme for peaceful purposes?

President Hugo Chavez:

Yes, of course, and weíre trying to do that. Venezuela was the first South American country to build a nuclear reactor in the fifties, then we abandoned that, and now we are working on making amends. But weíre looking for technology and weíre talking to Argentina and Brazil, about a South American union. No-one asks ďDo you have any questions for South AmericaĀE you ask from Iran and so on. What is our main aim for today, a multiple world, a world in balance. We are working very closely with Brazil and Argentina, with Uruguay, amongst others, to form the South American Union.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Just on this question of nuclear power, are you getting help from Iran in teaching you, giving you expertise as to how to build a nuclear power programme.

President Hugo Chavez:

No, no. Not at all, not yet.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Would you like to?

President Hugo Chavez:

Why not? Why not? We could also have nuclear reactors to produce energy, precisely what we were talking about at the beginning, for medical purposes. No-one could condemn the southern countries not to have advanced technology. In France they are going to build some, the developed world is preparing for the energy crisis, what are we going to do in the southern countries? We have energy experience, we have oil revenues, well, we have to use that money to generate alternative resources, and go with the balance in the world for sustainable development and not destroy it.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

OK, so hereís another e mail, itís another one from America, Michael Patrick in Cleveland, Ohio. President Chavez, how would you respond to accusations that you are failing to diversify your countryís economy by driving away non-energy related foreign investment and spending all your countryís oil wealth on current social programmes?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, we are spending on social programmes. Poverty when we got to power was close to 50 %, today itís close to 35 %. Extreme poverty was above 20 %, today itís 10.1 %. I was talking to Prime Minister de Villepan just now and also to Mr. Berlusconi, who is a close friend. Venezuela needs technological support, and we want to leap forward and diversify the economy. Let me answer this person who is watching us, perhaps. The Venezuelan economy last year increased 17 % GDP, best in the world, and today is close to 10 % growth, and what has grown is new sectors, telecommunications, small businesses, tourism, agriculture, communications, and so forth. We are starting to diversify the economy, thatís the challenge, the huge challenge, to abandon the model with a single product.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But despite the progress, despite the economic growth, you still have very high unemployment?

President Hugo Chavez:

Unemployment has dropped also, it was 20 % about five or six years ago, the last measure in September was close to 12 % and it is dropping, it is below 12 % right now, and every indicator shows at the end of the year it will be 10 % or below. For the first time in history we are going to have single digit unemployment. Weíll keep on doing that because we have a big policy to reduce unemployment.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

One of your Ministers was quoted some months ago as saying that your development goals, your ambitions for Venezuela, would take about fifty years to achieve, but that your oil reserves will run out in twenty to thirty years before that. Now if thatís right itís a problem, isnít it?

President Hugo Chavez:

Youíll have to talk to him, heís our planning minister, he is one of the people who know the most about the Venezuelan economy. I donít know what youíre talking about, I donít know what statement that was, and I doubt very much that that was his statement, because I work with him daily, and I talked with him the day before yesterday. Let me tell you first of all that oil resources will not run out in the 21st century. Venezuela has oil and gas for 150 years to come, and we are diversifying the supply to the north and south, east and west. And secondly, Venezuela is one of the countries, including the US, in the American continent that is closest to achieving their millennium goals, and Kofi Annan said so in Spain, in Salamanca, we talked, we had a bilateral meeting and he is very happy with what he has been told. Venezuela has taught all its population to read and write, and on the 28th of this month we are going to declare Venezuela free of illiteracy, and Venezuela has a national health service for free, with medicines to 17 million people. We have a food distribution system for the poorest and middle classes, serving 30 million. So Venezuela is progressing with a social programme. Our millennium goals will be achieved before 2015, we have said those are very modest goals, we have said, zero hunger and zero poverty by 2030 to develop the country fully.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

You are spending a large part of your countryís oil wealth on social programmes. Better education, better health facilities, subsidised food for the very poor. In other South American countries governments have different policies. Are you spending some of your oil money on trying to encourage other countries to follow Venezuelaís path?

President Hugo Chavez:

We are using part of our revenues to help to strengthen many other countries in South America and the Caribbean, regardless of their type of government,or the orientation of the government, from right wing, left wing, close friends or not friends, let me give you several examples. Argentina has received Venezuelan support, we are breaking the new liberal orthodoxy that is a beast, we send to Argentina eight million barrels of fuel oil, and they pay with cows. They donít have money to pay back, after the new liberal crisis of the Washington consensus this country was destroyed. In the Caribbean, using Petro-Caribe, we are selling oil with a 40 % discount. These will be paid in 25 years time, with three years grace period, with 1 % interest. This is the donation and financing of 20 billion dollars, this is not done by any IMF, we donít care what the political orientation of this country is.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But Mr. President, you can criticise neo-liberal economics, you can set your face against capitalism which you blame for many evils, you live in a world of a globalised economy, you canít ignore what is happening elsewhere, can you?

President Hugo Chavez:

We are not ignoring that, we are warning the world, poverty is increasing, the gap is larger, millions of children, women, men are dying in Africa and South America. We in Latin America are champions of inequality, there is a destruction of global society, there is warning for society to change. In Venezuela we have peace and democracy, we are trying to invent a new model based on our concepts, far away from the terrible capitalist model.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

You talk about a Bolivardian revolution in Venezuela, by which I understand you to mean a revolution which enables people to move out of poverty and which enables more people to live in equality, one with the other. The Americans sometimes say that they are exporting democracy to other parts of the world. Are you exporting Bolivardianism to other parts of the world?

President Hugo Chavez:

Not at all, weíre not exporting anything. People are waking up, especially in Latin America. We see how out of darkness and silence we have great masses of Indian people who have lived in misery for so long. Masses of youth and unemployed, landless, homeless, they are asking for life, and this is going through the whole American continent. And even there is an awakening of the US. Have you seen recent figures? Close to 40 million poor people, weíve seen increasing poverty in the US recently, just for the world to reflect on this, and we have to put across the principles of the human, Catholic principles, I am a Catholic, the principles of Victor HHugo in ĎLes Miserables I like Victor HHugo very much, Miserables, those who have not read Miserables have lost half of the universe of literature, here we have the essence of human existence.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But you see the reason I ask about whether you would like to export your ideas is that I was wondering when Washington says you are subverting Latin America, I wonder whether what they mean is you are trying to encourage others to take up your ideas, which Washington regards as completely hostile to North Americaís interests?

President Hugo Chavez:

The great subversion force are the policies implemented by Washington in the region. The main course of the social movements shaking the social and political infrastructures in South America are the policies imposed by Washington, and when we have had alternative governments proposing other paths, they are toppled, they are invaded, they suffer coups, like Allende, (?), coups against Venezuela, these are examples. The United States, what is terrible, the elite government of the United States, they see us as the backyard, and they want to be the owners of the backyard. We are not the backyard of anyone. Those who are subverting order in Latin America over the last 200 years are the imperialists in the US, thatís the truth. Now the peoples are asking for life, like the South American Indians did some years ago. There was a rebellion and someone asked why do you take a weapon and conduct a rebellion, and he said because I prefer to fight than die of hunger. Kennedy was not a revolutionary but I have read him a lot. John Kennedy said in the sixties, for instance to the elite government of the US, in a speech he was asking for more resources for the Marshall Plan. ďListen to the south, there is a revolution going on and the cause is not communism but hunger, miseryĀEand he said a great truth ďThose who shut down the doors to peaceful revolution open the doors at the same time to violent revolutionĀ" Perhaps they killed him for that.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Letís talk a little bit about life in Venezuela now. I have a friend who lived there for some years who says that the big problem for everybody in Venezuela, rich, poor, middle class, not middle class, is crime, and crime is still a major concern?

President Hugo Chavez:

All over the world, by the way, Mafia, crime, criminality, yesterday I was in Italy and there was an assassination of a politician. All over the world, in the large cities in Latin America people are very insecure, it is true, do you read Miserables, how many children like those in the story that we have on the streets in South America. Potential criminals, potential drug consumers, drug trafficking, the problem is misery, poverty, we are struggling against misery in order to combat the causes of criminality. When we open Bolivarian schools, that give people lunch, breakfast and dinner, a comprehensive education, a computer, sports activities, dance, we are taking them out of crime, and also we have preventative policies and things have improved dramatically.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

After nearly seven years in power now, Mr. President, should you not have been able to make some kind of impact on crime levels?

President Hugo Chavez:

Of course, there has been some impact, if you see the indexes of the rate of crime, criminality there has decreased dramatically. Now as social programmes advance, education, culture, health, keep succeeding as they are, we will be able to tackle the causes of crime, and that is what we are doing.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Hereís another question about Venezuela. It comes from Laura, whoís in Caracas, in the capital. What do you have to say about recent legislation limiting freedom of speech in the media?

President Hugo Chavez:

Letís say this, first of all we have to say something that John Paul II said. There is no freedom without limits. All freedom should be regulated in a way. You are free to go around Paris, but you need a document, right, or an identity card, otherwise you could go to prison. You could have a car which is your own car but that doesnít mean you have to violate all traffic lights and the traffic code. Your freedom is limited. You can be the owner of a gun, you bought it, it is yours, but you cannot shoot people around, all right? So all freedom has limits, some constraints, it has to be regulated. It is the same with freedom of speech, the use of the media especially should be regulated. What we have done in Venezuela very recently is a law of social responsibility of radio and television. For instance a TV channel can not incite hatred, cannot incite a coup, that is a crime, and it happened in Venezuela when during the coup in April 2002 all the private TV channels were supporting the coup, and calling the people to take to the streets to go against the palace and to give orders to the leaders and they werenít allowing the public to express themselves, they published a great lie, that I had renounced my post as President, and that was false. We are passing this law to save the freedom of speech of everyone. Let me tell you this, despite everything I have said, it is hard for me to believe that there is any other country in the world where freedom of speech is upheld at the same level as in Venezuela. This is my bet.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

There was a great British journalist who said some years ago that freedom of the press means among other things the freedom to be irresponsible. You donít agree?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, I donít think so. I donít think people should be irresponsible, you have to be responsible, all freedoms, to safeguard these freedoms you have to use them responsibly, respecting all peopleís freedoms, that is essential to democracy.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Under the new law, as I understand it, a media organisation that is convicted of having published something that insulted a public official could now be punishable by up to five years in jail. If somebody writes something that is rude about you, youíre a public official, could they go to jail for five years?

President Hugo Chavez:

I am not going to accuse anyone because they insult me, I donít care if they call me names, I donít care what they say about me. Generally I do as Don Qixote said, if the dogs are barking itís because we are working. Well, Iím not just talking about the public official. If a TV channel, for instance the BBC, if you abuse the dignity of anyone in England or France on in the world, where that person has a right, you are accountable as a journalist yourself if you abuse someone, well that person if he considers it is an abuse by the BBC to his honour and reputation, that person has the right, and that happens around the world, the right to defend himself. Well he can go to court and he can force you, if you donít have the proof, to retract yourself. It has happened all over the world and it is good that citizens have the right to defend themselves.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

There was a referendum in Venezuela last year, your political opponents gathered many thousands of signatures to force a referendum which was designed to force you from office. They lost, you won, you are still in office. Now it is said that people whose names are on those lists, calling for the referendum, canít get government jobs, are sometimes disqualified from social welfare programmes, and find themselves discriminated against?

President Hugo Chavez:

Thatís totally false. Those who say that are the very people who were trying to demonise my government. We have a fully democratic country, I went to Brazil recently and Lula, a good friend of mine, said in a speech, Venezuela does not only have a democracy, but perhaps there is an excess of democracy in Venezuela. Thatís what he said. In Venezuela you can say whatever you want. There are a group of people who lost the referendum, if you go to Venezuela they will say that we had a fraud, we won six million against four million, and those elections were observed by the Organisation of American States, the United Nations, the (?) organisations and international observers from all over the world. And they said, these are fair elections, except those who lost, they said it was a fraud and they have never admitted that they failed. They said that those who signed have no rights but that is totally false, thatís part of a campaign going around the world, they are trying to present me as a tyrant, present my government as one that protects terrorists and violates freedom. I invite you, as I said before, to come to Venezuela and spend the time you wish, and talk to whoever you want, so you see the reality. Recently the Spanish President Zapatero went to Venezuela and went to the palace and said to me, Chavez, Iíve been told that recently you have had some restraints of freedom of speech, but I have just watched TV for an hour and I have realised that this is totally untrue.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Why, if these are all lies, why are people spreading these lies? There is Venezuela, a significant nation in Latin America, a major supplier of oil, why is everybody telling lies about you?

President Hugo Chavez:

Do you know why? The owners of the large private media in Latin America and most of the world are the elites, the elites who exploited Venezuela, they became the owners of our resources, they became the rich, and Lech Walessa once said in Venezuela, I see you have two Venezuelas, one very wealthy and one very poor. Those elites are the owners of the media, the large papers, the radio corporation, they donít respect the truth, they donít care about their dignity, they donít care about their country and they abuse the truth and every single day they disseminate so many lies against us. Why? Because they want to isolate us. But let me tell you this, I have travelled in so many countries over the years that I feel that luckily the truth is becoming a reality, and that people recognise that today Venezuela will have a true democracy.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Do you accept the notion that you are part of a group of nations, Iran, Libya, Cuba, one or two others, who are regarded by the United States and by some other Western nations as difficult, sometimes dangerous governments. Are you happy to be in that company?

President Hugo Chavez:

Venezuela considers, I consider, the largest threat to the world is a US government, thatís the biggest threat. We have plenty of evidence. Those who point to Venezuela, or Cuba or any other country, consider them as a threat to the world, they do not have a single piece of evidence. Of course, they may have some things, they are lies. While the US keeps on abusing the Iraqi people Venezuela and Cuba are devoting resources to train 20,000 doctors a year, 200,000 in the next ten years. What for? General health care. For these doctors to go to the slums, to poor people, to help them for free. Venezuela and Cuba, for instance, we are advancing an operation called (?) Commission. we are helping all people, poor people who have had eye problems, people who are 40 years old and cannot see because they have cataracts, people who have children with cataracts, and if they are not treated they could go blind. We have operated on close to 200,000 people all over the Caribbean and Venezuela, in Cuba and Venezuela totally free of charge. Whatís the goal? Well, we have saved 600,000 people a year. From 2006 onwards to treat six million in one decade. Thatís the threat we pose. Weíre a threat to poverty, a threat to backwardness, a threat to injustice, but the great threat is there and the evidence is plentiful.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But forgive me Mr. President, I come back to what I asked you a couple of moments ago, if the United States, under its current administration, an administration after all elected by the majority of people who voted in the last Presidential election, if that country is the greatest threat to the future of the world, surely what you should do is stop selling them oil?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, we have the right to make our own decisions, we are one in the world, thatís all.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

You need the United States, donít you, you need that market, for Venezuela to prosper?

President Hugo Chavez:

The world, the world needs the United States, thatís why we need to ask for reflection, but first a reflection of the US (?). I am very close to a Republican representative, Mr. Helms.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Heís not a friend of Cuba.

President Hugo Chavez:

Yes, we are friends, we have talked for hours and I have no problem with him. We have talked to each other, we have to tone down the rhetoric because we need each other, thatís for sure. The world needs a country, a big country, who can doubt it? The United States is a big country, the United States could do so many things in alliance with England and France. Venezuela is poor and small but we can also help in the fight against HIV Aids, we can do so much if we could reduce our military expenditure. The US expenditure is 500 million dollars a day, we can save so many lives. We could produce food, medicines to fight AIDS, we donít want the US to fall apart, we need the US for the peace, for a world of peace, to respect each other.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Itís true though, isnít it, that you would like to diversify the customers to whom you sell Venezuelan oil? You would like not to have to rely on the US market as much as you do at the moment?

President Hugo Chavez:

Thatís basic for any business person or any company, I have told Mr. de Villepin that we have many investments by Total in Venezuela, and we want also to supply oil to France during the 21st century. We have said the same thing to Spain, who have investments there with Repsol (?). We have also proposed this to Portugal. We have proposed this to South American countries, and weíre doing this with Petrogas in Argentina, even China. Venezuela has a project for the next ten years, oil and gas of 70 billion dollars investment project, and weíre asking for investment from Russia, China, India, the whole world. The US, of course, will want to diversify and contribute to the development of the world, but not to go to (?). We want a sustainable development, where justice and humanity are essential. We are here in Paris, the cradle of freedom, equality and fraternity.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Ever since 11th September 2001, many countries around the world have taken the view that they are engaged in what President Bush calls a war against terror. Is Venezuela part of that war?

President Hugo Chavez:

Of course, of course, we are fighting against terror. There are many kinds of terrorism, for instance let me tell you this. Recently the United States said that they are struggling against terrorism, however they are protecting a group of terrorists, one of them the biggest terrorist ever in the Western hemisphere, is Bosara Cabelles (phonetic) He blew up a plane, a Cuban plane, and many people died. He was in jail in Venezuela but he escaped. Heís a terrorist, he said once, yes, we planted a bomb, so what? He is in the United States and we are asking for extradition, and there is no isolation for him.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Are there Al Qaeda people living openly in Venezuela?

President Hugo Chavez:

No.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

If you found any, what would you do?

President Hugo Chavez:

Of course we could put them in jail, and we would put them in the service of an international authority if he is really a terrorist, and I understand that Al Qaeda is a terrorist organisation, in Venezuela weíre fighting against a different type of terrorism. But we need to understand what terrorism means, because when you bombard Fallujah thatís terrorism as well.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

You put that on the same scale as what happened in New York on 9/11?

President Hugo Chavez:

Of course, yes, because they are killing innocent people and women. Innocent human beings, thatís terrorism, and thatís why we have to ask the world to reflect on this, and I congratulate, and I have done this many times, President Zapatero who has the courage to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. This war should be over soon, now that they have a referendum, a very successful one, well letís hope it will work. And the world should ask President Bush to withdraw from Iraq, and that he must not invade any other countries and that he respects the autonomy of countries.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Saddam Hussein has just gone on trial in Baghdad, accused for now of the murder of some 140 innocent civilians. Do you think thatís the right way to proceed?

President Hugo Chavez:

Yes of course, as long as justice is served, that they do not manipulate anything. If he is guilty, he has to be punished, of course, and that should be also true all over the world. Justice should prevail. Justice is the basis of peace, there will be no peace without justice.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Have you looked to the future of Venezuela, and the global future? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

President Hugo Chavez:

Very optimistic, that is why I am here in Paris. Yesterday I was in Rome, and the day before yesterday I was in Spain, and tomorrow I am going to Caracas. It is intense work without resting. I do believe, Robin, that we are at a crucial time in history, but a turning point. New forces, moral forces, intellectual forces, are being born, rational forces, to change the direction of the world, to change the way the world is going. To move to another situation, a better one. As Simone de Beauvoir said, to find a balance of the universe, to avoid, as Victor HHugo said, people who have degenerated due to poverty, so no-one exploits anyone, no-one invades anyone, no-one kills anyone, so what Jesus Christ said 2,000 years ago when he announced the good news, the kingdom of God in this land, equality, fraternity, peace and happiness. We think we can do that.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

But this better world of the future that you envisage, that you dream of, a non-capitalist world, is that a world in which the current way in which the global economy operates has somehow been swept away and replaced by something quite different?

President Hugo Chavez:

Yes, we can name it in the way we wish, I can call it the Kingdom of God, I am a socialist, I can call it the socialism of the 21st century, I am a humanist, I can call it the humanist world, whatever you want, what matters is the interests of mankind, thatís what matters. The first socialist of our era was Christ, Jesus Christ, he died for us, and he called for us to love each other, the world of love,, thatís what we want, and the first big capitalist was Judas, who sold Christ for a few coins.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

There seem to be a lot of people in the world who are frightened of Hugo Chavez. Is there anybody that should be frightened? Do you threaten anybody?

President Hugo Chavez:

No, I donít frighten anyone. Those who are frightened, well Iím sorry for them, but I donít think they are very numerous. I think there is a large capacity to see the truth beyond the darkness. Everywhere I go, every country I go, I see friendly faces. I see people willing to discuss, if some of your viewers or listeners have fears, donít worry, itís not because of Chavez, you have to fear other things. We are extending our hands and opening our hearts to be an alliance on behalf of human kind..

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

If I was a wealthy capitalist in Venezuela, should I fear Hugo Chavez?

President Hugo Chavez:

Not at all, I would call on you, as we are doing with other capitalists, to ask them to work with us, for the right of the workers to (?) economy. Telling them our government is not against private property. We recognise that private property, but this property should be to the service of the people and the nation. Private investment has increased close to 240 %, private investment, I can give you the exact figures, thereís an increase in private investment.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

If I was George W Bush, should I fear Hugo Chavez?

President Hugo Chavez:

There is no reason for that to happen. If Bush has some fear it is because he has some complex, perhaps, some ghost, some dark ghost in his subconscious. If you were Bush I would tell you, as I have talked to him once personally. He had just taken power and I went to the summit of the Americas in Canada, and my good friend Fernando Calloso told me, listen Chavez, Bush is not Clinton so letís do our best. And we went there, both of us, and we shook hands. I donít speak English, however I took some English words and said, with a lot of sincerity, I want to be your friend. I remember it, he said ďme tooĀE But then it was not possible, itís not been possible. I think it is impossible. He has great mental confusions and great complexes, and he doesnít understand human kind. We need a new President in the US, to understand human kind, and who is humane.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):

Iíd like to ask you a personal question to end with. If you could ask a question of any figure from history, who would it be, and what would you ask?

President Hugo Chavez:

Jesus Christ. As I said, I am very Christian, very Christian, so what question can I ask Jesus Christ? I would ask him the same way he asked when he doubted on the cross, ďWhy father, have you abandoned us, who do you abandon us so many times?Ā

President Hugo Chavez:

And that Iím afraid, Mr. President, is where we must leave it because that is all we have time for. So my thanks to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, thank you Mr. President for being with us today, and thank you for all of your questions and e mails.

Ends



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