Q& A: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez
Anti-Bush, And Mincing No Words
Controversy and intrigue have swirled around Venezuela's Hugo Chavez ever since he was elected president seven years ago and established himself as a leftist force. Chavez's rising influence in Latin American politics, his country's role as a major supplier of crude oil for U.S. refiners and his close ties to Cuba's Fidel Castro have alarmed policymakers in the Bush administration. Last month, on his television show, the Rev. Pat Robertson actually went so far as to suggest the United States should assassinate the 51-year-old Chavez. (Robertson later apologized.)
While Chavez was in New York last week for the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, he sat down with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth. He spelled his dislike for the Bush administration and described himself as a revolutionary. Dressed in a bright red shirt, he noted that he was planning to stop in Havana on his way home so that he could spend several hours talking with Castro.
The opposition in Venezuela feels that it has no space. The leaders of Sumate [a group that supported a referendum vote on Chavez two years ago] say you indicted them for receiving money from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. Why?
You cannot forget that this very opposition governed Venezuela between 1958 and 1998. If they feel like they have no space, it is because they have been cooked in their own sauce. Between 1958 and 1998, Venezuela fell apart. We ended the 20th century with poverty as we have never seen it. The economy was totally destroyed. . . . Millions of Venezuelans were without education, health care, jobs, housing. So if they feel they do not have any room to act, it's their own fault.
But they have many rights: the right to demonstrate, the right to participate in elections. The opposition is utterly divided. The revolutionary forces are totally united. Recently, we had elections. We won 90 percent.
You have said that the U.S. is the most evil country in the world and you have called it a terrorist state. Do you want to have relations with the U.S.?
Of course. Indeed, we have relations and want to improve them.
Why did you call the United States a terrorist state?
The country is one thing -- we have lovely relations with the people -- like in the Bronx [where Chavez paid a visit]. We have economic relations. We have a company [Citgo, owned by the Venezuelan state oil company] that refines 800,000 barrels of oil [daily] . . . We have 14,000 gas stations in this country. We have sent Major League Baseball players here. We have many ties between Venezuela and the United States -- economic and social.
What I said is that this U.S. administration -- the current government -- is a terrorist administration, not all U.S. governments. I entertained the best of relations with the Clinton administration, and I consider myself a good friend of former President Carter.
So what's wrong with President Bush?