Venezuelan President On Rocky Relations with Washington
Sep. 16, 2005 – In his first American broadcast interview since the Rev. Pat Robertson called for his assassination last month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told ABC News’ Ted Koppel today that he has evidence of a United States plan to invade Venezuela. In New York for the U.N. Summit, Chavez discussed his strained relationship with the United States government, Robertson’s comments and the United States’ dependence on Venezuela’s oil supply.
Following is a rush transcript of the interview, which airs tonight on “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. ET.
Koppel: Tell me a little bit — most Americans don’t know very much about you. Tell me a little bit about your youth, when you were a young man.
Chavez: I would like to welcome you. And I would like to greet all of the people who are watching this program and who are listening to it. I was a farm kid from the plains of South Venezuela, from a very poor family. I grew up in a palm tree house with an earthen floor.
And later, we were lucky enough, my brothers and I, to be able to study. There were six of us. My father and my mother were both teachers. They inculcated to us the importance of studies. But out of every 100 children from my town, 99 didn’t get to study. That was poverty, the poorest of the farmers.
Later, I was a young athlete. I was telling this friend here from San Francisco so that one of my greatest dreams was to be a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. I played a lot of baseball. It was a passion of mine.
I painted. I wanted to be a painter. I sang. I still sing a little bit. I still paint a little bit. And I can still bat a bit.
But afterwards, when I was 16, I became a soldier. But I became a soldier, not because I had a military vocation initially, but because it was the only way that that young, poor-class child from the provinces could go to the center of the country: through baseball, which was my dream.
But I liked the army. And I became a patriotic soldier. And that’s what I am, essentially, a patriotic soldier.
Koppel: I read that you discovered later in your life that your grandfather or your great grandfather was a guerrilla fighter. Is that correct?
Chavez: That was from a previous time, a hundred years ago. Yes, he was a great grandfather of mine.
But the point is that when I was a kid, I would hear stories from my grandmother and my great grandmother — you know, when they talk — grandmothers tell stories.
And when I was a kid, I heard that I had a murderous grandfather. And that stuck with me.
But later, when I became a man, and I was reading the history of my fatherland, a history that starts in the 20th century, I conciliated myself to the fact that he was not a murderer; he was a guerrilla. He was one of the last men on horseback. This was the time of Pancho Villa. This was the time of Emiliano Zapata. This was the time of San Dino (ph). This was the time of (inaudible) the gentleman of hope in Brazil (inaudible). He was one of those last horsemen who took on imperialism.
My great grandfather was one of them. I discovered the truth.
Koppel: You’re a man who loves language. You’re a man of many words. I’m going to put you to a test now.
Give me three words that describe you.
Chavez: A soldier-esque man. I would add the word “patriot.” I would add the word “revolutionary.”
Koppel: A revolutionary has to be in revolt against something. What are you revolting against?
Chavez:I’ve been in revolt for years against ignominy, against injustice, against inequality, against immorality, against the exploitation of human beings.
One of the greatest rebels, who I really admire: Christ. He was a rebel. He ended up being crucified. He was a great rebel. He rebelled against the established power that subjugated. That is what rebellion is; it’s rebellion out of love for human beings. In truth, that is the cause, the cause of love: love for every human being, for every women, for every child, for every man, for every brother.
I believe you to be a brother. I don’t see you as above or below. I don’t feel superior or inferior to you. We’re on an equal basis. Your cameraman, your photograph are equal. The men and women who are seeing you, who are seeing us are equal. They’re true brothers.
Koppel: Well, maybe the photographer; not the cameraman.
No, no, I’m just teasing. He’s an old friend.
Chavez: It’s really hot here in New York.
Koppel: It’s very hot here in New York.
I appreciate what you say and I think I understand that you don’t feel that same way; you don’t have that same love for the government of the United States.
Chavez: Yes. There are profound differences, very profound with this government, this administration since Mr. Bush came into power. We have been subjected — Venezuela has been subjected to permanent aggression against us and against me personally.
There has been no respect for the sovereignty of Venezuelans, for the chief of state (inaudible) Venezuela.
On the other hand, I remind you that last night I gathered here with some Democrats and Republicans. Tomorrow, I’m going to be with some others.
Recently, Jackson was there and I’m going to see him tomorrow.
This morning, I saw Danny Grover (ph). We’re good friends. And I said to them, and I say to everyone, that it was different with Clinton.
With President Clinton, I sat down just like we are now on at least three occasions. There was no occasion for disrespect on either side.
Now, this administration has truly broken with all protocols of democracy and respect for people. The coup d’etat against Venezuela was manufactured in Washington. My death was ordered. And it was ordered recently.
Reverend Pat Robertson, who is very close to the president, asked for me to be physically eliminated, for me to be killed.
And so perhaps Christ recommends that when we get a slap in our cheek, we turn the other cheek. We have both cheeks red and blue because we’ve turned the cheek so many times. But we never (inaudible) because we do love the people of the United States. We want to be brothers and sisters of the people of the United States, independently of their government.
Koppel: I’m going to perhaps shock you a little, but these are your words. You called President Bush an asshole.
Chavez: I’ve said various things about him. I don’t know if I actually used that word. But I have been really hard on him.
But I have always responded to things that I was termed. I was termed a threat, a threat to the continent. It was said of me that I harbor terrorists.
There have been official reports issued from the State Department. The secretary of state has gone through South America saying publicly that I have to be isolated; that I am a threat; that I am using oil to subvert order in Latin America. Some secretaries of state — other secretaries of state, that I am allied with drug traffickers — a series of lies and aggressionists that sometimes I respond to. And sometimes we raise the tone.
We wait to get signals, and we respond to signals we receive from Washington.
Koppel: So you haven’t got any — you haven’t received any good signals lately?
Chavez: Really good signals? No. You know where right now my medical team is? In the presidential plane, 200 kilometers from here. The government of the United States, in violation of the laws of the United States and conventions, prevented my doctors from coming to New York. Where is the chief of staff of my military detachment and my chief of security? On the plane. They’ve been locked into the plane, two days. They can’t come out of the plane.
Those are the signals we’re receiving. Yesterday they issued a report saying that Venezuela does not cooperate in the fight against drugs. Absolutely false. We have broken records this year in confiscation of cocaine in the fight against drug trafficking. Those are the false aggressions, the false signals we’ve been receiving.
Koppel: I’ve been told by contacts of mine in the U.S. intelligence community that you have members of Al Qaida, you have members of other terrorist groups who are allowed to operate within Venezuela. Not true?
Chavez: It’s absolutely false. And one time someone said that bin Laden — did anyone ever say bin Laden could be in Venezuela?
Koppel: Not to my knowledge.
Chavez: Those are part of the lies that are circulating. So the lies haven’t reached that point, but it’s absolutely false.
But it’s part of the whole chain of rumors in this campaign to even justify my death, because recently Pat Robertson and an ex-CIA agent added that I should already be dead because, since I’m a threat, you have to liquidate the threats, you have to wipe them out, you have to kill them. That would justify any greater (inaudible) aggression against us.
Koppel: It was a foolish thing to say, and Pat Robertson admitted later that it was a foolish thing to say. And certainly no one from the government condoned what he said.
Why do you take what a private citizen says, foolish as it may have been, and ascribe it to the U.S. government?
Chavez: Well, take a look at this.
The U.S. administration has to reject — should have rejected the term of terrorist that Robertson used. The U.S. administration seriously sinned with respect to international and national laws, because the call to murder a chief of state is, in accordance with international law, terrorism.
So this gentleman, Robertson, should be under arrest by the government of the United States — silence.
Consequently, harboring a terrorist, but not only Robertson — there have been television channels in Miami, various people, including some Venezuelan terrorists who participated in the coup d’etat and who lived here in the United States freely — went to request my death, and the government of this country does absolutely nothing.
So they are harboring terrorism, independently of whether or not Robertson (inaudible) of a personality. But that is not the main issue. The main issue is that on television, in front of millions of people, he justified my assassination.
And later, he said, no, it was not assassination. It was kidnapping. But that’s also terrorism.
Koppel: If one looks at your record, one could easily come to the conclusion that you would like to put pressure on the United States.
You have spoken in the past of cutting off Venezuelan oil to the United States. You have signed new agreements with China. You have visited India. There is a sense that you want to be able to bring the United States to its knees.
Chavez: It’s very difficult for someone to bring the empire to its knees. That is not my pretension. That would be something totally disproportional.
What we do want to do is have both of us on our feet — both of us standing up or both of us sitting down. Or, if we kneel, let both of us kneel. That would be to pray — to pray, as we Christians pray.
Now, there’s the matter of oil. Look, let me clarify. And I would like to clarify this for the people of the United States. The people of the United States should know that we are the owners in a U.S. territory of a great oil (inaudible) which has eight major refineries. That company has a value in near $10 billion.
We’re one of the biggest investors of Latin America. I think we’re the prime investor of Latin America in the United States. We are giving employment to more than 2,000 U.S. workers and their families. We are paying taxes to the government of the United States. We cooperate with many cities, with mayoralties, Houston.
And now with Katrina, this awful drama that the United States is living through, from the very first day I ordered a group — a coordinating a group of support being sent to where one of our refineries is located. We’ve been helping. And we’ve been even rescuing people.
Practically no one in the United States knows that we’ve donated millions of dollars to the governorship of Louisiana, to the New Orleans Red Cross. We’re now giving care to more than 5,000 victims, and now we’re going to supply gasoline, freely in some cases, and with discounts in other cases, to the poorest of communities, starting with New Orleans and its surroundings.
The people of the United States should know that.
The only time that I have said where Venezuela would not supply oil to the United States, it was no threat. It’s rather to respond to a threat, the threat of invasion. We have obtained evidence of something which would be absolutely foolhardy, the invasion of Venezuela. That’s where we said that under those circumstances…
Koppel: Let me stop you.
Chavez:… there would be no oil.
Koppel: Are you saying you have discovered evidence of an invasion plan against Venezuela or are you saying “if” you discovered a plan?
Chavez: I’m telling you that I have evidence that there are plans to invade Venezuela. Furthermore, we have documentation: how many bombers to overfly Venezuela on the day of the invasion, how many trans-Atlantic carriers, how many aircraft carriers need to be sent to (inaudible) even during (inaudible).
Recently, an aircraft carrier went to Curacao (inaudible) the fact that the soldiers were on leave.
That’s a lie. They were doing movements. They were doing maneuvers. All on documentation. The plan is called Balboa, where Venezuela is indicated as an objective.
And in the face of that scenario, I said that if that actually happens, the United States should just forget the million and a half barrels of oil. Because everyday since I’ve been in power for seven years, we haven’t missed it even one single day — just one day, when we were overthrown. We were overthrown by that coup — oil sabotage — which was supported by Washington…
Koppel: If I may, Mr. President, you say you have documentation of this plan. Can I ask you now, on camera, will you make that documentation available to me?
Chavez: I can send to you — I can’t send it all, but I can make sure I can send part of it to you. I can send it to you.
Chavez: I can send you maps and everything, and you can show it to the United States citizens. What I can’t tell you his how we got it, to protect the sources, how we got it through military intelligence.
But nobody can deny it, because (inaudible) the Balboa plan. We are coming up with the counter-Balboa plan. That is to say if the government of the United States attempts to commit the foolhardy enterprise of attacking us, it would be embarked on a 100-year war. We are prepared.
They would not manage to control Venezuela, the same way they haven’t been able to control Iraq. (inaudible) Venezuela, my impression is that there would be a movement of a resistance in other parts of this continent. Oil could reach $100 or $120 a barrel, among other things.
Koppel: Can you understand why people think that you are unfriendly toward the government of the United States?
Among your closest friends: Cuba, Syria, Iran, Libya. These are all countries that the United States regards as unfriendly, if not terrorist countries themselves.
Chavez: Well, Cuba is much more than a friend. The people of Cuba and its leader, Fidel Castro, are much more than friends. We are joined in a battle which is described in the plans of each country and described in the roots of our history.
Now, Cuba is being attacked — assaulted by the United States, by the government of the United States, and that has been the case for more than 40 years. This inhumane blockade, this unjustified blockade, the United Nations has gotten tired of issuing pronouncements asking the United States to cease the blockade. And Pope John Paul II — and the undignified, unjust, accusative, arbitrary blockade is being maintained.
The assaulted party is Cuba. We are brothers of Cuba.
We are also friends of Gadhafi. We are part of the petroleum producing companies. This morning I met with the president of Iran. We are members of OPEC.
And I’m also very close to Lula. I’m very close to (inaudible). I’m a very good friend of the prime minister of Jamaica. I’m very close to the representatives who came here last night, Delahunt from Massachusetts, Burton, a Republican. Good friends. I have a lot of friends (inaudible).
Now, you can’t say — nobody can say that Venezuela is a country that commits aggression against the United States or is an enemy of the United States because it has open relations with (inaudible) world. We have open relations with China (inaudible). With Colombia we have very good relations. We have good relations with everyone.
The only country, the only administration with whom we don’t have good relations on the face of the earth is the administration of Mr. Bush. That’s the only example (inaudible). We are friends of the king of Spain. As we say in Venezuela, he is a good guy. The king of Malaysia (inaudible). The emir of Qatar is my brother.
I have friends throughout the entire world, kings, princes, presidents, prime ministers. Only with Washington is where the relationship doesn’t work.
Koppel: Let me put it very simply.
Koppel: If the United States doesn’t invade Venezuela, can the people of the United States assume that Venezuela will continue supplying as much oil to the United States as it has in the past?
Chavez: Of course. Let me tell you something further.
If you give me a map, I’ll show it to you very simply, very quickly. Most all the U.S. companies work in Venezuela — ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil (inaudible) Venezuela. And they are producing oil.
And let me tell you that I meet very frequently with the managers and the administrators, the leaders. Recently, the world director of Chevron came to announce to me that they want to invest more than $5 billion in (inaudible). They just won a gas license, ChevronTexaco. They are operating (inaudible) Shell, from England.
What’s the name — the Norwegian (inaudible), but especially the U.S. companies. They are developing plans to continue to invest in Venezuela in gas and oil.
Pay attention. In these days of Katrina, today or tomorrow, a Venezuelan ship with 300,000 barrels of gasoline should be arriving. It’s the first of four or five additional ships that we have sent to help to palliate the (inaudible) and put the breaks on the (inaudible). That’s what we’re doing. (inaudible) You hit me on one cheek, and I’ll try to respond by helping you. I don’t care. We’re not doing this for the administration. We’re doing it for the people of the United States. So that’s how I respond.
We have no plans to alter in any way the supply of oil to the United States.
Furthermore, I would say that Venezuela has the chief, most important oil reserves in the world. Do you know how much oil is left in the United States reserve? Barely 20 billion barrels, with 20 million barrels a day being consumed.
Venezuela has 300 billion barrels for the reserve. We have the second-most important reserve of gas in this continent of the United States or in the world.
Now we want to share that oil and that gas with the United States, but also with the Caribbean, but also with China and also with India and also with Argentina and Brazil.
Now we are (inaudible) in the Orinoco River. I hope you could visit the Orinoco and do a special program on oil, because what I must confirm is that we offer the United States every guarantee for oil supply for 150 (ph) years more, when both of us will be pushing up daisies.
Koppel: Mr. President, on that happy note, let me thank you. You’ve been most generous with your time and it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you very much indeed.
Chavez: Let me thank you. I would like to greet you, and I hope you can come to Venezuela. Let me invite you and let us greet the entire people of the United States.
Tomorrow I’m going to take a walk through some of the neighborhoods of New York. We’re going to a church to see Jesse Jackson (inaudible). And then I’m going to play a baseball game on the field with some Yankees (ph).
We love the people of the United States, and our desire is to have a world of brothers in peace. God grant that that be the case.
Koppel: Thank you, sir.