Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela’s envoy to the United States, was online to discuss recent developments within Venezuela and his nation’s relations with rest of the world.
Although the governments in Washington and Caracas may have disagreements, Venezuela remains the second-largest importer of U.S. goods in Latin America, and the United States imports the bulk of Venezuela’s petroleum.
Ambassador Alvarez is currently implementing Venezuela’s initiative to provide heating oil assistance to needy families in the United States. Through a partnership with the Venezuelan oil firm, CITGO, low-cost heating oil is available to families Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and the Bronx, NY this winter. Discussions for further expansion of the program are underway in several other states, including Delaware, Vermont, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The heating oil initiative stemmed from a pledge made by President Hugo Chavez during a visit to low-income U.S. communities last September, in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Before his appointment as the Ambassador to the United States in 2003, Mr.Alvarez-Herrera was a Vice Minister and Director-General in the Ministry of Energy and Mines, a member of the Venezuelan Congress from Miranda State, the Executive Secretary and representative of Venezuela to the Forum on Debt and Development, the Chief of the Research and Development Division for the Venezuelan Institute of Foreign Trade, and a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He is currently the Venezuelan representative to the Energy Council of the United States of America.
The transcript follows
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: I am pleased to participate in this forum. This is a great opportunity to share with the Washington Post readers and also it is a good opportunity to clarify misleading information that has been published in the last few years. For instance, this morning in the Washington Post editorial page, there appeared information that mischaracterized the poverty levels in Venezuela. The fact is that the poverty level at this time in Venezuela is 37%, which means 11 points less than at the beginning of President Chavez’s administration. I am grateful for this opportunity and I am ready to answer any questions.
washingtonpost.com: Editorial: A Leader for the 21st Century
La Habana, Cuba: Excelentísimo señor Álvarez: El próximo 24 de enero podría quedar en libertad el terrorista inyternacional de origen cubano Luis Posada Carriles, el mismo que recientemente el Departamento de Estado norteamericano señalar en sus docuementos desclasificados. Posada, prófugo de la justicia venezolana, autor del sabojate al avión civil cubano en Barbados en 1976, que cotó la vida a 73 personas, vinculado desde hace decadas a los mismos grupos que intentaron dar el golpe en Venezuela en el 2002, los que intenaron ocupar la embajada de Cuba en Caracas y que persiguen el asesinato del presidente Hugo Chavez. ¿Que opinión le merece que las autoridades norteamericanas puedan dejar en libertad a Posada? ¿por qué ha cobrado tanta fuerza en el pueblo venezolano el pedido de extradición desde EEUU de este criminal para que sea juzgado en Venezuela? Àque opinión le merece que Estados Unidos, respecto al caso de Posada, viole la Resolución 1373 de la ONU al proteger a un terrorista como Posada Carriles.
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: This person is asking our opinion concerning the United States sheltering a terrorist known as the Osama Bin Laden of Latin America, Luis Posada Carriles. This terrorist is responsible for the murder of 73 innocent passengers on a civilian plane over the waters of Barbados in October of 1976. Posada is a fugitive from justice in Venezuela, because he escaped from a prison in Caracas while his trial for murder was pending. In June of last year, Venezuela asked the United States government for his extradition. Our request is based on three different extradition treaties that require the U.S. government to either extradite him to Venezuela or try him in this country for 73 counts of first degree murder. Rather than responding to our request and moving forward with his extradition or trial for murder, the U.S. government has thus far treated his case as a minor immigration matter and charged him only with illegal entry into the country. The international war on terrorism does not mean an a la carte war. The U.S. cannot pick and choose which terrorist to prosecute. A terrorist is a terrorist period. We call on the American people to demand that the US government abide by its international obligations and do what the law requires it to do: extradite or prosecute Posada for murder. Instead, he now stands on the verge of being released from custody on January 24.
Bethesda, Md.: Mr. Ambassador, is it not pure populism to pretend to care about the poor of these country when your country is OPEC’s supreme price hawk and has often talked about the desire of having prices approach $100?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: Venezuela has always defended the thesis of equilibrium among producers, consumers, and industries. Venezuela was the country who suggested at the beginning of this century the price band and always promoted with the OPEC the idea of fair prices. The price crises that the world is facing today is due basically there is not enough oil left in the world. There is a shortage in refining capacity, there is a huge demand and China and India and all of those factors were impacting the high oil price we are living in our days.
Austin, Tex.: Certainly the subsidized heating oil Pres. Chavez has offered many poor Americans is greatly appreciated, but couldn’t this money be better spent helping the critically poor of Venezuela (perhaps 25% of the country) buy food?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: First of all, Venezuela is a Caribbean country, for that reason we do not use heating oil. It is a humanitarian gesture, not unlike the humanitarian aid that the United States sends out regularly to victims of difficult circumstances, such as the tsunami in the Pacific or the earthquake in Pakistan. Heating oil is in short supply in the United States and prices have been driven up. We supply much of the heating oil to your country. This is an effort to help low-income people and keep them from having a difficult winter. Venezuela has politics based on social development, for example, since 1998 just under a million children in the poorest areas of Venezuela now obtain free education, 1.2 million illiterate adults have been taught to read and write; secondary education has been made available to 250,000 children whose social status excluded them in the past, and more than 14 million got access to health care. This also shows you that there are other ways of cooperation to solve problems of poverty and social exclusion. This is the way Venezuela presents an alternative model of trying to solve problems that we all consider priorities.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Ambassador,
Thank you and the Bolivarian Republic for attending this discussion today.
Do you know if there will be a workshop on the oil offer made to poor communities in the US by President Chavez and the Bolivarian Republic at the upcomming March 3-6, 2006 National Conference on Solidarity with Venezuela in Washington, DC? And will a representative from the embassy be on hand there to answer questions?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: This conference is being organized by members of different social groups in the United States that look with a lot of interest the Bolivarian Revolution. The Embassy is invited and I am going to be talking in a panel regarding United States-Venezuela relationship. I know that some people from Venezuela have confirmed their presence, including Mr. Andres Izarra, President of Telesur, which is a joined effort between Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay for a new TV channel which intends to present all the voices and realities coming from our countries to the world. That initiative has created a lot interests in the US, particularly to the Latino community, which would like to have the signal of Telesur into their communities.
Baltimore, Md.: How does your administration expect to change the lives of Indians and those of African decendent? What were their lives like in the past? Are there other minorities in your countries? Can you discuss what their lives?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: The first thing that we did was to accept that those Venezuelans of indigenous ancestry were the excluded of the excluded. This situation is a shame and it is in the center of our priorities. In the new Venezuelan constitution of 1999, the rights of these Venezuelans were guaranteed, respecting their traditions and guaranteeing representation in all public policy matters. They now select their own representatives in the National Assembly, and in the last Congress, a representative of the indigenous population, Noheli Pocaterra, was Vice-President of the National Assembly. The Government created a social mission called Guaicaipuro, the name of one of the heroes of the Indian tribes, to incorporate all the social programs of The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We fostered debate in Latin-America when we abolished Columbus Day and renamed it Indigenous Resistance Day. As far as the Afro descendents are concerned, President Chavez has created a commission with Afro Venezuelans to address all the issues involving racism. We have received a lot of support and advice from Afro American leaders in the US.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: We mainly hear in our news reports about how anti-U.S. and pro-Castro your country has become. In what way are United States companies, the United States government and the people of our country harming your country?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: We have excellent relations with the American people. Indeed, our heating oil program to poor communities in U.S. cities is designed to help those in need in this country. Many Americans visit our country and demonstrate their support continually. They are welcomed in Venezuela. Our relations with US companies are also excellent. We went from 16th to 13th trading partner of the US in only one year. We are the second largest trading partner in Latin America with the US. All we ask of the US government is that it respect our national sovereignty and not try to destabilize our government. Venezuela has very good relations with all the countries in the world, including Cuba.
Owings Mills, Md.: Mr. Ambassador,
Please comment on Mr. Chavez’s recent statement in which he accused Jews of killing Christ and hoarding the world’s wealth. Such a reprehensible anti-Semitic statement seems especially frightening given the increasingly close relationship between Mr. Chavez’s government and the government of Iran, whose President has very recently denied the holocaust and called for Israel’s extermination. Mr. Chavez seems to be positioning his country with regimes and rhetoric of a particularly extremist and dangerous nature, and this reader would like to hear an explanation.
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: President Chavez never said that the Jews killed Christ and hoarded the world’s wealth. In fact, as declared by the President of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, Fred Pressner, which was printed in the Forward Jewish newspaper noted that “the president was not talking about Jews,” who also noted that this was the third time in recent years that the Wiesenthal center had publicly criticized Chavez without first consulting the local community. Both the AJCommittee and the American Jewish Congress has seconded this opinion that Mr. Chavez’s comments were in no way anti-Semitic. This article can be read online at: http://www.forward.com/articles/7189.
Let’s be clear. Venezuela’s Vice-President, Jose Vicente Rangel, has declared that Venezuelan does not share the comments made by Iran concerning Israel. Venezuela has excellent relations with Israel as well.
washingtonpost.com: Venezuela’s Jews Defend Leftist President in Flap Over Remarks
White Plains, N.Y.: Is Venezuela planning to use some of its wealth from oil sales to develop non-pollutting, renewable energy? What has been done so far in terms of developing solar, wind, hydro-electric and methane gas energy supplies?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: Yes, right now more than 50% of Venezuela’s electricity is hydro-electric. Venezuela is investing 3 billion dollars at this time in a new project called Tacoma, which will further increase Venezuela’s hydro-electric capacity. President Chavez has said that oil is a finite resource and the world has to start researching viable alternatives.
Washington, D.C.: The Bush administration has accused President Chavez of destabilizing or attempting to destabilize the rest of South America. They are very upset about Venezuela purchasing aircraft from Spain. What is the position of your government on developments in the rest of Latin America, e.g., Bolivia? Why does your government feel the need to purchase aircraft from Spain?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: The allegations made by the Bush Administration about Venezuela alleged destabilization over the rest of Latin America show a lack of understanding by Washington of the new social economic and political process in Latin America. In fact, what Latin America is looking for is to address the old dilemma of creating a political unity within the diversity that allows us to relate with the United States not in terms of hegemony but as an equal partner. Moreover, we have said to the US administration that they have myopic vision of what is going on in Latin America and if you want to understand the new development you have to get a new pair of glasses. What is going on in Latin American is not against the national interest of the US people, but it might be against the classical persecution of hegemony and dominance over the hemisphere.
Santa Barbara, Calif.: Hugo Chavez rocks! Please convey to him and the Venezuelan government that there ARE Americans who support his stances, and who appreciate his assistance to our needy. The global underclass needs his model as inspiration to unite and fight against the inefficient and oppressive transnational corporate control of the world’s economy. Saludos, Senor Chavez, y muchas gracias para su valor y fidelidad.
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: Thanks a lot.
Caracas, Venezuela: Mr Ambassador:
How would you characterize the media situation in Venezuela–where many of the mainstream, private television industry are hostile to the government–in recent years, since Mr. Chavez’s victory in the referendum? How would you compare Venezuela and the United States in this regard?
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: Anyone who has spent any time in Caracas recently will tell you that we have a vigorous free press. There is constant criticism of our government, some of irresponsible and some of it fair. Venezuelans also have access to American and other foreign networks, like Fox, CNN, and the BBC, as well as Telemundo, Univision, and our own networks. We have also helped create a new independent network, TeleSur, which will bring a Latin American perspective to world news hich, until now, we have mainly received from North American and European news sources. Unlike the U.S., where reporters have recently been jailed in principled disagreements with the government, journalists have little to fear from the Venezuelan government – no one has been prosecuted (or even fined) under the new media law, which has been in effect for over a year.
Washington, D.C.: Ambassador, are you and your fellow Venezuelans excited for the World Baseball Classic this March. Venezuela, I’m sure you know, is one of the tournament favorites, with perhaps the best pitching in the cup.
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: Yes, we are very excited. However, not many people in the US know that we have 65 players in the Major Leagues, and we have more than 1000 Venezuelan youths in professional baseball in the US. This is one of the most important connections between Venezuelan people and the US people: the passion for baseball. We honestly hope that all countries are allowed to participate.
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera: In my almost 3 years as the Ambassador of Venezuela to the United States, I have traveled the length and width of this country. From Maine to Seattle, from El Paso to Miami, as well as the heartland of the country, I have met Americans from all walks of live, from working people to professionals and I am convinced that the American people want normal relations of respect between our two nations. Venezuela is a democratic country and I think the American people understand that. There is no feeling of anti-Americanism in Venezuela. The political differences between our governments do not reflect the respect that we have for the American people and their institutions. Many Americans also have differences with the Bush Administration. All that Venezuela asks of the United States government is respect. Thank you very much for your attention and your interest in my country.
Editor’s Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.