20/20 Transcript of Barbara Walters’ interview with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez (YouTube video of the program is at the bottom of the transcript).
John Stossel: President Bush today has plenty of critics at home and abroad, but few come close to Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela . He's called President Bush a corpse, a devil and a terrorist. Of course, many people call Chavez himself a destructive menace. He rarely grants interviews, but this should come as no surprise. Barbara Walters got one. And you've just come back from Venezuela , where two days ago, you got this exclusive interview. What's he like?
Barbara Walters: Well, in person, he's really very warm and, and friendly. Of course, he says that the United States is making a devil of him. You'll see why. But then again, he invites it with his name-calling.
President Hugo Chavez: George W Bush, you are a donkey, Mr. Bush.
Barbara Walters: Hugo Chavez has had a lot of practice calling George Bush names.
At the UN, Chavez labeled him a devil.
President Hugo Chavez: El Diablo.
Barbara Walters: His rhetoric is rooted in his politics and in his background. He grew up poor and powerless. Socialism, he now believes, can cure the ills and poverty of Latin America. That revolutionary torch was essentially passed to him by his friend and mentor, Fidel Castro.
Chavez first tried for power in Venezuela by leading a military coup in 1992. He failed, wound up in prison. But eventually made it to the presidential palace legitimately in a 1998 election. He rules a country of contrasts. Venezuela has astonishing wealth and an abundance of oil while almost half of its citizens live in poverty.
The wealthy in Caracas hide behind high walls and barbed wire. They feel threatened, so much so that some of their children talk of leaving the country.
Barbara Walters: So do you think that Mr. Chavez is good for the poor but bad for you?
Venezuela Resident: No. No.
Venezuela Resident: No, he's bad for everyone. The policies that Chavez has taken have become a little bit more radical and maybe, in my opinion, in maybe a year or two, we'll have to all leave.
Barbara Walters: Do you think you may have to leave?
Venezuela Resident: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Chavez says private property is safe, but he's already nationalized some major corporations. He's also turned oil into a propaganda weapon in the US .
Clip From Citgo Advertisement
New York Resident: You know, I had a lot of cold days in my apartment.
Voiceover: Help is on the way. Heating oil at 40% off from our friends in Venezuela at Citgo.
Barbara Walters: Venezuela 's state-owned Citgo is making affordable fuel available to hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans.
Boston Resident: I thank Venezuela for what they do for the poor here.
Barbara Walters: Hugo Chavez is 52. Although most often dressed in his revolutionary red, he was statesman-like in a Navy blue suit when we met in the presidential palace. There was no shouting and little rhetoric, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have strong opinions.
Barbara Walters: Mr. President, on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the best, one being the worst, how would you rate President Bush's visit to Latin America ? What number?
President Hugo Chavez: Uno.
Barbara Walters: One. Hmm.
President Hugo Chavez: One because I am generous, because it could be minus five.
Barbara Walters: As I talk with you, you are a very dignified man. But we have heard you call the President of the United States a devil, a donkey, a drunk, a liar, a coward, a murderer. What does all this name-calling accomplish?
President Hugo Chavez: Yes, I call him a devil in the United Nations.
That's true. In another occasion, I said that he was a donkey just because I think that he is very ignorant about the things that are actually happening in Latin America and the world. If there is an excess on my side, I accept. And I might apologize. But who is causing more harm? Do I cause any harm because I call him a devil? He bombs people, villages, and he invades nations. Fortunately, he will not remain in office for long. I would win an election campaign against Bush, if I were an American, of course, if I were a US citizen.
Barbara Walters: If you went there now and ran, you could win the election, you think.
President Hugo Chavez: If I were Hugh Chavez, instead of Hugo Chavez, if I were a politician in the United States , I could win an election against Bush. My line is humanism, respect for human rights. And I think that's what most US citizens want. I am positive that's what they want. George Bush does not struggle for this. He struggles and fights for other things.
Barbara Walters: You have accused the US government of trying to assassinate you.
President Hugo Chavez: It is the CIA and some rightwing people here in Venezuela, who believe that the only way they can control the revolution's impact on Latin America is to assassinate me. And I have said, 'If something happens to me, if I get killed, the President of the United States should be held responsible."
Barbara Walters: Venezuela elected you to a second term. They would have to amend the constitution for you to run for a third term. You want them to do that?
President Hugo Chavez: And we want to make an amendment to the constitution to have an indefinite election. But one of the basic principles is that if you want to eliminate poverty, you have to empower the impoverished people. It would be so nice if you could go out to the barrios in Caracas and meet the people of the community council and you will see democracy acting here.
Barbara Walters: We did go. This is Santa Cruz del Este (PH), a poor neighborhood with houses stacked one atop the other. Gladys Garcia lives in a spare, but immaculate apartment here, with her mother and brother.
Gladys Garcia (Venezuela Resident): I've seen a lot of changes with President Chavez.
Barbara Walters: Since Mr. Chavez, you have running water.
Barbara Walters: There's pride and a welcoming spirit here. Walking the newly paved streets is safe, at least in daylight. But that's not true in much of Caracas. Violent crime in this city is rampant. Chavez blames it on the poverty he is trying to eliminate. His efforts are financed by a bullish market for Venezuela's chief natural resource. The running water here was paid for by a free-flowing oil.
Barbara Walters: I would like to talk about oil. Venezuela, of course, is the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States. Are there any circumstances in which you would cut off your oil to the US?
President Hugo Chavez: There is no intention to reduce or eliminate that supply. But we have said in case of any other aggression by the US administration, we would cut this oil supply. But we expect this not to happen.
Barbara Walters: I want to ask some questions about your life. Would you like some coffee first?
President Hugo Chavez: I drink a lot of coffee beyond any medical recommendation, more than 20 cups a day. But if I had to quit it, I would quit it as well as I have quit so many intimate things. I've left my home. My kids, I see them every now and then. I left what is dearest to me, you know. I had to abandon them. I do not regret it because my life is devoted to the poor of the earth.
Barbara Walters: You are not married now. Are you, do you want to marry or are you married to the revolution?
President Hugo Chavez: It is very hard to be married. I have been married twice. But I've got the heart here. I've also got blood running through my veins, you know.
Barbara Walters: You, Mr. President, do not have the best reputation in our country, you know that yourself. What's the biggest misconception about you?
President Hugo Chavez: I was speaking once with a lady in the United States, and she asked me, 'Why are you an enemy of the United States?" I said, 'Why do you think that I am an enemy of the United States?" 'Well, I have read the papers. I have seen your picture with Saddam Hussein, with Fidel Castro, and with Moammar Qaddafi." I said, 'Well, Fidel is my friend. Hussein, when I went to Iraq and I met him in a manner of state, but maybe you had never seen my picture with John Paul II, the Pope. The two times I visited him. Or my pictures with Clinton, both times we met." They only publish the pictures to demonize Hugo Chavez. I haven't caused any harm to the people in the United States . What could I do against the US people or against any people of the world? We just want to be friends and we want to extend our helping hand. That's all.
Barbara Walters: Mr. President, I know you speak a little English, yes? A little bit? Would you give a message to the American people in English?
President Hugo Chavez: I'll try. I will try. Yes. To the people of the United States , all the women, all the men, we, Venezuelan people, love you. We want, I want to be your brother. I love very much a great, great leader of you. Martin Luther King is my leader. You know he said once, he said, 'I have a dream." His dream, Martin Luther King's dream is your dream, is our dream, is my dream. Thank you very much.
John Stossel: Broken English or not, he's very good on TV. He must get practice.
Barbara Walters: Well, he's on television and radio almost every day. He has a very close relationship with his audience. He, sometimes he's serious and sometimes he sings to them.
John Stossel: He reminds me of Cuba 's Fidel Castro. You mentioned him in your report. They have a relationship.
Barbara Walters: They're very close. They have their differences. But he calls, Chavez calls Castro his political father. By the way, he told us that Castro has recovered and that he is now running Cuba with his left hand while he, his brother, Raul, runs it with his right.
John Stossel: So it's a family dictatorship.
Barbara Walters: Well, so to speak. And by the way, Chavez drinks 26 cups of coffee at least a day.
John Stossel: That explains a lot. Thank you, Barbara. And we will be right back.
Chavez interview on 20/20:
Chavez interview on ABC News: