Caracas, Venezuela, August 22, 2005 —Venezuela’s President Chavez called U.S. President Bush a “lord of war,” in response to U.S. accusations that he and Cuba’s President Castro are destabilizing Latin American countries. Chavez made the comments during his weekly television program Aló Presidente, which took place in Cuba this past Sunday and which Castro co-hosted for the five hours of the program.
Chavez and Castro made fun of recent comments former Bush administration official Otto Reich had made, in which he called Castro an “evil genius” and Chavez an “oil strong man,” who are destabilizing the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia. Castro joked, saying to Chavez, “I’m realizing that your friendship is hurting my image.”
Chavez said that it is the U.S. government, “who is financing things in Latin America.” Adding, “They have created an office to prepare the transition in Cuba and another for psychological warfare, which are old Pentagon strategies.” Chavez went on to say, “They are the destabilizers of the region, with their hegemonic bearing, their neo-liberal policies, their gorilla dictatorships, their invasions, their mass media and their lackeys. The great destabilizers of the region are they, Mr. War, not only of Latin America, but of the world.”
The previous day, Castro had said, “We are not conspiring, nor do we want to destabilize any government or any region.”
The program took place in the town of Sandino, where Venezuelan military had helped construct 150 homes following the devastation caused by hurricane Ivan, which had passed over the island in September 2004.
In attendance at this broadcast of Chavez’s weekly program was the leader of El Salvador’s FMLN, Shafik Handal, former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and Bolivian opposition leader and presidential candidate Evo Morales. These and other leaders were in attendance to participate in the graduation ceremony of 1,610 doctors from 28 countries, who had been trained in Cuba for free.
Both presidents reiterated the importance Latin American integration has for them. Castro said, “it is the only way to save our peoples from imperialist hegemony.” Chavez added, “Cuba and Venezuela are more united than ever in this battle for the dignity of our peoples.”
The two presidents also rejoiced over the apparent failure of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), which originally was supposed to take effect in January 2005. “We must congratulate [Secretary of State] for the death of the FTAA. The FTAA is dead, the ALBA is coming,” said Castro. ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, is a proposal Venezuela has pushed, to create Latin American integration not on the basis of free trade, but on the basis of political and economic cooperation. So far Venezuela and Cuba are members of ALBA.
Chavez and Castro also highlighted “Mission Miracle,” which is a program Cuba is offering to Venezuelans but has expanded to include anyone living in North or South America, to have their eyesight operated upon. According to the presidents, six million patients from Latin America will have free eye operations in Cuba over the next ten years. That is, about 600,000 eye operations per year.
Chavez said Venezuela would take over the transportation of these patients from their home countries to Cuba and back again. An airplane of the new Venezuelan state-owned airline Conviasa, with 152 seats, would be available for this purpose.
Chavez said that so far he had talked to the presidents of Colombia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay, offering the services of Mission Miracle to their countries. During his stay in Cuba Chavez also spoke to political representatives from Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Bolivia.
Two weeks ago, Chavez said the program should include the poor of the United States who can’t afford complex eye surgery operations.
The signing of an agreement that the presidents called the “Sandino Pledge,” after the location where the meeting took place, formally ratified the Mission.
Castro highlighted that so far over 50,000 Venezuelans had benefited from Mission Miracle.