HUGO CHAVEZ

Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez is a bete noire of the Bush administration. He's a populist on the Castro model who wants to steer Latin America firmly to the left. He also rules a key oil-producing country, which gives him unusual leverage. In a recent interview with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth in New York, he made clear his dislike for U.S. President George W. Bush. Excerpts: WEYMOUTH: The opposition in Venezuela feel that they have no space. CHAVEZ: 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. So if they feel they do not have any room to act, it's their own fault. You have said that the United States is the most evil country in the world, and you called America a terrorist state. Do you want to have relations with the United States? Of course, and 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] that refines daily 800,000 barrels of oil... We have 14,000 gas stations in this country. We have sent major-league baseball players here. But the media is trying to make the American people see me as an enemy. What I said is that this U.S. administration--the current government--is a terrorist administration, not all U.S. governments. So what's wrong with President Bush? This administration invaded Iraq. According to Pope John Paul II, it is an illegal war, an immoral war, a terrorist war... In Venezuela they fostered a coup d'etat [in 2002] manufactured by the CIA. Recently, Rev. [Pat] Robertson called for my assassination. This is a terrorist attack, according to international law. In Miami, on a daily basis, people on TV shows are calling for my assassination. This is terrorism. Reportedly, one of your best friends is Cuba's Fidel Castro. Is that true? He is one of my best friends. Why do you admire him? His valor, his courage, the way he has led the revolution for more than 40 years--in spite of a blockade and an embargo. Fidel is going to be 80 very soon, but this guy is filled with vitality. He is totally devoted to solving people's problems: health, education and work. Whom would you like to see as president of the United States? I could deal with President Bush. I would like to transform this confrontation, this aggressive rhetoric, into a mature, serious debate on common issues. With President Clinton, we were able to sit and talk. But with this administration, it is impossible to talk because they want to impose things on you... Now, before the hurricane, they knew that Katrina was coming, and the government did not evacuate people. In Cuba, when they know a hurricane is coming, chickens, hens and people are all evacuated. Reportedly, Venezuela is buying MiG planes from Russia, as well as rifles. Why does Venezuela need these? Who told you that I am going to buy MiGs? I am going to buy rifles, that's true. Our rifles are very old. Venezuela does not have spare parts or the workshops to maintain our equipment. We are threatened by the empire. Is the United States the empire? The government of the United States, that's the empire. We have evidence that there are plans in this country to invade Venezuela. There is a plan called "Balboa." Our intelligence found this plan, and everything is spelled out there--the target is Venezuela. I hope that this will never happen because you're going to regret it. There will be such havoc in the whole hemisphere if this happens. The price of oil would shoot up and reach what--$100 a barrel? Experts in Washington claim you are encouraging radical groups throughout Latin America; that you're helping the FARC in Colombia; Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; Shafik Handal and the FMLN in El Salvador, and Evo Morales and the MAS in Bolivia. Are you? Shafik is a great friend. We are together in this same revolutionary effort, of course. Daniel Ortega is a close friend, and I think he will be a candidate in the next election. Evo Morales is my friend, another great guy and an Indian leader. Do you want me to support the extreme right wing? I am a revolutionary. Latin America today is going to the left and not to the right.

HUGO CHAVEZ | News