In a three-hour lunch meeting with foreign journalists yesterday, Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez roamed over a wide variety of topics, from the cancellation of his trip to the U.S., to the recall referendum, to the WTO meeting in Cancun, and to Venezuela-Colombia relations, among other issues.
One of the first and perhaps more puzzling topics that was broached was the relatively sudden cancellation of the president’s trip to the U.S., scheduled for late September. President Chavez was supposed to give a speech at the opening of the UN in New York, to visit Houston, Texas, the city where the state-owned oil company Citgo will have its new headquarters, and to give a speech in Harlem.
While the President said he regretted not being able to give the speech in Harlem and to visit Houston, he said he cancelled the trip for two main reasons. First, he said that the main reason was that there were security concerns, the details of which he could not disclose. Second, he said that he does not like UN summits. "I go there and I don’t feel like speaking because practically no one listens. It’s a dialogue of the deaf; it’s silly. You go there to listen to one discourse after another, one day after the other and for what? What is the purpose? I prefer to denounce, to say that this system is not working. I have a natural rejection of these summits." He then went on to elaborate how fundamentally undemocratic the UN is and that it needs to be democratized.
With regard to the letter of protest that representatives of the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator sent to the Organization of American States, the UNDP, and the Carter Center, Chavez said that it does not surprise him, since the opposition wants "a referendum according to their preferences." He elaborated that in the past the National Electoral Council was an arm of the two main governing parties, Copei and AD, which helped them organize fraud and which funded their election observers. The other, mostly leftist, parties never had enough resources to post witnesses at all polling places. Now, however, there is a National Electoral Council that is independent and the opposition complains, since they are not used to that, said Chavez.
Doubts on recall referendum
Asked if he thought that there would be a recall referendum before his term ends, Chavez responded that "it is going to be extremely difficult for the opposition to comply with the requirements for a recall referendum." He added that several representatives of opposition parties have told him in private that they actually are not interested in a recall referendum because they would rather concentrate on the upcoming elections for state governors, which are supposed to take place in June or July of 2004. He thus doubts that there is a real will on the part of the opposition to even organize a proper recall referendum. But, nonetheless, "there is a possibility" that there will be a referendum, but only if the opposition "takes its opposition role seriously" and leaves aside all illegal efforts to oust him.
On the international front, Chavez revealed that his government is in the possession of a video, which his security forces secretly recorded, of a CIA officer giving a class to Venezuelans on surveillance. Joking he said, "The technique could not have been very good, since we did manage to film him." He argues that this is evidence that the CIA is involved in clandestine activity in Venezuela, after the coup attempt, in addition to the evidence he has of U.S. involvement before and during the coup; but his government has so far not issued a formal complaint to the U.S. government. Some day, he said, these pieces of evidence will be released, but he does not know when.
With respect to the unclear stand Venezuela recently took with regard to international property rights at the WTO meeting in Cancun, the president promised to clarify Venezuela’s position, saying that "it’s not the first time that there are contradictions" within the government on an issue.
While Venezuela’s Minister of Commerce and Production took a strong position on the issue of eliminating agricultural subsidies for first world countries, along with other third world countries, organized in the "Group of 21", Venezuela almost signed an agreement which would have limited the use of generic medications to only three diseases, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This would have gone directly against the policy of Venezuela’s office on intellectual property rights (SAPI), which maintains that public health must take precedence over the profits of transnational pharmaceutical companies.
Venezuela would not recognize the Iraqi representative to OPEC
Referring to the upcoming OPEC meeting, Chavez announced that his government would not recognize the Iraqi representative as an official representative because "unfortunately there is no government in Baghdad, it is anarchy, with constant destabilization." "They have not been able to restart their production anyway," added the president. Rather, there would be informal talks at the next OPEC meeting on September 24 with an observer from the occupation forces in Iraq.
Finally, Chavez said that relations between Venezuela and Colombia are very complicated because there are people who are interested in sabotaging this relationship. He reiterated that his government is not providing any kind of support to the Colombian guerilla movements, despite what the opposition claims. Rather, Venezuela’s position with regard to the conflict in Colombia is one of neutrality, of neither opposing nor supporting the guerilla movement. "We don’t want to support the path of war in Colombia, we want to support the path of peace," added Chavez.
GREGORY WILPERT specializes in writing about Venezuela. He can be reached at: Venezuelanayisis.com