Wednesday, Mar 09, 2005
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By Parvathi Menon
"Mr. President, what is the secret of your energy," asked a journalist at the end of a long press conference in Bangalore, the last public engagement addressed by the charismatic Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, on his recent India visit. "Not from oil," Mr. Chavez shot back amidst laughter, "but from faith in what I do."
Before a gathering of the Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he spoke with conviction and eloquence on the gains and lessons of his four-day visit to India. Calling his visit "historic" the first by a Venezuelan President Mr. Chavez discussed the broad range of economic agreements signed with India "from medicines to satellites, oil and energy to computers and software, food processing to machine manufacture." Venezuela's urgent requirements at present are, however, in acquiring manufacturing technology and know-how in priority areas, notably those of food processing and medicines "computers and satellites can wait."
It was, however, his visit to rural West Bengal that appears to have been the highlight of Mr. Chavez's visit, and on which he spoke from the heart. "We touched the soul of India and in return India touched our innermost fibre." The villages he was taken to brought back memories of his own childhood spent in a poor, rural region of Venezuela. He vividly described his interaction with its people, particularly children: "I want all children to be happy, I want them to eat fully and never have to go hungry, I want that they be able to live in decent, if small dwellings. I want that all women be able to raise their children in dignity, that they be able to enjoy their land, working it and harvesting its fruit." Calling poverty, hunger and disease, "truly the most formidable weapons of mass destruction in the world," Mr. Chavez resolved to use his country's oil resources as a tool to achieve equality and development in the world.
President Chavez spoke to The Hindu his only interview to an Indian publication on the 20-minute drive from his hotel to the Bangalore airport. Excerpts:
Question: Mr. President, from your public statements it would appear that your visit to India had two objectives: the establishment of economic ties, and the building of political alliances in today's unipolar world. How far were these objectives realised during this visit?
Hugo Chavez: There is no doubt that we have started a process of rapprochement between India and Venezuela, and this is very positive from the perspective of a unipolar world. In the same manner, for some time now we have an alliance with Russia, with China, and last year we created the South American Union of Nations. We also have strategic alliances with Brazil and with Argentina. We now have a strategic alliance with India. There is no doubt that we have achieved our goals over the last four days, but we have to work very hard for these to become a reality.
The world has followed with great interest your initiatives in building a new axis of progressive countries in Latin America. One of its objectives has been to diversify your oil markets to reduce dependence on the U.S. Would you like to comment on the significance of this effort, and its limitations?
I would say that much more than an axis, it is just the effort to make a reality of the old dream of Bolivar and of many other revolutionary fighters in the Union of Latin America, and in this precise case, the Union of South America. And though we have made huge progress in this effort in the last few years, it is clear that there are serious obstacles and difficulties that we have to overcome.
One of the most powerful obstacles is the attitude of the United States. It has always succeeded in the past in stopping any attempt by the Latin American countries to unite. Today, the U.S. has been aggressing, and undertaking economic and political action, and secret operations, to try to prevent this integration process. So far we have defeated them, and I am certain that we will continue to do so because in Latin America and South America in general, far more than the will of one man and a group of leaders and presidents, well, the people have stood up and spoken.
You have repeatedly alluded to the attempts by the U.S. Government to assassinate you. How real are these threat perceptions?
I think these are serious threats. And it is serious given the attitude and the continuous aggression by Washington that has increased dramatically in the last few years. But now there is a peculiarity. Most of the attacks are directly addressed to myself. It is no longer directed against the Venezuelan Government. Hugo Chavez is a threat to the United States. Hugo Chavez is like Hamelin's Pied Piper. Hugo Chavez is a threat to the stability of South America. When you analyse the direct threat of aggression against one person by the U.S. administration, you connect this aggression to what has happened in the past. You cannot forget that the United States financed the toppling of Allende and of many other leaders. We never knew the reasons for the death of General Torrijos, the President of Panama, for example.
The practice of the United States so far has been to lie and abuse their hands are tainted with blood. We cannot forget that recently Mr. Bush has lifted the prohibition on the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate leaders around the world. Last but not least, in Venezuela, they failed with the coup d'etat attempt, they failed with the petroleum sabotage, they failed with the recall referendum, and they know that in the next presidential elections in 2006 they will not be able to find any candidate who can defeat us. They will adamantly try to prevent Hugo Chavez from governing Venezuela for six more years. On top of all this, we have intelligence information that indicates that they are relocating the people who will try to organise these assassination attempts.
With the dollar so closely tied to U.S. economic and political strengths, is it at all likely or desirable for oil producers like Venezuela to price crude oil in euros rather than dollars?
I don't think it is important to set the price in euros or bolivars, as with both foreign exchanges there will be an impact on other countries. I think such a move may only have symbolic or moral value. I have no idea that it is being proposed, or that it is an idea that could be implemented.
In communist-ruled West Bengal, you have said, there was a huge and emotional response from the people to your visit. What are the impressions you take back with you, and have you any plans on building regional cooperation with governments like that of West Bengal?
The vast love we received in Kolkata is unforgettable. The intense interaction with the people of Kolkata and their leaders Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, the Government team, and Governor Gandhi. I am certain from the interaction I have experienced, that the Marxist party is leading the State in the right direction by empowering people. And there we are together. We will also begin working together with the Government of West Bengal.
Your opponents have accused you of trying to muzzle the media by bringing in a law that will curtail press freedoms. How do you respond to these allegations?
This is like a drug trafficker opposing an anti-drug trafficking law by saying that it will prevent him from trafficking drugs! This law that was passed in Venezuela was waiting to be passed for 50 years, and we have always failed to do so. The law will allow us to liberate our people from the tyranny that the media has exercised over them for the last 48 years in our country.
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