REPORTER: Bentley Dean
HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (Translation of broadcast): Venezuela is advancing politically, economically, socially, internationally, morally.
Hugo Chavez is trying to celebrate the anniversary of his election, but not everyone wants to listen.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation of broadcast): It`s been three years since that victory, which I owe to you. I am very aware that I`m sitting where I am today basically because of the decision of the poor.
HOTEL OWNER (Translation): He`s a crazy man, a guerrilla, a cheat…and many other things. He`s a friend of Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban…he`s a friend of the Taliban, a defender of that kind of people. He`s putting Venezuela on the brink of civil war.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation of broadcast): We`re on the brink of civil war. I am, of course, president of all, even of that minority that doesn`t want me. (Sings) “I`m not a gold coin that everybody likes. The way I was born is the way I am. If you don`t want me, that`s tough!” My old man Hugo Chavez gave serenades. I learned these songs in Sabanetta of Barinas. My father and his friend John gave serenades with this huge guitar.
Hugo Chavez is a natural performer and his audience, especially Venezuela`s poor, loves him. Today, the President is visiting an inner-city neighbourhood in the capital, Caracas. 47 years ago, Hugo Chavez was born in a dirt hut in a small village and dreamed of being a baseball star. Dr Edmundo Chirinos is perhaps Chavez`s closest confidante. He is also his psychiatrist.
DR EDMUNDO CHIRINOS, PSYCHIATRIST (Translation): Chavez uses the language of the people. He uses phrases which aren`t academic, aren`t from cultured people, but from simple people. He has an extraordinary capacity for this.
Chavez is here to host his weekly talkback television and radio show.
TV ANNOUNCER`S VOICE: Good morning, Venezuela. We welcome you today, January 6, 2002 to our most important current affairs program – “Hell, President”.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Happy New Year, 2002. The year of the consolidation of the revolution has arrived.
After years of talk, Chavez`s revolution is about to become a reality.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Hello, hello.
TALKBACK CALLER: How are you, Mr President?
HUGO CHAVEZ: Hi, how are you? You know that I`m signing a decree on 4 February. It will start the process of issuing urban land titles, that is, those in the cities, to those millions and millions of people who, like you, live on a block of land that isn`t yours.
TALKBACK CALLER: No, we don`t have anything.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Count on our assistance to get a decent home for your children. We`ll improve your everyday lives.
TALKBACK CALLER: Thanks a lot.
Chavez looks and acts the part of a revolutionary but, in the three years since he took power, he`s done surprisingly little to alter Venezuela. Despite improvements in public health and education, the President has failed to reduce high unemployment, widespread poverty and crime. But, in a single day last November, Chavez decreed 49 laws that have made him, at least in theory, the most radical Latin American leader to emerge since Fidel Castro. The new laws won`t be enacted until next month, but Chavez has committed the government to redistributing land and raising the royalties paid by foreign oil companies. His idea is simple – take from the rich and give to the poor.
WOMAN AT RALLY (Translation): Chavez is the best president. We love him! He really loves the people, with feeling, with his heart. We truly love the president because he governs for the poor. We`re proud of him. He`s the best president we`ve had. He has the support of the Venezuelan youth. Long live Chavez! Long live the Revolution!
But Chavez`s populist rhetoric has put him and his supporters on a collision course with the upper and middle classes. The President is threatening to turn their world upside down and they`re not happy.
WOMAN AT OPPOSITION MARCH: Out, out!
MAN AT MARCH: This man is destroying the country with hunger and destitution. I`m tired of this man supporting terrorists, and helping and embracing Fidel Castro. We don`t want communism. We want liberty and democracy. Down with Chavez!
There are no political prisoners in Venezuela, the press is not curtailed and political parties operate freely. But, in increasing numbers, middle class Venezuelans are taking to the streets to protest a revolution that is yet to occur.
MAN IN STREET: New land law. New land law.
REPORTER: What do you think of the new land law?
MAN IN STREET: It`s great! It`s the best Chavez could have brought out. The best Chavez could have done for the campesinos, for Venezuela.
MAN AT RALLY: They`re attacking us. They want a dictatorship. Please help us. The opposition are guerrillas, terrorists…
Chavez is surprisingly calm in the face of mounting unrest. He knows his policies are dividing Venezuelans but he`s convinced the division is both necessary and inevitable.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation): Today`s peaceful and democratic Venezuelan revolution is the only way to restore the life of the country, to restore the dignity of the country, to lift the living conditions of the majority who were impoverished and marginalised for a long time. That life of the country, I`d defend even with my life. You defend life with life, as you repay love with love. One must defend life with life.
Chavez describes his revolution as Bolivarian, after General Simon Bolivar, the godfather of Latin American revolution. Bolivar fought for independence from Spain and dreamed of creating a republic that united Latin America. Chavez shares this dream.
DR EDMUNDO CHIRINOS (Translation): No doubt, Simon Bolivar, not just for Chavez but for all Venezuelans, is a heroic figure. He`s the man who liberated not only Venezuela but five Latin American countries from Spain. So he`s become a myth, a dreamlike utopian figure. And Chavez profoundly identifies with that utopia.
Hugo Chavez started his Bolivarian revolution 10 years ago. An army colonel at the time, he tried to overthrow the democratically elected, but widely despised, government. Colonel Francisco Arias Cardenas played a key role in the coup.
FRANCISO CARDENAS, UNION PARTY LEADER (Translation): There was a real crisis situation in the country. We have to remember that before 4 February there was an uprising in 1989 by starving people in Caracas that was crushed with bullets. Troops were used and there were many deaths. We realised that there was a divide between the corrupt and rich, leading political elite, and the people who suffered increased unemployment, were hungry, and didn`t trust anybody.
On February 4, 1992, Cardenas took control of the entire western half of the country. Chavez was in Caracas and he set out to take the presidential palace, Miraflores.
FRANCISCO CARDENAS: What happened is that when Chavez advanced on Miraflores, he had a political plan, and not a political-military plan. He never thought of fighting. At dawn, he started negotiating a surrender with the government, which was a political move and it worked well for him.
Chavez persuaded the government to let him address the nation.
HUGO CHAVEZ (4 February 1992): Comrades, for now, unfortunately we haven`t been able to achieve our objectives in the capital. That is, we haven`t been able to seize power here in Caracas. You`ve done very well over there, but it`s time to avoid more bloodshed. It`s time to reflect. New opportunities will arise and we will move towards a better future.
The words “for now” were not lost on anyone. The obscure colonel became a national hero.
HUGO CHAVEZ: What I fel tup to that date was, of course, a deep commitment to the people, a profound faith in Bolivar and his thoughts. But after that date, on that date, and after what happened, something like a flower opened in my heart…an immense love for the Venezuelan people.
Today, Chavez is beginning a 4-day celebration of his failed coup, retracing the route that he and other rebel soldiers took when they tried to overthrow the government. It was in 1994, after spending two years in prison, that Chavez launched a new political party. He was elected President in 1998 on the back of a massive popular vote. Since then, he has called and won eight referenda, which have allowed him to design a new constitution and secure an extended term in office. His present mandate expires in 2007.
DR EDMUNDO CHIRINOS (Translation): I`ll explain myself… I was a presidential candidate. I embraced old women, children, but I was feigning it. I admit it. I was being a hypocrite, a demagogue. I`ve never seen Chavez embrace a black child, a street child or an old man, and feign it. He`s really moved and feels love for the people.
If Chavez is acting like a man on the campaign trail, it`s because he is. There`s a lot at stake here. Chavez`s popularity has plummeted from 80% to 40%. Only a massive show of support on this caravan will give him the mandate he needs to go ahead with his radical reforms. He used to draw crowds of hundreds of thousands. Today`s dismal turnout does not augur well. Until recently, Francisco Cardenas was Chavez`s comrade in arms. He is now one of the President`s strongest opponents. Cardenas`s Union Party is spearheading an attack to have Chavez removed from office. Cardenas sees the President`s reforms as a threat to investment and property rights.
FRANCISCO CARDENAS (Translation): The land law…he sees it as an act of justice. But he`s also using it as a demagogic means to gain support from the needy in the streets. He reasons that he can hold on to power for as long as he manages to be a Robin Hood, who`s protecting the poor from the rich. That erroneous and narrow vision led him to impose the land law on a country that is not a rural but an urban country which large sectors living in extreme poverty.
FRANCISCO CARDENAS SPEAKING AT RALLY: If the President keeps his word, that he`d go if Venezuela didn`t want him…well, we`ll show him that 5 or 6 million of us want the country to progress, want change, and we have nothing to do with the past. We reject corruption, but we can`t go on in this mess. Help us with your signatures.
The opposition feel that they now have the numbers to unseat the President they hate. They`ve gathered 500,000 signatures and just need another 500,000 to get a referendum. Rafael Marin leads Accion Democratica, the political party that was in government when Chavez launched his coup. He`s hoping to have the President declared insane.
RAFAEL MARIN, ACCION DEMOCRATICA (Translation): The President`s behaviour throughout his term of office and even before then, shows him to be mentally unbalanced. Serious studies were conducted by two teams, one led by Dr Mendez Quijada, the acclaimed Venezuelan psychiatrist. He studied the behaviour of President Chavez and compared it to those of historical figures who behaved similarly, like Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Fidel Castro…and characters closer to homelike the former president of Ecuador, who is also a self-confessed madman.
Today, Marin has invited the press to the Supreme Court, where Accion Democratica is starting proceedings against Chavez based on his mental incapacity.
DR CHIRINOS (Translation): It`s a taunt. Clumsy and abusive political action. Chavez is not in any way mentally deranged. It`s simply to get headlines.
REPORTER: Are you crazy?
HUGO CHAVEZ: That`s a joke. It`s a joke. Because you know what that shows? It shows how low they have fallen. And above all, their lack of policies. You can interview them, to ask “Apart from this… what`s your project?”
It`s true the opposition are discredited and fractured, but they are gaining support, mainly thanks to Chavez himself.
DR EDMUNDO CHIRINOS (Translation): He`s an impulsive man. A man who can be very easily provoked. He can be provoked to speak, and sometimes says things which are not politically wise.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Presidential address – 29 October 2001): Look at this baby. What did this baby do to die like this when a bomb fell on his house? Here`s his father. According to the article, seven of his children died. This happened yesterday. There`s no justification for this as there`s no justification for the act in New York or anywhere else. But we ask them to think and change before it`s too late. We cry out for that! I`ll say it again…after more than a month…I said it here…You cannot react to terror with more terror. These children aren`t responsible for terrorism, for Osama bin Laden, or for anything!
DENNIS JUTT, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO PERU: There`s no quicker way to get Washington`s attention and lose its favour these days than to criticise in such a ridiculous fashion what we`re trying to do to defend ourselves against terrorism through our military actions in Afghanistan.
Washington was furious and the US withdrew its ambassador for consultations.
DENNIS JUTT: Venezuela is an important trading partner for the United States. It`s one of our principal sources of oil – I think we get about 1.5 million barrels a day. And I think Washington was willing to look the other way and, essentially, consider the guy a flake and ignore him as long as he didn`t pose a threat to our interests.
FRANCISCO CARDENAS (Translation): He has a fear and a vision that what Bolivar said is true. That is, that the US had been created by providence to make Latin America destitute in the name of liberty. He believes it. I think his biggest mistakes in foreign policy is to feel that his mission is to destroy American imperialism.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation): The history…I mean the history of the US`s relationship with Latin America, is full of traumas…of lack of understanding…and often, full of outrages. For example, in the 20th century there were invasions. Since the `50s, and before that, but we won`t go that far back. Jacobo Arbenz` Guatemala, for example. In Fidel Castro`s Cuba, there is still an embargo. There`s Noriega`s Panama, Haiti, Granada, Dominican Republic…That`s history.
The difference between Venezuela and all these countries is oil. Venezuela is the US`s number two oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. It`s partly his country`s oil that allows Chavez to assert a very independent foreign policy. Chavez is Fidel Castro`s most important ally in Latin America. Cuba, blockaded by US sanctions, gets cheap oil from Venezuela. Chavez and Castro are very close – revolutionary brothers in arms. In August 2000, Chavez went so far as to pay his respects to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. This was the first visit to Iraq by a foreign head of government since UN sanctions were imposed in 1990. He also dropped in on Gaddafi as part of his world tour to increase oil prices.
DENNIS JUTT: We have a person who is basically unstable and, I think, a threat to his own country, let alone a threat to American interests.
Washington may be worried about Chavez, but the world`s developing nations love him. Earlier this year, he was invited to lead the Group of 77, the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations. Chavez has arrived at the UN in New York to assume the presidency.
HUGO CHAVEZ SPEAKING TO UN DELEGATES (Translation): We begin the century with war drums and the horrors of terrorism, but there`s also the daily terrorism of poverty, of hunger, of children who die of malnutrition, in their thousands around the world, or threats of new conflicts – these are very powerful reasons, brothers and sisters, for the world to have a debate.
Chavez has come to New York to challenge the free market policies imposed by the Unites States, World Bank and IMF. He claims they maintain a global hegemony at the expense of developing nations.
HUGO CHAVEZ ADDRESSING UN DELEGATES: It`s not true that the invisible hand of the market will solve the ills of the world. That`s absolutely false! It`s a disastrous idea. We`ve seen how neo-liberalism, in just a few years, is threatening to finish off entire countries.
Chavez`s request to pay his respects at Ground Zero was declined, but the University of New York has invited him to speak. Even here, he gets a noisy reception.
(Man plays Venezuelan national anthem on clarinet.)
Like Fidel Castro, the President has a reputation for giving long speeches.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation): Well, I was asked to be brief… We`ve had some problems for the positions we have taken. But we`re a sovereign country, and we put it into practice! Venezuela is not subject to any ruling from any power centre in the world.
WOMAN IN UNIVERSITY AUDITORIUM: I invited a lot of my friends to come and some of them really weren`t aware of who he is and what`s going on. And I said “Come, because it`s for your sense of history because the US is probably going to assassinate him.”
In fact, as opposition to Chavez mounts, rumours of a coup have been rife.
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation): I don`t believe that the conditions here would allow a repetition of what occurred in Chile with Allende in 1973. Above all, the Chilean armed forces of the time do not resemble at all today`s Venezuelan armed forces. I`m a military man. It`s my background. I know the army, in particular, like the palm of my hand.
VICE ADMIRAL CARLOS TAMAYO (18 February)-(Translation): I publicly reject the conduct of President Chavez and his regime which violates the Constitution of Venezuela.
In recent weeks, several high-ranking officers have called for the President to stand down.
VICE ADMIRAL CARLOS TAMAYO: I reject the persistent attitude of President Chavez in dividing the Venezuelan people. I reject the sharp deterioration in international relations with our traditional allies in favour of seeking links with non-democratic regimes.
It`s February 4, and Chavez is commemorating the 10th anniversary of his failed coup as a national holiday. He arrives in Caracas at the end of his 4-day tour around the country. This is the show of support that the beleaguered President needed.
REPORTER: What were your feelings at that moment?
HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation): Victory. It was like when Jesus entered Jerusalem and upon hearing the shouts of the people, someone told him “Lord, make them be quiet.” And Jesus replied “What for? If they were quiet, the stones would shout!” So there was joy even from the stones, even from the mountains, the trees and the jungle! There was national jubilation!
DR EDMUNDO CHIRINOS (Translation): I think that`s the glory Chavez will want to leave behind. No economic benefits for him, nor wealth aborad…and I can`t imagine him in exile or in jail. I imagine him dying in the streets of Caracas.
DENNIS JUTT: Obviously, democracy is important to us and we believe in elected leaders and I think now, perhaps Washington will work to do things behind the scenes to promote a democratic transition. They don`t want to turn Chavez into a hero, or a victim, or a martyr, even though he often alludes to how much he would like to be all three, so it`s a difficult policy situation for Washington to deal with.
When his coup failed, he vowed that the setback was only “por ahora” – “for now”. And this has become the President`s defiant slogan – “por ahora, y para siempre” – “for now and for always”.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Viva la revolution!