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Iran and Venezuela's Domestic Crackdowns and International Power Plays
Aired February 21, 2010 - 14:03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama's policy of engagement slams into a wall or two. This week, Venezuela and Iran.
Hello, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.
This week, we focus on two presidents who are cracking down on opposition protestors at home and ignoring President Obama's policy of engagement.
Venezuela faces a severe energy crisis, and that is President Hugo Chavez rallying against a political storm. We'll talk to Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, an opposition leader in Caracas, and an expert on the region.
Plus, remember this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran, and the international community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But Obama's early efforts at engagement with Iran have been derailed by a defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a disputed election. And there's news now that Iran may have a secret program to develop a nuclear warhead for a missile. That is according to the head of the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, in a draft report obtained by CNN on Thursday.
But earlier, we had a U.S. exclusive with Iran's top human rights official.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD JAVAD LARIJANI, SECRETARY GENERAL OF IRANIAN HIGH COUNCIL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Iran is the greatest -- and not only the greatest -- the only democracy in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: We'll be speaking to Mohammad Javad Larijani later in the program.
But we begin with Venezuela. Oil production is sinking there, and inflation is soaring. So, too, is the crime rate. Chavez, though, remains a Bolivarian hero to many, rejecting opposition calls to loosen his grip. Venezuela's ambassador to the United States put forth Chavez's case.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us on this program.
BERNARDO ALVAREZ HERRERA, VENEZUELAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you for having us.
AMANPOUR: You just heard that report from Caracas talking about the unprecedented economic crisis in your country right now and the plummeting levels of satisfaction, should we say. What is President Chavez going to do to redress this problem, for instance, the soaring crime, the insecurity that is affecting many people there right now?
ALVAREZ: Well, first, you know, when you see the situation in Venezuela these days, it's far from being the worst situation in the last decade of Venezuela. If you say -- if you talk about economic growth, if you talk about social inequality, if you talk about inflation, employment, et cetera, the situation is not what has been presented.
AMANPOUR: But do you--
ALVAREZ: Just to give you an example--
AMANPOUR: So you don't -- you don't agree that the -- that the -- that the economy is sort of failing right now and the inflation is soaring?
ALVAREZ: No, no--
AMANPOUR: Inflation is soaring, isn't it?
ALVAREZ: No, but the thing is, you -- we expect the growing -- the growth in Venezuela is expected to be 4.4 percent from now to 2011. And when you take into account that we have gone through a very difficult crisis all over the world -- I mean, Latin America and particularly Venezuela is doing quite well.
If you go to see in the past, in the '80s, the economy of Venezuela grew no more than 2 percent.
ALVAREZ: And if you see, for example, social spending, social spending is 17 percent of GDP. The relation between GDP and debt is 20 percent, and it was 80 percent in the past.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you this, then. You know, obviously, it's a puzzle to many of us who watch, and including many of your own citizens, why then if the economy is as good as you're saying and Venezuela is as oil-rich as it is, why are there these incredible rolling shortages of electricity, shortages of water? I mean, how does that square up, then?
ALVAREZ: Well, let me tell you, there was a recent report by a journalist, a Mexican journalist from La Jornada who went to Venezuela last week, and he reported that there has been some cuts of energy in Caracas for two hours. And when he said what is happening in other countries in the region, including Mexico City, he say I don't understand why we're presenting the situation of like almost a collapse of the energy -- of energy in Venezuela.
This is not the case. We are facing important problems. We have not had rain. We invested basically in hydroelectricity. Seventy-five percent of electricity come from hydro. And we need to adjust that. So we are facing a challenge, but not the kind of collapse or crisis that it has been presented.
AMANPOUR: So the problem, though, is that not many Venezuelans are convinced by the whole environmental problem, as you call it, the shortages of water. They see, according to the polls, anyway, that there is a sort of a lack of infrastructure, a lack of investment, and, again, there are many complaints by Venezuelan citizens on basic attacks on basic freedoms, for instance, freedom to speak and freedom of the press.
RCTV, the independent media, has been yanked from the cable system. Before that, it was yanked from regular television. And people are not happy about that. Why is that happening?
ALVAREZ: Well, the thing is -- you -- you mentioned -- it's like, for example, with corruption, what happened is the -- is a paradox with that. One is the court of Venezuela charged (ph) somebody who is perceived or seen as close to the government is a purge (ph). And if the court charges somebody who is perceived or seen as close to the opposition, it's a cracking down. It's like, you know, the expression of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
AMANPOUR: Another question about the Cubanization of Venezuelan politics, let's say. Again, many Venezuelans are worried about the number and the prominence of Cuban advisers, whether it's in the police, the army, in health care, the intelligence service from Cuba.
Why is that necessary in Venezuela today?
ALVAREZ: Well, look, Christiane -- and I would like -- you know, I think you should go there and see with your own eyes, because obviously the reports that you are getting is only one side of the story. What we have in a lot of Cubans in Venezuela is in the medical sector. We have more than 20,000 doctors in Venezuela working in poor neighborhoods.
And even in the past presidential election, the candidate from the opposition, he said that he was going to keep the doctors because those doctors are loved by the population. This is a number of Cubans that we have there.
We have long cooperation, a very large cooperation with Cuba in many areas, sport, medicine, in sugar cane, in many other -- in many other areas, and people only concentrate in people that might be helping us -- be helping us in other areas. But the -- the -- the important participation of Cubans in Venezuela is in the medical sector.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, we can follow that up a little later in all the other sectors, as well, but where do you see the president leading the country over some of these very difficult challenges over the next year or so?
ALVAREZ: In the -- we had had a major challenge with the financial system, because last year, there was a lot of private bankers that went out of the compensation, and we have to intervene.
We have been able to solve that problem. Ninety-five percent of the accounts or saving accounts or current account holders, they have guaranteed their money. We have recuperated all those banks, and they're working normally. So we have gone through this process of the financial situation.
Regarding energy, we are even going to invest more than $1 billion this year, and we are incorporating 4,000 megawatts. And we have a lesson that we have learned, and the lesson is that we have to become less dependent of hydroelectricity. We are having a lot of help from Brazil. They had the same problem two years ago. And they are helping us minimizing consumption to get through this crisis.
And then we are preparing ourselves for the elections in -- the parliamentary elections in September in a normal situation (ph).
AMANPOUR: And everybody will be paying close attention. Ambassador Alvarez, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from Washington today.
ALVAREZ: Thank you, Christiane. Bye-bye.
And next, can President Chavez deflect blame for his country's economic troubles? That's when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): He attended "Alo Presidente" nervous, but determined. Gathering his courage, he tried to tell the president that most of the residents of Federico Quiroz (ph) would not agree to relocate and if he, the president, had been told otherwise, he had been deceived.
The president barely heard him out. He couldn't have been deceived. There was no way. Where did he get that idea?
NELSON MORA, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER (through translator): At that moment, I felt bad. I closed my eyes and felt tears. And I said, "My god, why does the president treat me like this, the commander-in-chief, the leader of this process?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suspect, he said, that Nelson Mora might be defending other interests. In other words, he was an infiltrator because here he was attacking and throwing stones at everybody, at "Alo Presidente," at Chavez, at the ministers, everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was a clip from the documentary "The Hugo Chavez Show" produced by Ofra Bikel for the "Frontline" program on PBS. It shows the TV show "Alo Presidente," where President Chavez addresses his countrymen.
And joining me now from Caracas is the opposition politician and democracy activist Leopoldo Lopez. He's been banned from running for office. And here in the studio with me is Michael Shifter, director at the Inter-American Dialogue.
Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining me. Let me ask you first, Mr. Lopez: Is there any chance whatsoever that the opposition can make any kind of showing in the upcoming elections? We've heard that the opposition is fragmented and doesn't really have a solid footing right now.
LEOPOLDO LOPEZ, VENEZUELAN DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: Well, to answer that question, one needs to be in context of what's happening in Venezuela. We don't have a normal democracy. We don't have fair play in an electoral process.
The government has progressively taken over the media in order to present messages. The government has progressively taken over different ways of presenting an alternative. And as you said in the clipping, those that are not with the government or share the views of the government are presented as enemies of the republic.
So a government that has control of all the powers of the military, all the petro dollars that are used for campaign without control, that's no fair play for an electoral process.
LOPEZ: However, one needs to say that we have already won elections. We won in 2007 a national election, and we won again in the year 2008. So, yes, we can win if we present the right candidates and if we go knowing that this is David against Goliath, because that's what the show for an election in Venezuela going to be, David against Goliath, or if we have a precise take of this elections, yes, we can win.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Shifter, can David versus Goliath win? And how do you square the fact that Hugo Chavez does remain very popular, despite some of the crackdowns that Mr. Lopez is describing?
MICHAEL SHIFTER, VICE PRESIDENT, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: Well, Chavez is popular because he has an emotional bond with a lot of Venezuelans, and he put his finger on a legitimate grievance in Venezuela, inequality and justice. The problem is, he can't solve the problem. He can't deliver results.
AMANPOUR: Why not?
SHIFTER: So people -- because of the model of governance. He's the only one who makes decisions. He has -- his style has been one of confrontation. There's greater polarization in Venezuela than ever before. Both sides are at each other, and you can't manage an economy, you can't bring a society together if you have that level of confrontation, and that is the -- that, I think, is the core failing of Hugo Chavez.
So he has the bond. He's put his finger on a -- on a grievance. He has the oil money. But there's been a lost opportunity. The results speak for themselves.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Lopez, a lost opportunity from a country which really does have a huge amount of wealth, oil wealth, amongst other things. What are the people saying? Are these polls correct that more and more people are disaffected with the -- the state of the economy, the state of the power outages, water shortages, et cetera?
LOPEZ: Well, certainly. Ten years into a government that has failed to commit to its promise of change 10 years ago is enough for Venezuelans to see that this is not the way to bring about change, not only electricity shortage, water, but also insecurity. I would like to show briefly some figures.
In the year 1998, there were 8,620 homicides. In the year 2009, 19,400 homicides. And that's a change of 125 percent in the amount of Venezuelans that are killed by violence every year here. And that's a reality that the government cannot deny, not only Venezuelans that are being killed in the streets, but they don't have a shot for justice for the families that are being killed.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you a quick--
LOPEZ: So on the one hand, government failure, as Michael Shifter said, I agree with that.
But, on the other hand, you have a government that is progressively going against the basic issues that can call a government a democracy, freedom of speech, freedom to unionize, and other basic aspects that define a democracy.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Mr. Shifter, we briefly touched with Ambassador Alvarez on the issue of Cubanization. Is that as serious a problem as some people inside -- inside Venezuela think?
SHIFTER: Well, the problem with Venezuela, again, is the lack of institutions and lack of capacity. Cuba has a Ministry of Health at least. In Venezuela, the health system is terrible. There are no institutional abilities, and so people are not receiving any benefits.
Clearly, the influence, the effect of Cuba is very, very strong. Cuba needs Venezuela; Venezuela needs Cuba. It gives Chavez a revolutionary carne (ph), his credential, Cuba, and Cubans need the oil and need the money from Venezuela. So there's a mutual need there.
AMANPOUR: But isn't it extraordinary that Cuba, which has a fraction of Venezuela's wealth, is apparently propping up the government so significantly in all the basic services, even in police reform, in the military doctrine?
SHIFTER: Cuba's expertise is in control, and that's what Chavez needs right now, so that's what the Cubans are providing. Venezuela is worried about losing control. The problems are mounting. The decay is deepening. And so the Cubans are coming in to shore them up.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Lopez, I know you sound optimistic. You talk about playing David to Goliath. But how optimistic can you be if there is such a controlled atmosphere in Venezuela? How can even a David play any real role in elections?
LOPEZ: Well, since the time of David -- and we won't be the first society that can overcome a dictator-type government. We won't be the first society to overcome a society that seeks and its hunger is to control all society in the economy, in the media, and in all government aspects.
What we need to do is to organize ourselves. Yes, we have elections, as we had last year and as we will have next year and the year after. But elections is not enough. We need to organize ourselves in unions, community leaders, and especially -- and I would like to underline this -- especially the young. The young--
LOPEZ: -- have brought up new perspective, new hope for Venezuelans. The young people are not with the government, and we need to organize those three big flows of energy, the union leaders, students, and community leaders--
AMANPOUR: Mr. Lopez--
LOPEZ: -- to bring about change in Venezuela. Change will be possible in Venezuela.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Chavez is very charismatic. He has that bond, as Mr. Shifter has talked about. Who is supporting him? Because he still has support.
LOPEZ: Well, when -- when one can talk about the popularity of our government, I would ask the following questions. Is the government popular when it tries to restrict the message that is being presented to Venezuelans? For example, today, the government has presented the possibility to control Internet access. The government also is controlling, as we said before, the economies, nationalizing, statist view of the economy.
LOPEZ: So when we talk about popularity or not, those are measures that are not taken by a popular government, so I will answer that what the government is doing now is basically going away from measures of popular governments to measures of power-hungry-type governments.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Shifter, is that right? Is he shifting from this popular leader to a -- to an autocrat?
SHIFTER: Well, he is. But I think his base wants to be sure that the opposition doesn't want to go back to the pre-Chavez days, because that -- that is also not the alternative. And I think the challenge for Leopoldo Lopez and other members of the opposition is to show that there's a viable alternative, to show that they're forward-looking, and to unify an opposition to present an alternative platform.
AMANPOUR: Michael Shifter, Leopoldo Lopez, thank you so much, both of you, for joining me on this program.
AMANPOUR: And this debate on Venezuela continues on amanpour.com/facebook. Weigh in on whether you think Hugo Chavez and his supporters will win at the ballot box in September's parliamentary elections.
And next, bear hug diplomacy, and Hugo Chavez is not the only world leader doing it. That's when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Freedom of expression is not negotiable. Freedom itself is not negotiable. The right to work and free enterprise and freedom of association, none of this is negotiable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is not a surprise. The government announced it wants to control all means of communication. They were threatening us. And for now, they achieved what they wanted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: When it comes to Venezuela's foreign policy, President Chavez has made it a very personal manner. Like any president, he's traveled around the world in pursuit of bilateral relations, visits to Moscow to meet the Russian president and prime minister, and to Beijing to meet the Chinese president, Hu Jintao.
But he's reserved his warmest moments for the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, in both Caracas and Tehran. Those visits came amid Ahmadinejad's own diplomatic offensive to win over Latin America's left- leaning leaders, President Lula of Brazil, President Ortega of Nicaragua, and President Morales of Bolivia, all embraced with bear hugs, and all of this, of course, in America's backyard.
To get the inside story on news that we're reporting, follow us at amanpour.com/twitter.
And next, we have more on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his crackdown on democracy protestors at home from a man near the top of Iran's power structure.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. Almost a year after President Obama made an unprecedented video address to the Iranian people, the confrontation between the United States and Iran has ratcheted way up, with both sides now using harsh language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the -- the president, the parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): We don't take her comments seriously. She's secretary of state, and she needs to make comments. But between her comments and the stances of those people around Obama, we find some contradictions all the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Ahmadinejad's comments came after his government staged a show of strength during Revolution Day celebrations in Tehran February 11th and also a new crackdown by police and Basij militia on opposition protestors, all of this as Iran continues to defy the world over its nuclear program, saying that it's accelerating its uranium enrichment and that a new draft from the IAEA saying Iran may be trying to build a nuclear warhead.
These tensions also played out in Geneva, Switzerland, where the Iranian government faced blistering criticism from Western governments on its human rights record.
And earlier, I spoke with Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran's High Council for Human Rights and a member of one of Iran's most powerful political families. I began by asking him about Secretary Clinton's recent comments.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD LARIJANI, SECRETARY GENERAL OF IRANIAN HIGH COUNCIL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Iran is the greatest -- and not only the greatest -- the only democracy in the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton's position is dubious, inconsistent and naive.
On the one hand, she is worried about democracy in Iran. On the other hand, she's offering the most generous military help to states which even they don't run a single election. Which one we should believe, Mrs. Amanpour?
AMANPOUR: Well, I just want to know. Who is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard answerable to?
LARIJANI: Well, they are legally answerable to all legal structures, which they should be. The Revolutionary Guard is part of our defense system. They have a legal status. They are legal command. And they are legally answerable to parliament, to leadership, to government, depending on also to the judiciary. There is no difference--
LARIJANI: -- between a member of the Guard and any other citizen.
AMANPOUR: If you are the most powerful or, as you say, the only democracy, the Islamic democracy in the Middle East, why do you need to crack down on your intelligentsia? What are you afraid of from journalists, from writers, from human rights activists?
LARIJANI: We are not -- definitely not only we are afraid, we are trying to promote those ideas. But everything should be done within the structure of the law. We should -- we should honor the rule of the law and the rules of the game of competition.
Iran is the greatest democracy, as I said, in the Middle East. We have every year one election. So we should definitely safeguard that democratic system. It is an interesting, a very unique experience to build a polity on the Islamic rationality.
AMANPOUR: You're in Geneva defending Iran's human rights, so let's talk about that. Obviously, there's been a huge amount of criticism about what Iran is doing, cracking down on the protestors, et cetera. All the world has seen what's happened, whether it's the beating of protestors on the street, whether it is the show trials, whether it is the imprisonments, whether it's the jailing of more than 90 journalists, the highest number anywhere, according to one of the committees right now.
Why is this happening? And why is due process not being given to these people who you're arresting?
LARIJANI: Nobody is jailed because of the protest. The only reason for jailing is the violence which was attached with the protests, a violence which got the life of more than 20 policemen and 13 civilians and, also, damage to the properties and also of people's life and health.
So the reason for jailing is not the protest. It is the damage and the violence. Any government has a duty to bring an end to the violence. I think the beating of our police is much more less than the New York and Los Angeles police.
AMANPOUR: OK, let me play this sound bite by Iran's Nobel Prize- winner who is Shirin Ebadi, who won the prize for her commitment to human rights, and this is what she's saying about the present-day situation in Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRIN EBADI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER (through translator): The violation of human rights is increasing in Iran day by day, that government violence is increasing day by day, that innocent people are shot on the streets, that people are thrown in prison for even minor criticism of the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So how -- how do you answer that? Because we've certainly seen -- I know you say that people are only being arrested and put on trial for violence, but there are many, many people, including some of our colleagues, journalists, who've been put in jail, for nothing other than just being on the streets, some just as observers.
LARIJANI: No -- no -- no journalist is put in jail because of being journalist, while for inciting violence, yes, they are pursued by the legal structure. And with all the respect I have for Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, but I think her record in defending human rights is very dismal.
She speaks in a language perhaps is more relevant to White House and other capitals in the West. She's totally detached from the people of Iran. She should go to the countryside rural areas to see what is the aspiration of our people.
AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. Larijani--
LARIJANI: -- spend the time in Paris and London.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, you know that she's not there because she's being pursued by the government. I've reported on her work, and some of her--
LARIJANI: She's -- she's--
AMANPOUR: Sir, some of her -- some of her work has led to much more freedom, certainly legally, for some Iranian women and children. But can I move on?
There have obviously been significant numbers of people who've come out protesting the election results in Iran. Now, whatever you might think of that, do they not have a right to do that?
And why are people, for instance, being sentenced to death, again, being put into trial without due process and without proper representation?
I would like to play you a little clip of a speech to Friday prayers that one of the senior Iranian ayatollahs made, Ayatollah Jannati. He was actually speaking to your brother, the chief of the judiciary, and this is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AYATOLLAH AHMAD JANNATI, IRANIAN GUARDIAN COUNCIL CHAIRMAN (through translator): Just as you came and executed these two individuals, very quickly -- and thank you so much for that -- come and stand up like real men. If you show any weakness or hesitation, they will overtake you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So there is a senior ayatollah basically praising the execution of people. There are nine more people sitting, waiting to be executed. I mean, is this Islamic democracy, as you call it?
LARIJANI: Nobody's executed because of demonstration. That two people were even -- they were in detention months before the election. They were responsible for bombing in Shiraz, killing in one mosque at least 14 people. So, yes, we have death penalty for these kind of atrocities.
AMANPOUR: I know what the government has done. As you say, you're giving death penalties and other harsh penalties to what you call enmity towards God.
LARIJANI: For terrorist activities.
AMANPOUR: Enmity towards God. And it seems like a lot of--
LARIJANI: No, no.
AMANPOUR: -- protest is falling into that category.
LARIJANI: No. You should not be mistaken. This is a legal word. Those who start -- indulge themselves in terrorist activities, in the -- with the aim of changing the regime or the government or -- or killing and bringing and damaging the security of the people, this is a legal term. This is a kind of war with God.
If you damage the life of the people, it is a war that is against the will of God. So definitely those who indulge in terrorist activities, they are pursued by law. They will face a very harsh sentence, if it is proved by the court, in fact.
AMANPOUR: All right. What I want to know is why so many people are falling into this new sort of legal parameter and those people who are protesting, are they terrorists?
LARIJANI: No, the protest is not terrorists. To protest is not a terrorist act, quite differentiation between them.
AMANPOUR: OK. We'll continue right after a break. Stay with us, Mr. Larijani.
AMANPOUR: Next, we want to ask Mr. Larijani about the story of a father and a son, a story that brings into start relief the human cost of Iran's post-election crackdown, a father who was loyal to the current regime and his son, who ended up in Iran's Abu Ghraib, the notorious Kahrizak detention center.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Abdul Hossein Ruholamini at the memorial service for his son, Mohsen. The ceremony was broadcast last summer on state TV. When anti-government demonstrations erupted across Iran last summer, the younger Ruholamini was one of the estimated thousands of protestors to be detained. But within weeks of arriving at Kahrizak, he was dead.
Initially, the official cause of death was meningitis. But then the father and influential government insider objected and demanded an official investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This systemic problem has to be corrected. When these problems are corrected, this country will move forward. Everyone in this country belongs to one big family. Their hearts are invested in it. And Mohsen was one of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Abdul Hossein Ruholamini finally received the results of that investigation last month when an Iranian parliamentary commission ruled that the prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, was responsible for three deaths in the Kahrizak detention center, including that of Ruholamini's son, Mohsen.
Now, joining me again is Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights.
Again, let's talk about that case. In retrospect, would you say that the authorities claiming that Mohsen Ruholamini's death was because of meningitis was a mistake, was a gross exaggeration?
LARIJANI: Mr. Ruholamini is a very close friend of mine, and all of us, we are regretting so much that he lost his son. We are not claiming that wrongdoing and unlawful act doesn't happen in Iran. It happens everywhere in the world. Claim to pure perfection definitely is too good to be true.
LARIJANI: But the fact is that, when we discovered that there is some wrongdoing somewhere, like in Kahrizak, it took us -- took us only 48 hours to close it down and indulge in a full investigation of the people who were responsible for that, being the police officer, being the administrator of the detention center, contrary to, for example, Guantanamo, which is still -- it is working.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, Guantanamo Bay was clearly a major problem for the United States. But as you know, the current administration has banned harsh interrogations and torture.
But back to Kahrizak, you said that you had conducted an investigation, within 48 hours the place was closed down, but what about Saeed Mortazavi, the prosecutor general, who was basically deemed responsible by the parliament for several deaths there? What's happened to him? He's still operating.
LARIJANI: This is not the end of a legal process. This may start and give a reason that the legal process should take a closer look, but anything should come out of the legal process.
AMANPOUR: Do you think--
LARIJANI: Being Mortazavi or any other person, they -- we should wait for the result of the legal process and court decision.
AMANPOUR: Do you think -- given the fact--
LARIJANI: Nobody will replace the court and their final decision.
AMANPOUR: OK. The court -- the judiciary is run by one of your brothers, and you are the head of the Human Rights Council in Iran.
Do you believe that the prosecutor who's been accused by a significant parliamentary committee of which another brother of yours is the speaker of the parliament, do you believe that Mr. Mortazavi should be punished, censured, or in some way held accountable for the deaths of those people in Kahrizak prison, which you've had to close down?
LARIJANI: Well, I believe we should do -- we should do our utmost rigorous investigation without any favor to anybody to discover who was and who were responsible for any wrongdoing in that direction, and they should face the harshest possible -- I mean, penalty for their action and punishment.
So it is premature and it is not prudent for me to accuse a person, an individual, on the national TV or in the press, but definitely, I'm one of those people who are pursuing the matter day by day.
AMANPOUR: Let me go back to executions. Iran leads the world -- well, actually, just after China -- in executions.
It also leads the world in juvenile executions. Children who are accused of having committed crimes have been executed once they reach a certain age. But you just told me that executions and the death penalty is reserved for, for instance, terrorists.
LARIJANI: Seventy percent of the death sentences in Iran is for the drug trafficking and narcotic dealing, which, in fact, I am against that law, which says that if somebody carries more than five kilos of opium, he should be punished by death penalties, because this opium is starting from Afghanistan and destinating towards Europe. If Europe is not ready to help in curtailing this movement, why Iran should take the blame and the burden of fighting with narcotic dealers? This is one reason for that.
As far as the juveniles, the death penalty, if their age is less than 15, well, we consider them -- they should not get any capital punishment. Between 15 and 18, there is a dispute among the legal experts in Iran that, are they held responsible for their action or not?
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you one more question about the American hikers who are in jail and who have not been able to see their families or their lawyers. Are you going to allow their families, their mothers to visit them in jail? And how is their trial going to proceed?
LARIJANI: Well, the embassy of Swiss in Tehran, they have -- they have access to legal issues of these people. And recently, they handed me a request that their family wants to visit them, and we are working on that.
AMANPOUR: But why not let them visit them?
LARIJANI: But let me make it clear that -- well, this is the request that I received about a week ago, and I'm working on that, and we should -- I should arrange it with the people, security people and intelligence people, because the question is that whether they -- they were hikers or not.
I -- I feel -- and I wish that they were definitely hikers, but they should be cleared up from moving into Iranian land by citizens of very hostile country toward Iran and in a very volatile area.
So my wish is that -- that they should be totally cleared from these accusations, but they should -- they should go on interrogation. But anyhow, this happened to Iranian people who were hijacked in northern Iraq, and they were detained by months by Americans, and they never let any of their family to have access to them.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
LARIJANI: Thank you. Bye-bye.
AMANPOUR: That was Mohammad Javad Larijani speaking to us from Geneva, Switzerland. And check out our timeline of the turmoil in Iran, chronicling events there since the disputed election last year. All of that is on amanpour.com.
And next, our "Post-Script." How France is trying erase bitter memories in a former colony that's grappling with disaster.
AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script" and an update on Haiti. There must have been memories of a different era in Port-au-Prince this week. A French president arrived in the capital to be greeted by the Haitian president as a band played the French national anthem.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit was the first ever by a French head of state, more than 200 years after Haitians rose up against their French colonial masters and became the world's first independent black republic.
Sarkozy had come to inspect the huge recovery effort after last month's deadly earthquake and to bring a promise of $400 million in aid. It was a far cry from the 1800s, when France punished Haiti for its independence and forced it to pay massive reparations from which it is yet to fully recover.
And that's our report. Thank you for joining us. On weekdays, we have a daily program on CNN International. And you can catch a podcast of that broadcast every day on amanpour.com/podcast. For now, goodbye from New York.