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Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Constitution; Guns in America

Aired January 9, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Venezuela's once invincible strongman will miss his own inauguration tomorrow. But the Hugo Chavez show will go on. Even though he's with his friends, the Castros in Cuba, where he lies sick -- some say dying of cancer -- a few hours ago the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled that he can be inaugurated later.

The national assembly says it'll wait until the president recovers. And meantime, Chavez's handpicked vice president, Nicolas Maduro, will run the government.

Not so fast, says the opposition. They are crying foul, setting the stage for a major internal political battle and a constitutional crisis in Venezuela. Could Chavez have foreseen all of this? The last time he was seen in Venezuela he sang a love song to his country just before leaving for treatment in Cuba.




AMANPOUR: He can surely carry a tune. But will he be able to carry out his duties?

So what happens next? In a moment, I'll talk to Maria Corina Machado, a former presidential candidate and a member of the opposition.

But first, here's a looking at what's happening later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Keeping our eye on America's gun epidemic, one tough mayor has a cure for his tough town.

And while Venezuela fights for its future, imagine keeping its children safe and hopeful one joyous note at a time.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first we go straight to Caracas in the midst of a constitutional crisis. We have repeatedly asked for a government representative to appear on this program, but so far they haven't agreed. We turn now to Maria Corina Machado, a member of the opposition in Venezuela's national assembly and a former presidential candidate.

Ms. Machado, thank you so much for joining me. Let me ask you first directly, do you agree with what the Supreme Court has ruled, that the constitution says that the vice president can carry out the rules of the president?

MARIA CORINA MACHADO, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER: Absolutely not. It unfortunately violates severely constitution. It is important to be aware that, in a democracy. We, the citizens, everybody have the right to know about the health of our president. It is a matter of public interest. It has consequential consequences in respect to our constitution.

And today the fact is, the truth is that in Venezuela, we do not know who is running the presidency, who is in charge of the government at this point.

AMANPOUR: Well, who do you think is in charge? Clearly the Supreme Court has said that it is the vice president, the handpicked vice president of Hugo Chavez. Do you not agree that it is the Chavez loyalist, the vice president who is in charge?

MACHADO: Absolutely not. Our constitution is clear, Article 231 states that the six-year term ends tomorrow and a new term starts. And it starts with the president taking the oath. As it happens in every other democracy, you know, in our hemisphere, even if it's a reelection, the government, the president has to take oath. And a new government, a new administration starts tomorrow.

The president's cabinet and the vice president's mandates end. They stop being public officials. So our constitution states that in this case, the president-elect cannot take charge, take oath. It is the president of the national assembly, the president of our Congress that should be in charge of the president. It doesn't do that.

He is violating the constitution.

AMANPOUR: Well, what is this going to mean? Do you foresee instability? Is this going to be as we've suggested a major political battle? Or will it be Chavez and Chavismo, business as usual?

MACHADO: Well, that's a really good question because actually what the constitution states, the constitutional root way (ph) keeps the power in the hands of Chavismo because the president of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, is a member of Chavismo.

So what (inaudible) everybody asks if this is what constitutional, what's legal keeps the power in the hands of the Chavistas, why violate the constitution at this point?

And of course, the solution, the answer to this question is that this proves there are serious divisions, serious mistrusts among several groups that are a part of the Chavistas and his is a decision that was clearly taken by -- in Cuba by the Cubans.

AMANPOUR: I mean, we haven't got a government representative on. As I say, they haven't agreed to be on. But obviously they have a different interpretation of the constitution.

But you said, as a democracy, we need to know the state of the health of our president. Some lawmakers are considering sending a medical team to Cuba. Do you think that's really realistic? Do you think you'll really get to see him? Do you, frankly, think that he's alive?

MACHADO: Well, the fact -- the state of the things you said, Cubans, Brazilians, even Americans have more information than Venezuelans about the health of our president. The Supreme Court should by constitution send a medical team that creates trust in all citizens in order to know if the president is actually capable to reassume his duties in a short term.

In that case, our (inaudible) to talk about a temporary (inaudible). Or if the president is not (inaudible) of coming back and taking charge, then we should have an absolute assent (ph) and elections should take place in 30 days.

But in any event, in any event, it is the president of the national assembly who should take charge. If on the contrary what the Supreme Court just decided takes place and President Maduro stays as -- and Vice President Maduro stays as in this charge, this would be infringing authority and all decisions taken by this government would be null and void.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, you're setting the stage for certainly instability and political -- and political infighting. But do you think that if there are elections, who would the opposition feel? Would it be the previous candidate, Capriles, who came so close, closer than any other opposition candidate in the elections in October?

MACHADO: Well, the important thing is that all the world, and especially Venezuelans, can be assured that there will be unity among the democratic forces in Venezuela. Whoever is the candidate will have the support of all of us. And most important thing is that those elections take place under totally different circumstances than the ones we had in October.

We demand for free, fair, just, transparent elections, which we have not had in the past in Venezuela. And that is the only way we could have stability, we could have governability and we can have -- and we can offer peace and prosperity not only to Venezuela but to the whole region.

AMANPOUR: Tell me what's actually going on in Venezuela right now. I read that the national television is around the clock with pictures of President Chavez, with his speeches, with keeping his presence alive in the public mind. I read that the troops have been sent by the vice president to guard various food network distributions.

Is there a sense of siege? I mean, what's going on? Why does this have to happen?

MACHADO: It is very hard for us to convey to the rest of the world the kind of control that this government has taken, not only of the institution and (inaudible) but of the media.

The way the government orders all public and private television and radio stations to broadcast the messages of the government at prime time every day and the way hate and aggression and violence is sent to everybody that dissents.

So the (inaudible) environment of fear to dissent, to raise your voice in order to have the constitution be respected but to have humans' rights respected (inaudible) it's huge in our country.

AMANPOUR: Ms. Machado, we have a picture here. You can't see it, but it's a picture of Hugo Chavez with a baseball jersey. It says "99" on it. That was the year that he was elected. He's smiling; everybody seems to be happy.

Do you remember those days and what happened? Did you have any hope that perhaps he would have been a different president?

MACHADO: Well, Hugo Chavez had all the opportunities that no previous president had had to create a prosperous and fair country. He had had that, 40 years of the oil boom that was never seen in our history. He had the support and the trust and the (inaudible) of the vast majority of Venezuelans.

And he had the control of the public powers. He decided to stay in power over any means. He decided to dominate our society. (Inaudible) the poor but actually Venezuela is getting poorer and more violent every day. So this is the huge lesson for us. Democracy and freedom has to be fought for every day by every generation.

And we need to create a country (inaudible) true inclusion (ph) and respect for humans' rights and opportunity is offered to all of us. This is a great lesson that we have learned. Those (inaudible) myself and we're growing (ph) democracy but it's not realized the importance to strengthen institutions and to strengthen a culture of democracy, of respect and of growth.

And that's a great lesson for the years to come. I believe that Venezuelans' love for freedom and justice will overcome the situation. And we will be a stronger society, a stronger democratic society in the future.

AMANPOUR: Maria Corina Machado, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

And we apologize for some of those technical difficulties, but when we come back, we will turn to the fight over guns right here in the United States. And we'll look for a glimmer of hope in the hardscrabble town of Jersey City, New Jersey, where one tough mayor is making tough and sensible choices to end the plague of gun violence. And he's getting results. That story when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. After the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, we promised on this program to keep an eye on the ongoing story of guns in America. And in less than four weeks since those children and their educators were murdered, about 643 more people have been killed here in the United States.

Frustration is building on all sides of this argument. Internationally known comedian Jon Stewart, who often has the truest pulse of the nation, has this take on the National Rifle Association's spokesman, Wayne LaPierre.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, PRESIDENT, NRA: Gun control, it's not going to make any kid safer. We got to get to the real problem, the real causes.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": We are a nation of overreactors to everything. We have step-by-step childproofed this entire country.


STEWART: Football stadiums have giant nets behind the goalposts so you don't get hit by the ball you're supposed to be watching. We can't do anything about this?


AMANPOUR: Well, it seems some people are doing something about this. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head two years ago, is using this anniversary to launch a national campaign that will directly face off against the NRA.

Vice President Joe Biden is about to deliver his recommendations to the president on what should be done about this issue.

And on the streets of America's cities, some mayors are leading the way towards common-sense solutions to this gun plague.

Mayor Jerramiah Healy of Jersey City, New Jersey, has been at the forefront and he joins me right now.

Welcome to the program.

JERRAMIAH HEALY, MAYOR OF JERSEY CITY, N.J.: Thanks for inviting me, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: You have heard over and over again the NRA and their adherents saying that it is people, not guns, that kill; that gun control will not stop this plague of gun violence.

Do you believe that?

HEALY: No, I don't believe it. I believe the less guns that we have on the streets of our city, in the households of our cities, I firmly believe the safer our city is going to be. And our beef is we don't -- we don't want to take guns from hunters. We don't want to take guns from collectors, sharpshooters and marksmen, what have you.

There are just weapons out there and they've been used time after time after time, assault weapons, magazines that hold clips of 30 and more rounds of ammunition. No hunter, no collector, no target shooter has any reason to have those weapons. They were all banned up until about eight years ago. The bans expired. We'd like to get them back in place.

AMANPOUR: While we figure out whether that's even a possibility, what are you doing on the streets of Jersey City? You had a buyback program.

HEALY: Yes. We've run about four or five gun amnesty, gun buyback programs over the course of the last 7-8 years in Jersey City. We just did on Saturday, in fact, over a 4-hour period at one of our churches provided a voluntarily venue. We brought in 164 guns in a matter of four hours at no cost to the taxpayers.

It's funded by private donations from citizens, businesses. We had about 15 J.C. police officers out there who were monitoring the whole thing and making sure it was done right and safely. They worked volunteer without the -- without any salary. So we've done a lot. We've done everything that we can do. We passed ordinances in New Jersey --

AMANPOUR: Is that a lot, taking in that number of guns in that period of time?


HEALY: (Inaudible) four hours at one location, I think it was --

AMANPOUR: So you say it's a success?

HEALY: Yes, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: And this is not the first time you've done it?

HEALY: No, we've done it -- that's probably the fourth one we've done.

AMANPOUR: But how do you explain that Jersey City has a very high homicide rate?

HEALY: First of all, I would argue that that's inaccurate. In fact, for the year 2012, the stats just came in. We have the lowest homicide rate since records were kept. They started being kept in 1969.

This year we had 13 homicides; one homicide is one too many, of course. But for a city of our size, right outside of New York City, you know, in an urban area, that's a very -- you know, that's a -- we're very happy about that, of course. The police are going to work to make it as safe as possible. One is too many. But we had 13.

AMANPOUR: Vice President Biden is looking at all sorts of options. He's bringing everybody to the table. He's bringing the NRA representatives to the table.

Do you fear that you will be NRAd? People like you who are taking these measures, like other legislators have been, we had a guest on a few weeks ago, Tennessee state legislator, who was an upstanding member of the NRA, praised by them, got all sorts of kudos and then was blacklisted and run out of office because she dared to question one issue.

Do you fear -- you're a politician; you need votes.

HEALY: I'm not in an area where the NRA is going to have any serious (inaudible). We've been sued. I've been sued.

The city's been sued by the NRA because of our city ordinances and the laws that we've brought down to Trenton that are now the laws of the State of New Jersey, restricting -- even more restricting handgun purchases and the obligation to report a gun that's lost or stolen. That's now a law of the State of New Jersey, through our efforts here in Jersey City.

So I'm in something of a good position in that we don't have to worry about the influence of the NRA and the gun lobby has in the city of Jersey City.

AMANPOUR: And your fellow mayor here in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg, he feels exactly the same way as you do. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, is right now talking about his proposals for tough new gun laws.

Do you think nationally, do you think the vice president and this commission that the president has asked for, does it have a hope of making a dent in this? Or is it going to be politics as usual?

HEALY: As -- listen, two months ago, I would have said I don't think there's much chance of any kind of success. But as one of the parents of those poor youngsters up in Newtown, Connecticut, said, if we can get a national -- because it's really -- it's a national plague that requires a national cure, a federal cure.

One of the parents said if we can get meaningful, substantive gun regulation such as the items we talked about, banning assault weapons, banning these multi-bullet magazines, closing the gun show loophole, if we can achieve something like that, then, this person said, I feel my child will not have died in vain.

Now that's a horrible price to pay. But that's what one of the parents in Newtown, Connecticut, said.

AMANPOUR: And you believe -- I mean, again, you're a politician. You know how these things work. Do you believe the focus will be on, that this really is a turning point, because as some people said, everybody in the NRA, for instance, the leadership is hoping that, you know, people will avert their eyes once this all calms down and the pressure will be off then.

HEALY: Avert their eyes once again, because this is, you know, it just happens and happens and happens and happens. And the truth is if we did have those multimagazine bans in place, the assault rifle bans in place and a -- close the gun show loophole, that if people go into a gun show and buy -- anybody can go in and buy whatever they want with no background check.

If we just close those -- pass legislation along those lines, a lot of these people would not be gone today. They would be alive. You can't stop a maniac from going in with a handgun or a rifle. But they can only get off one or two rounds before something happens.

These things you can spray, you know, a theater, a street, a school and that's what happened to the Congress lady out in the -- in Tucson. It was all those types of weapons.

AMANPOUR: Well, you have a tough job. Mayor Healy, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

HEALY: My pleasure, Christiane, thanks.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

And gun violence, of course, is not unique to the United States. In Venezuela, over 50 people are murdered on average every day. In fact, in Latin America, even though so-called good guys with guns facing off against bad guys with guns have made that region much more dangerous and much less sane according to research. But for hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, young people, there is a safe haven, and that is the orchestra pit. The infectious fun of making music, when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, while Venezuela faces uncertainty and even instability, in the absence of Hugo Chavez, the country does have one natural resource that inspires the world. It's called El Sistema, and it's a national musical program.

It began almost 40 years ago in the mean streets of the capital, Caracas, with only 11 children, a way to keep them safe and to create a sense of community and personal dignity.

Today, almost 400,000 children participate in El Sistema's many youth orchestras and choirs. And its musical model has been exported to 25 different countries, creating world-class musicians and responsible citizens in every walk of life.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): That's the renowned conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, and he's just one of the kids who grew up on El Sistema. And we leave you tonight with its irresistible message of exuberance and hope.