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Maduro Speaks; Imagine a World

Aired March 7, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to a special edition of our program from Caracas, Venezuela. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And this week, as you can see, decked out in the red, the banner color of the Chavista masses, one side of Venezuela pays tribute one year after the death of Hugo Chavez here at his hilltop mausoleum, as his successor, Nicolas Maduro, pays tribute. They remain fiercely loyal to his legacy, while the other side of this deeply polarized nation protests that legacy and Maduro's policy. This is the worst disturbance to rock Venezuela in a decade, powered by anger at soaring crime rates, high inflation, mounting poverty and chronic shortages of basic goods, all as this nation sits atop the world's biggest oil reserves.

A leading opposition figure has been jailed, hundreds of troops have been deployed and almost 20 people have been killed.

President Maduro seems to be weathering this storm so far, but for how long? I sat down with him here at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas for an exclusive and rare interview as he approaches one year in office.


AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you for joining me. Welcome to our program.

NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Thank you for being here with us here in Venezuela.

AMANPOUR: And welcome to CNN, of course.

MADURO (through translator): CNN is always welcome to Venezuela and we are very thankful to see you here so we can talk to the U.S. audience to say the truth of our homeland.

AMANPOUR: Clearly even CNN has been in some trouble over the past few weeks here, a lot of the foreign press and also members of the Venezuelan press.

And there have been dozens, maybe 70 members of the press, who have been arrested, been targeted during these demonstrations.

Would you say now that the press is welcome to do their work here?

MADURO (through translator): Always. It's been always the case and it will be the case.

AMANPOUR: That's great.

So just to be clear, you yourself criticized CNN in Espanol. Are you now saying that you guarantee the security of all the press here?

MADURO (through translator): As always and we have always guaranteed the freedom of the press now.

In the case of CNN in Spanish, it's a different thing. I've opened a debate with them, a democratic debate.

I've given them my opinions because I think the role they are fulfilling or their role they fulfilled two weeks ago regarding Venezuela was a very harmful and dangerous role for Venezuela because they were promoting a foreign intervention in our country.

They were selling a false idea of the situation in the country. And they were inciting a revolt against the concierge (ph) government. I gave a public warning as a part of the democratic debate.

And I think they have changed, partially changed. They have rectified. And I welcome that change.

AMANPOUR: As a member of CNN, I want to assure you that CNN is an independent network and that all our correspondents and producers report the truth. So I'm very glad that you say you will guarantee their security from here on in and that of the other press as well.

But let me ask you, you are facing now some of the worst violence and disturbance in Venezuela in the last 10 years. Even this week, when we were watching you pay tribute to President Chavez after his one-year anniversary of his death, you again criticized the opposition and you called them fascists; you called them extremists.

Is that really what you think about them?

MADURO (through translator): That's an excellent question. A vast majority of the opposition is part of the mood, the democratic group.

And through electoral means, they have tried to change the government and they have participated in elections; they have deputies and they have tried through democratic means to present the program to the country.

However, this opposition participated in the coup attempt against President Chavez in 2002 in April. They attempted another coup d'etat in December 2002, 2003. They attempted a similar action like today to provoke violence for another coup d'etat against President Chavez in 2004. They are trying to get rid of that past, of that record.

But I say that today you should know in the U.S. and your audience of this prestigious show that those who have started this violent plan is a minority, is a tiny group.

AMANPOUR: In this country, polarization has been emblematic of politics for many, many years; while you have supporters, the Chavistas, the Chavismo movement, there are also a huge amount of people who oppose your policies and that was reflected in the last elections. It was quite close, the last elections.

Is there something that you can say, looking into our camera, to the opposition, something about unity, something about trying to unify the country?

MADURO (through translator): First of all, regarding polarization, in all democracy there are poles and there is a debate of ideas. In the U.S., you have the Democrats and the Republicans, right?

You mentioned that I won elections with this short margin, as could happen in any country. But 1.5 percent of difference. And look what I did. Look what I did.

Immediately, I called upon the mayors, governors of the opposition. We met in December twice, in January. We were drafting a plan. The plan was ready to fight crime, drug trafficking, a global plan.

And all of a sudden, there was this call to go against the rule of law, a coup d'etat, the right-wing extremists, and this postponed all the plans that we had as plans through national dialogue that I convened.

AMANPOUR: Yet again, you turn; again, you call them radicals, extremists.

Brazil, you saw how they dealt with their mass protests. They tried to fix things. They've tried to answer the demands of the protesters.

And you keep calling them fascists.

So my question is, A, how is this going to end?

And, B, do you worry that this democratic legitimacy that you claim will be forfeited because so much power has been accumulated in the presidency, in the executive? The judiciary doesn't have much say; the legislative doesn't have much opposition representation, nothing meaningful.

The independent press is censored. All of this, people say, is actually moving towards a dictatorship, not towards a more evolved democracy.

Are you concerned about forfeiting your democratic legitimacy?

MADURO (through translator): What is concern -- my concern is this present democracy. These accusations have been made for 50 (ph) years and they crashed against the reality (INAUDIBLE). Tell me the country in the world with 19 elections in 50 (ph) years.


AMANPOUR: But it's not just elections, sir. You know that. You won your election. But it's not just elections. I'm talking about what happens in governance, of the accumulation of power after election.

MADURO (through translator): Well, it is important to have elections.

AMANPOUR: Of course.

MADURO (through translator): Democracy --

AMANPOUR: But it's also important what to do after --


MADURO (through translator): We have a democracy strengthened at all levels.

You know why democracy is so strong in Venezuela? Because none of those -- who have been leaders of these powers, we are not -- like we don't -- we do not belong to international companies or a weapon company or an oil company. I'm not a business man who came here to enrichen a group, economic group or another economic group. I am an independent president.

You ask me how -- what will be the next situation, the victory of the constitution, of the people against those attacking us. It is not true that we consider all the oppositions fascists. That's not true.

AMANPOUR: In that case, will you let Mr. Leopoldo Lopez out of prison?

MADURO (through translator): That is in the hands of the prosecution's office and the treatment as the -- in the --

AMANPOUR: But if protesters are allowed in your constitution, why is he in prison?

MADURO (through translator): Well, because society has the right to peace because the constitution has mechanisms to defend.

AMANPOUR: He's called for peaceful protests.

MADURO (through translator): Well, you have to be better informed about what he said. He created a road map to topple the legitimate government. He generated violence. The prosecution's office and the tribunals acted.

And I gave full guarantees and he went to justice, protected by the state, because there were some extreme groups trying to kill him, to generate a greater crisis and greater violence in the country. Thank God his parents, wife heard our voice and allowed him to be protected by the state.

So now he's in jail and he has to do true justice in the U.S., in any other country, they will accept that the leader, any leader of any political group, call -- well, the toppling, the legitimate government, a call for violence in the streets. The guarantee of the peace is to apply the constitution. And this is fully understood by our country.

I've been listening to you say that everything here is to blame by the outside world and that Venezuela's under constant attack from outside.

Let's take a break. We'll discuss that when we come back.


AMANPOUR: So can Venezuela and the United States get over this kind of talk?


HUGO CHAVEZ, FORMER PRESIDENT, VENEZUELA: You are a donkey, Mr. Danger. You are a donkey.

CHAVEZ (from captions): By that I mean, you know, to say it with all its letters, to Mr. George W. Bush.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The big, bad bogeyman to the north, when we come back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Let me ask you about Venezuela's relations with the United States of America. They are very bad. We've heard many, many attacks by President Hugo Chavez on the American presidents and lots of attacks verbally back and forth.

But you have now nominated one of your most able and trusted diplomats to be your next ambassador to the United States.

Are you looking to move forward in this relationship, to change this relationship?

MADURO (through translator): I do not agree with the first part of your question. Our relations with the U.S. are very good.


MADURO (through translator): Very good.

Our relations with the workers, with the trade unions, with the artists, with intellectuals, with the social movements, are --

AMANPOUR: All right. With the government of the United States.

MADURO (through translator): Very good, with the government.

Of the U.S. government, it is well known in the classified Pentagon papers of the CIA, the State Department, WikiLeaks and so on, so forth, and Snowden's paper, there's sufficient evidence of U.S. agencies, of how you have closely conspired to put an end to this revolution, to destroy President Chavez.

We want to have a new type of relation based on respect, equality among states and the recognition of what we are today.

AMANPOUR: Do you really believe they want to reconquer Latin America?

MADURO (through translator): Of course. Of course they do. They want, first of all, the economic control. They have the political control through political classes and elites that govern some of our countries. And they want to have the military control because, regrettably, the U.S. elites, they have projects, tried to establish the hegemony and the control. And in the world of today, it is impossible.

AMANPOUR: Do you have a message for the U.S.?

There's been expelling of diplomats; you did it, they did it. Now you've nominated Mr. Max Arvelaez as your new ambassador to Washington.

What do you hope to see?

What is your message to the United States?

MADURO (through translator): Well, my message is respect, dialogue, that we overcome the visions they have of our country.

Precisely I made a decision to appoint a new ambassador to the U.S., a man that I trust, great diplomat that knows the world, knows very well the U.S. And I'm certain that he will be very helpful to establish new levels of relations.

Don't go to a stalemate, to a blind alley regarding Venezuela and Latin America. Our message to the -- those ruling the U.S., is respect Venezuela, respect Latin America and establish new levels of relation.

AMANPOUR: Again, you're calling right-wing extremists, coup d'etat. There doesn't seem to be a huge space for reunification between your side and the opposition.

Some are saying it needs outside mediation.

MADURO (through translator): Venezuela does not need mediation --


AMANPOUR: How will you fix it, then?

Nobody can see you getting together with the opposition or the other half of the country. And now people are saying it's desperate.

You don't believe you need mediation?

MADURO (through translator): I think that we need is cooperation. We are not in despair.

That's the image broadcast to abroad to try to hit morally a revolution that we are conducting in favor of the poor, of the workers, of the disenfranchised, a revolution that has given public education, a revolution that gave back the right to health to the people, to the poor, to the humble, a revolution that has special plans and guarantees food to all the people.

So Venezuela is not in despair situation as some people try to portray and sell to abroad.

AMANPOUR: You say that and it's true that Venezuela sits on the world's biggest oil reserves, and you're a major oil exporter.

But part of these protests are because of the soaring crime rate, soaring inflation, poverty.

So what do you ascribe to your financial problems right now?

And in the last year or so, all the indicators have been going down. I can show you all the charts. Your own vice president for the economy -- and I'll quote -- says, "At least 30 percent of the dollars disbursed by the government were diverted from their original purpose."

MADURO (through translator): That is correct. And we have denounced this.

But I can tell you this, as a framework of your question, because you are overwhelmed with information and you languish (ph) with so much information. I can tell you this, over the last years, Venezuela has had, over the last 50 (ph) years, it blows itself expansion. We went from a GDP of $90 billion to a GDP of $400 billion.

Go to the streets. Talk to the workers.

AMANPOUR: We have.

MADURO (through translator): Go out. Our children have the public and free education guarantee.

United States, do you have the public education for the children and the youth in the U.S.? No. Our people have public health, guaranteed public health, free of charge.

Do you have that in the U.S.?

Try to understand in the U.S., try just a little bit, that here we are building a different social economic model, different from yours. Try to open your mind, a dialogue of culture, of civilization, try to understand what we are doing here is different.

AMANPOUR: We fully understand that. We fully understand that. It's just the results, 56 percent inflation, triple what you had even a year or so ago.

So my question is, number one, is the private sector the enemy here?

Does government take any responsibility or bear any responsibility for mismanagement of the economy and, as I say, your massive oil reserves?

And do you think you dare reform? Because reforms would hurt the very people you've been helping all these years.

Do you take any responsibility at all?

MADURO (through translator): Yes. I have responsibility of all that is happening in my country. That's why I'm a president. I assume the responsibility.

All countries have problems. You cannot pretend that's because today you have a problem related to inflation or in two years' time there is -- will be a problem regarding prices of the sale of products in -- abroad, that the time has come to topple the government and so on, so forth.

No, it's not a thing -- matter of -- to protest because we guarantee the right to protest. And every single year, there are a number of protests in the country, no problem.

We are facing right now an attack, simultaneous attacks of factors of the economy, of the -- of politics. And the law (ph) is so strong that it has continued at its own pace.

I could give you two elements, because you do -- you mentioned some data.

First data, unemployment has dropped structurally over the last decade from 25 percent of open unemployment and now it's less than 10 percent. Those are complete data of the social economic reality of Venezuela.

Same thing, the extreme poverty, extreme poverty in the '90s was 35 percent, 40 percent. During the revolution it's been taken to 6 percent extreme poverty.

And my goal is zero extreme poverty in 2019 and we will meet that goal. That's the data of reality. We have the capacity to withstand the attack and maintain the life conditions of our people.

AMANPOUR: We're going to take a break. When we come back, I want to talk more about Hugo Chavez.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

I want to ask you finally, President Chavez was a giant figure.

How difficult is it for you to fill his shoes? How tough is it to do that?

MADURO (through translator): Very tough. Very tough. It's very tough for all of us not to have him physically here with us, not only painful because President Chavez was a very humane man, lovely, very effective (ph) man, very authentic man in everything he said and did with a lot of passion for our homeland, for the ideals of Bolivar. And it is very difficult to all of us.

AMANPOUR: And finally, what keeps you up at night? What worries you?

MADURO: Ah ,me?



MADURO (through translator): Oh, I sleep very peacefully. I have no problems to get to -- I sleep like a child.


MADURO (through translator): And luckily, I'm at peace of mind, total peace of mind. And I do so, and I have it because I know I've been loyal. And I'm fulfilling with the legacy of this marvelous giant figure who is President Chavez. And it give me a lot of peace of mind.

And I do things with honesty to favor our people. I do not nothing for my own profit. The only one governing me is my conscience and the Venezuelan people.

AMANPOUR: President Maduro, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

MADURO (through translator): Thank you. Always welcome.


AMANPOUR: And that's it for the special edition of our program from Caracas. Remember you can always contact us at, and you can see my whole interview with President Maduro online. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I'm Christiane Amanpour, saying goodbye from Venezuela.