Citing security threats, the Venezuelan president last week canceled a planned visit to New York. Meanwhile U.S. intelligence officers are lobbying charges that it is Chavez who is harboring Islamic fundamentalists in Venezuela. We talk to Venezuelan ambassador Bernardo Alvarez. [Includes transcript]
Click here to read to full transcript Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week called on the United States to crack down on what he described as Cuban and Venezuelan terrorists training in Florida to kill him.
Last week Chavez canceled a planned trip to the United States because of security threats.
Meanwhile a recent report in US News and World Reports tiled "Terror Close to Home" charges that Venezuela is emerging as "a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere." The article claims Chavez has provided assistance to Islamic fundamentalists.
The magazine claims that Venezuela has given social security-like cards to thousands of foreigners including many from Middle Eastern nations including Syria, Pakistan, Egypt and Lebanon. The U.S. government has warned that by giving out these ID documents, terrorists could more easily obtain Venezuelan passports and U.S. visas.
US News and World Reports also claims that US intelligence officials are investigating whether a Venezuelan of Arab descent named Hakim Mamad al Diab Fatah had ties to any of the Sept. 11 hijackers. One official described him as a person of interest.
The article goes on to claim close ties between Chavez’s government and the Colombian rebel group FARC.
- Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela Ambassador to the U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!.
BERNARDO ALVAREZ: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you start off telling us why president Chavez did not come as was planned to the United Nations to address the general assembly?
BERNARDO ALVAREZ: Well, you know, there are of course always evaluations that the head of state, in that case the information we have from the palace, in Venezuela, that there were some security concerns. And that came along with few months ago and recently there were some reports in Florida newspapers all for former Venezuelan military and training camps in Florida, this is what the newspapers said. I don’t know to, promote invasion to, promote any actions against Venezuela. We have sent the U.S., ambassador that information and we are waiting for response from the U.S. government.
If you remember few months ago there was a report that an organization called Judicial Watch was suing the Venezuelan government on behalf of the victims of September 11th because they say that president Chavez has given a million dollars to Al Qaeda. Venezuelan ambassador to India came here to the U.S. to United Nations to Washington and even to Miami to present the proof that we in fact gave a million dollars to the United Nations office for the refugees.
Totally the contrary. And we also get that information to the F.B.I. and we’re still waiting for an investigation from the F.B.I. because that was some news coming from the people in Florida.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you give us your reaction to these sensational charges in U.S. news and world report that Venezuela has come in essence a hot bed for terrorists from other parts of the world to stay in your country now.
BERNARDO ALVAREZ: When you look at the article firsthand you think that you are probably looking at movie. I haven’t received any complain or requests of information by the U.S. government. It’s the same format that we have seen lately, for example, margarita island being training camp for the Al Qaeda, whatever it’s like having a terrorist camp in Cancun, Mexico. This is a resort, small island it is not possibility whatsoever to train anybody there. There are no military forces in Margarita Island.
The whole idea that we are able to give I.D.’s to thousand of people from the Middle East and then they get their Visa and come to the U.S. so you probably have to blame the U.S. embassy in Venezuela rather than the Venezuelan government. If you look at that there are no proof and confirmed rumors, same story. What worries us is that they use information supposedly coming from the U.S. officials and this is what we have said. We are not the aggressors here we would like the U.S. government to respond on that because they quote highly credible sources from the political branches of the U.S. government. We have asked through the diplomatic channels the U.S. government to respond from that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the situation right now in Venezuela, the political situation that especially after the Supreme Court there has ordered that the referendum, the recall referendum petition had to be redone by getting new signatures. What has been the situation as the opposition in their attempt to gather new signatures for new attempt at a recall?
BERNARDO ALVAREZ: Yes, I think in the situation after the March, because we cannot forget that members of the opposition we have said that there are important non-democratic groups in the opposition. They try to stop the country. They tried to stop oil production which is the heart of the Venezuelan economy. And we have been recovering from that economic damages. And we have been stabilizing the political situation. And all we want is that all parties should play keeping in mind constitution so there is not constitutional way out of any political crisis in Venezuela. Now we have an impartial electoral body. Those people looked at the signatures and if you might see that nobody has reacted against that. Because I mean imagine that you are going to recall mandate of an official with signatures that weren’t collected by private firm and they were kept for I don’t know, six months. So I think this is something that is over now. What is important we have electoral body, we have the norms for collecting signatures and there is a constitution. If you allow me, this is one of the points we have been discussing with the U.S. administration because we said the referendum is not the result of any political agreement between the government and the opposition. The president of the Supreme Court came to the U.S. and he said in the case that the government and the opposition should sign a political agreement to hold a referendum, it will be unconstitutional because the referendum is a right of Venezuelan people to recall the mandate of any official elected. Elected official. So what is important now that everything is clear, we have electoral body and there are not only they have been requests for the recall referendum for the president but for state governors, for members of the national assembly. This is what democracy is about.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us. Bernardo Alvarez is the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, again Hugo Chavez who had intended to come to the United Nations last week did not citing security threats.