In an interview with BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he would ask the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to set the long-term price of oil at $50 a barrel. Palast reports that analysis by the US Department of Energy shows that Venezuela–not Saudi Arabia–could have the biggest oil reserves in the OPEC. [includes rush transcript]
In Venezuela, the country is commemorating the fourth anniversary of a failed coup to overthrow democratically elected president Hugo Chavez.
On April 11, 2002 Chavez was removed from power by a coalition of military officials and business leaders but returned to office two days later.
At a ceremony in Caracas Tuesday, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel unveiled a memorial to remember the victims of violence during the days of the coup.
He reiterated accusations that the U.S. Embassy was deeply involved in the attempted overthrow. Rangel said the coup was "carried out by the U.S. Embassy and by imperialism in Venezuela."
Washington has denied any involvement. But over the years, millions of dollars in U.S. government money has been given to Venezuelan opposition groups under the auspices of the National Endowment for Democracy–a private agency funded entirely by the U.S. government.
In a renewed sign of bad relations, Chavez is threatening to expel U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield. Chavez accused him of meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs and of trying to provoke a protest on Sunday when he traveled to a poor neighborhood with a large armed security detail. Chavez supporters pelted the ambassador’s car with tomatoes and eggs during the visit.
Meanwhile, Chavez is due to host an OPEC summit on June 1st in Caracas. Venezuela is the only Latin American member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. BBC Investigative reporter Greg Palast traveled to Venezuela recently where he interviewed President Chavez. He filed this report
- Chavez’s Venezuela: Bush Over a Barrel
AMY GOODMAN: BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast traveled to Venezuela recently, where he interviewed President Chavez. He files this report.
GREG PALAST: This is the variety show host, revolutionary and president of Venezuela, the inimitable Hugo Chavez, presenting his live six-hour-long weekly television spectacular. Every Sunday he flies his desk to a new location to perform for his thousands of screaming fans and voters, and now this man, Chavez, is sitting on more oil than the king of Saudi Arabia.
To George Bush, he’s a demagogue awash in oil money. To this audience he’s a hero, savior…and wannabe Frank Sinatra. Welcome to the latest edition of South American Idol. The streets of Caracas are filled with cruising yank tanks. Why not? Petrol is cheaper than water, 3 pence a liter. You could fill up one of these beasts for about a pound.
Last time I was here in Venezuela the president, Hugo Chavez, was in a bit of trouble. He had had just been kidnapped by the head of the Chamber of Commerce. The attempted coup, which was welcomed by the Bush administration, failed. Chavistas brought their man back in triumph, but the oil stopped flowing, leaving Venezuela’s economy in ruins and Chavez’s long-term survival in doubt.
But then, a cowboy rode out of the north and saved Hugo Chavez. In 2003, George Bush invaded Iraq, and when "mission accomplished" became "mission impossible," oil prices tripled. The explosion in the price of oil dumped $50 billion into Hugo Chavez’s lap, most of that from the United States.
Let’s go see what the money from the gringos and their SUVs bought. In barrios like this, there’s a happy bounce. Chavez has finally tackled the health and education problems suffered by Venezuela’s poor. He’s imported 15,000 Cuban doctors and teachers, too. Before Chavez spread the oil wealth, 55% of the population lived in poverty. Now poverty is down by a third, and a million-and-a-half people have been taught to read. In this building, we found a new Cuban clinic, and I ran into a resident who had picked up English while working in Trinidad.
ARTURO QUIRAN: We are the only country on this planet that has so many changes in a social aspect, medical attention, free — we could now get free operations, x-rays, medicines, education also. People who never knew how to read and write now know how to sign their own papers and everything.
GREG PALAST: Arturo Quiran invited me upstairs for a cold one. Chavez, he says, has changed the way oil money is handled.
ARTURO QUIRAN: Ten, fifteen years ago, Carlos Andrés Pérez, there was a lot of oil money here in Venezuela. The oil boom, we call it, okay, here in Venezuela. There was a lot of money entering the country, but we didn’t see it.
GREG PALAST: Chavez has his opponents. Julio Borges is the leading opposition candidate in presidential elections to be held in December. He accepts that Chavez’s populist policies have transformed Venezuela. Borges says his fellow oppositionists, who won’t take part in elections, just don’t get it.
Chavez has said the old parties are defunct, are corrupt, are no good. Do you agree or disagree with him?
JULIO BORGES: Yeah, I think that the answer for Venezuela doesn’t lie in the past. We are building a new generation, a new leadership, a renovation for the politics in Venezuela, and we believe that we have to move forward to the future. And we’re not looking for the past.
GREG PALAST: Rather than attack Chavez’s popular spending at home, Borges takes aim at Chavez’s spending abroad.
The Chavez government has given out billions of dollars of your oil money to other Latin American governments to help them. Is that a good idea?
JULIO BORGES: No. We have denounced it, that this money has been transformed and should be transformed in jobs, security, social security in Venezuela. We have a slogan, very clear: Primero Venezuela! First Venezuela! We have many necessities in Venezuela, and President Chavez is not the owner of oil. The oil is for Venezuela and the Venezuelans.
GREG PALAST: Hugo Chavez has called all the bankers of Latin America together. And when Chavez speaks, they listen. The financiers were treated to a history of Venezuela’s central bank, in song, and the continent’s central bankers were happy to hum along. Chavez has handed out billions to their treasuries. He’s spending way more than George Bush in Latin America, and here’s the man who actually writes the checks, Chavez’s central banker, a very popular guy. In fact, Chavez wants to completely eliminate the International Monetary Fund and replace it with an International Humanitarian Fund. I caught up with Mr. Checkbook.
Can I get one more check, too? You’re giving out checks to all these countries. Can I get a check? Thank you.
Ecuador got a quarter billion. Brazil got four billion. Argentina got four billion. No wonder these guys showed up.
Getting to see him wasn’t a piece of cake. I drove around Caracas waiting for a call from the palace. Then, weirdly, I found myself a surprise guest on his weekly variety show. Chavez got to make fun of my tourista Spanish. I tried again at the presidential palace. I just had to ask Chavez what his oil was going to cost us.
HUGO CHAVEZ: We’re trying to find an equilibrium. The price of oil could remain at the low level of $50. That’s a fair price. It’s not a high price.
GREG PALAST: There’s a good reason why Chavez is insisting on $50 a barrel. This is what the world’s currently declared oil reserves look like, with most of the oil in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, but at $50 a barrel it becomes economic to exploit the world’s vast undeclared reserves of heavy oil, and the picture changes radically. According to an internal study we got our hands on from inside the U.S. Department of Energy, the next oil kingdoms, if the price of oil stays high, will be Canada — Canada — and Venezuela. Next month, Chavez hosts the meeting of OPEC and will ask them to formally recognize that Venezuela now has more oil than the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. In the future, Venezuela won’t have any more oil. It is true, but that’s in the 22nd century. Venezuela has oil for 200 years.
GREG PALAST: Chavez has won half a dozen elections since 1998, has no secret prisons and hasn’t invaded anyone. Nevertheless, Chavez finds himself the target of claims by Washington and Downing Street that he is a dictatorial international outlaw. It is true that recently his government brought criminal charges against political opponents for taking foreign donations.
If the Chavistas reaction to George Bush’s involvement in their politics seems a bit paranoid, they actually have much to fear according to these documents obtained by a U.S. investigator. Eva Golinger uncovered the evidence that shows that the C.I.A. knew about the 2002 coup in advance.
EVA GOLINGER: They had put up an article about my new radio program that I have here on a radio station, and people went on there and said basically — you know, were making all kinds of threats, and someone said, "You should be gassed like the Jews were."
GREG PALAST: She complained to the federal prosecutor investigating the coup and the death threats. During the investigation, he was assassinated. The Chavistas are concerned about darker, more threatening scenarios: another coup, assassination, invasion. Their fears were intensified by comments from the likes of Pat Robertson, the influential U.S. evangelist.
PAT ROBERTSON: We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job, and then get it over with.
GREG PALAST: Chavez says he’s armed and ready for any threat. He showed me the sword of Simon Bolivar, the man who liberated South America from Spanish imperialism. He’s even preparing for an American invasion, but does he really think this will happen?
HUGO CHAVEZ: I pray God this will not happen, because U.S. soldiers will bite the dust here, will die here, and we will die, as well. Venezuelans will die, as well. However, they will never succeed in dominating us. A hundred year war will start here if they ever dare. The U.S. people should know that if this happens, there will be no oil for anyone.
GREG PALAST: George Bush may dismiss him as a demagogue and show-off, but for Bush, the show may be over once Chavez is crowned king of oil.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Thank you very much. Good luck.
AMY GOODMAN: That report filed by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, who joins us in the studio now. His upcoming book is called Armed Madhouse. It will be published in June. Welcome to Democracy Now!
GREG PALAST: Glad to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg, we only have a minute. You say that Venezuela has more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia?
GREG PALAST: Not only do I say it, obviously Hugo Chavez says it, and he’s looking for official approval on June 1 from OPEC. But astonishingly, an internal U.S. Department of Energy report says that Chavez is modest, that he has something like five times the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, because he has 90% of the world’s extra-heavy crude, which we know exactly where it is, and now it’s going to be melted into petroleum and ultimately gas for your SUV. So Chavez is the new Abdullah of the Americas, and this is what’s behind the whole U.S. policy of confrontation and provocation with Venezuela, is that we’ve had a foreign policy up until now which is completely dominated by being close to the Saudis, and now we don’t like to challenge the Saudis, so we’re taking on Chavez.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have to leave it there. Greg Palast, thanks for joining us.