Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez didn’t come to the United Nations this week for the annual General Assembly meeting. Instead, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro Moros, traveled to New York, where he will address the body this afternoon. In a U.S. national broadcast exclusive, Foreign Minister Maduro Moros joins us to talk about Venezuela’s ties with Iran, oil prices, biofuels and his message to the United Nations this year. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit to the United States last week, he got a more welcome reception in two emerging Latin American allies. Ahmadinejad made brief visits to Bolivia and Venezuela to sign new bilateral accords promoting economic cooperation.
On Thursday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez welcomed Ahmadinejad at the presidential palace. Chávez had praised his handling of the criticism he received from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] An imperial spokesman tried to disrespect you, calling you a small and cruel tyrant. You responded with the high level of the revolutionaries. You responded with the moral force of the brother people of Iran and, even more, with the moral force of the people of the world.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ahmadinejad returned the praise.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] I reiterate that the Iranian people and the Venezuelan people, with a common force, will be together always on the world scenes, and imperialism has no other option and must respect the peoples or accept defeat.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Venezuela and Iran share a common foe in the White House. It’s been five years since the U.S. backed a coup that briefly removed Chávez from office. Chávez’s popularity remains strong. He was re-elected one year ago with 60 percent support, his largest victory so far.
We’re joined for the rest of the hour by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro Moros. He is in New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. He is scheduled to address the General Assembly this afternoon.
AMY GOODMAN: In this Democracy Now! exclusive, Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro Moros joins us here in the firehouse studio.
Why is President Chávez not addressing the U.N. General Assembly?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] First of all, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to communicate with the U.S. viewers.
Chief of state, chief of government, head of government, are always very busy, and they are not able to attend every year to this meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. In the past, President Chávez has been able to attend. This year, however, he has had a very busy agenda in tackling social and economic problems and also tackling the democratic constitutional reform that is being conducted in the country and prevented him from attending directly these meetings. However, he is always following very closely the debates that take place here and participating in different debates from Caracas and in the different places where he is deploying his leadership.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, at last year’s General Assembly, the statements of President Chávez got huge attention and negative publicity here in the United States, his criticism of President Bush. This year, it was the president of Iran who became the big focus. Your country’s view of now how Iran is being viewed by both the American press and the American government?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] There is a total control by the U.S. media network in this very moment. The repercussion of President Chávez’s last year was one thing on the streets and another thing, what happened in the media. And we have the evidence how it had an impact, and it had an impact on the people of the United States that considered itself represented, how its sentiment of rejection to the warmongering attitude of the U.S. government it was reflected in the speech by President Hugo Chávez.
This time, there was also a very hard attacked against President Ahmadinejad before attending the meeting in the U.N. during his stay in New York. And there’s been an attempt to continue this harsh attack after he left, once he left.
We are going through historic debate in mankind. There is a quest, and the U.S. society is part of this quest, despite the fact that the media tried to control, to manipulate U.S. opinion, public opinion, from the grassroots, the recent increasing awareness of what is going on around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of Ahmadinejad coming to Venezuela? First, he went to La Paz, Bolivia — he met with President Morales, promising a large $1.1 billion, I think, cooperation deal — then to Venezuela. Is Iran and Venezuela forming a kind of counter bloc to the United States?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] I think Iran, Venezuela and many other Asian countries, African countries, Latin American countries, we agree to a huge alliance for social development, for peace. For instance, in the case of the bilateral relations between Iran and Venezuela, these relations has allowed Venezuelans to make progress in the construction of a productive economic model. With the Iranian technology, we have created south of Venezuela a factory to manufacture tractors for agricultural production. This did not happen in the past. Today, Venezuela is producing tractors for its own agricultural development, and it has allowed us to sell and send tractors to our friends in Nicaragua, Bolivia and in the Caribbean. Venezuela, together with Iran, with technology, Iranian technology, we have built factories to process food, so our country can be self-sufficient and to reach food security in the manufacturing of food products. So we have a very productive relation with Iran, in regarding economic development, technology transfer. And the main focus of this is to overcome poverty.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But in the process of that fight against poverty, there are obviously big differences still in that growing alliance. For instance, both President Morales of Bolivia and President Chávez have opposed the whole move toward biofuels, whereas President Lula in Brazil is expanding his country’s involvement and his work with the United States over the issue of biofuels. Could you talk about those differences?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] That’s an important issue, and there is an open debate on this issue, regarding the need to create a comprehensive energy matrix to build energy security for the next hundred years for South America and the Caribbean regions. In this regard, we have made huge progress with the creation of Petrocaribe, and 14 Caribbean countries are part of this scheme, allowing them to make huge progress to build a sustainable energy security into the same thing, South America. With the creation of the Union of South American Nations, we have — we want to sign an energy security treaty.
Now, regarding biofuels, we agree in private and in public with the position of Brazil and the position of other brothers and sisters from South America, in the sense that this is a delicate matter, and this should be dealt with in a very thorough and careful manner. We consider that we have to modify the consumerism, the consumption model that’s been imposed around the world. With this consumerism of the last 50 years, well, there’s been a destruction of the planet as never before, and we have reached the limit of what the earth can withstand. And this has led to climate change, and this is threatening the survival of the human species.
And so, to cure the illness, we are proposing a very dangerous medicine to produce gasoline for cars, preventing human beings from eating. I mean, what is going on with corn is awful. The increase in the price of land to grow corn increases the price of corn, and we have removed the corn from the dish of Latin American people, poor people, to process this corn to be used as to feed the cows. And this is a criminal attitude. And this debate that is all over the world, well, this should clarify and pave the way towards alternative fuel for the future. It is clear that we need alternative fuels to hydrocarbons, but these alternative fuels cannot jeopardize the food balance in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about President Chávez negotiating between the Colombian government and the FARC to free the hostages — three of them are American — and his call to President Bush to participate in this?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] Yes. A week ago, President Chávez welcomed the relatives of three U.S. citizens who are hostages in the hands of the FARC, the guerrilla movement in Colombia. This was a very emotional meeting, indeed, because even the sons or the children of one of these U.S. citizens, they didn’t know the grandparents and the other siblings living in Florida. So this ratified the commitment of President Chávez to make progress in the mediation process and to try to find a way for the humanitarian agreement in exchange, and these citizens can go back home. This is not an easy path to follow. It takes a lot of patience and hard work, a lot of prudence. And President Chávez is fully committed to be useful, to support, to help as much as possible with the great commitment, human commitment, to help the relatives of those who are being detained in the Colombian forest, but also to open the path to a comprehensive exchange in Colombia.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask you about the oil situation. The price of oil has been obviously going up dramatically, and President Chávez is on record as saying he believes it should go higher, possibly as high as $100 a barrel of oil. What is going on within OPEC on this? And also, why is he taking this stand?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] Well, President Chávez has warned over the last five years of what might happen if we continue on this path of war and destabilization of the Middle East. And he has warned that if we continue on the path of violence and destabilization taken by the U.S. government, then this could lead to a price of a barrel of $100. That’s what he has said, and he has said so for over the last five years or so.
And the analysis conducted by President Chávez has been proven by reality. The price of oil is increasing for different reasons: first of all, because of the war in Iraq and the destabilization and destruction resulting from this war; second, because of the increase of consumption of hydrocarbons in the world as a result of increase of consumption in Europe and the U.S. society and the new pools of development, such as India and China; and third, because of the lack of investments in refining within the United States. There’s a number of factors that has led to the level of price we know today. However, we might say that the major factor has been the war on Iraq and the crazy politics to destroy.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Maduro, you’re about to speak before the U.N. General Assembly. We just have a little amount of time. Last year, President Chávez said, "The devil came here yesterday; it smells like sulfur today." What is your message?
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS: [translated] Our message is a message, first of all, to draw a balance of what has happened over the last months in the world, what happened in the world, what’s been the role of the United Nations to guarantee peace, how much the world has lost as a result of this crazy policy that apparently will be prolonged with this attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran. It could reach a crazy level if we pretend to take the way of war to aggress, to attack the Iranian people.
Our message remains the same. The world should open their eyes. The U.S. society should react. The U.S. people can do a lot for peace, for stability in the planet, for the recovery of the planet. The awareness in the world today, it’s also expressed in the United States, and we need a large humane alliance between the U.S. people and the peoples of the world, respecting our diversity, cultural diversity, our different ways to see the world, and establishing a relationship of equality. That’s the main message, and that’s been the message of President Chávez a year ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro Moros, thank you very much for joining us.