Venezuela: Revolution in Progress

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Today is the third anniversary of the failed coup attempt to overthrow democratically elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. We speak with filmmaker Matt O’Neil about his new documentary, “Venezuela: Revolution in Progress.” [includes rush transcript]

Today is the third anniversary of the failed coup to overthrow democratically elected Venezuelan 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.

U.S.-Venezuela relations have turned sour ever since Chavez was elected president in 1998. As president, Chavez has condemned the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States. Venezuela supplies the U.S. with 15 percent of its oil.

Over the years, more than $1 million dollars in U.S. government money has been given to Venezuelan opposition groups for democracy-training programs under the auspices of the National Endowment for Democracy–a private agency funded entirely by the U.S. government. Last August, Chavez survived a referendum to remove him from power through a recall election.

  • Matt O’Neill, He produced and directed the documentary, “Venezuela: Revolution in Progress.” It airs Monday on Discovery Times Channel at 8pm and 11pm EST.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in our New York studio by filmmaker Matt O’Neill. He produced and directed the documentary Venezuela: Revolution in Progress, that airs tonight on Discovery Times. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Matt.

MATT O’NEILL: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, you have been working on this for many months, have spent a good deal of time in Venezuela. Can you give us a brief synopsis of what happened three years ago today, and then take us forward?

MATT O’NEILL: Three years ago today there were enormous demonstrations in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, where opposition demonstrators and pro-Chavez demonstrators met in the streets, and it ended in terrible violence. Both sides accused the other of having snipers in buildings, and it is really unclear exactly what happened during the day. But it ended with Chavez out of power and a brief opposition government led by Pedro Carmona who took power for two days. During those two days there were enormous pro-Chavez demonstrations in the street, and Chavez was swept back into power on the back of those demonstrations two days later.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was Carmona?

MATT O’NEILL: Carmona was the head of the business coalition, the equivalent of the Venezuela chamber of commerce. People say he was a dictator for two days. He was not elected, and then he dissolved the constitution in the national assembly after two days in power, and that’s when the opposition government fell apart.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the role of the media in all of this?

MATT O’NEILL: The role of the media in both the coup and the ongoing Venezuelan political situation is really complicated. It seems that the — from what I have observed down there myself, the private media is very much opposed to and against the Chavez presidency, and the public media, the government controlled media is in support of it. So you have this world where it is very hard to tell what the truth is if you’re on the street in Venezuela watching television, because both sides are telling their truth and their story.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt, you have a clip that we would like to play. I was wondering if you could introduce it for us, and then as Chavez speaks, if could you translate it.

MATT O’NEILL: Sure. This program that’s airing tonight at 8:00 is called Venezuela: Revolution in Progress. We follow both sides, the opposition and President Chavez and some of his supporters during the first ever presidential recall referendum that happened last August. And the clip we’re going to have here is a clip of Hugo Chavez speaking to the press four days before the referendum.

HUGO CHAVEZ: Venezuela is not with the opposition. The opposition has a master named Mr. George W. Bush. They’re directed from there. In this election the issue is not whether Chavez goes or stays. The issue is whether Venezuela continues as a sovereign nation with its own national agenda or if Venezuela returns to being a North American colony, a colony ruled by Washington. We want the best relations with the United States and with the whole world. Every day we send 1.5 million barrels of oil to the United States. Every day. And when we win the election, and we know we will, we don’t expect anything from Washington. The government of Mr. Bush is a public menace.

AMY GOODMAN: And that, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. Venezuela being a key oil producing nation. What about the U.S. role, what you were able to glean of the U.S. role in Venezuela, and how important is the oil to the U.S.?

MATT O’NEILL: Well, we received something — about 15% of our oil from Venezuela. And so it’s a critical supplier. It’s also the closest major supplier in the world. Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the western hemisphere. And traditionally Venezuela has been a very strong and close ally of the United States and for the past 45 years ever since it has been a democracy. But recently, over the past few years, the United States government basically tacitly approved a coup in 2002. They recognized the Carmona government and said that this would be a transition toward stability. It was the only government to recognize the brief coup as at all legitimate, the only government not to condemn the coup in the western hemisphere. Two days later when Chavez came back to power, I think the administration had some egg on its face. And that has colored Venezuelan-American relations since then. For every sort of nasty thing that President Chavez may say about the United States, there are equally nasty comments coming from — you know, recently in Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearings from the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roger Noriega.

AMY GOODMAN: And now, most recently, Hugo Chavez has been saying that the U.S. is going to attempt to assassinate him.

MATT O’NEILL: Yes, he’s been saying that Fidel Castro’s security forces in intelligence gave him special intelligence information that there is a U.S. attempt to assassinate him. I can’t say whether that’s true or not true. But I think that one thing — as they were approaching the referendum in August, I think that there was a Wall Street Journal editorial that said that the best thing for the United States would be if Chavez won, because if Chavez lost or if there was a vacuum of power in Venezuela, the stability of our oil supplies would be at risk, and I don’t know if — no matter what the political differences are between the Bush administration and the Chavez administration, I don’t think either country wants those crucial oil supplies put in any sort of jeopardy, because although the U.S. receives 15% of our oil from Venezuela, Venezuela exports about 60% of its oil to the United States. So the interdependence is really important to both countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Matt O’Neill, I want to thank you very much for joining us, director and producer of Venezuela: Revolution in Progress. It airs tonight on Discovery Times at 8:00 and 11:00 EST.

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