CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Mr President, thank you for joining me, welcome to our program.
PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: Thank you for being here with us here in Venezuela.
AMANPOUR: And welcome to CNN of course.
MADURO: CNN is always welcome to Venezuela. I am very thankful to see you here so we can talk to the US audience to say the truth of our homeland.
AMANPOUR: I’m very glad about that, since you brought that up, as an ambassador of the American press I just want to say I’m very pleased that you have us and all the international press here to cover the important events here in Venezuela.
MADURO: It is always important, the US audience we believe needs to know more about what is going on in South America, in our Caribbean region. The process of reaffirmation of new independence, of new economic social models, cultural models, of a new mentality that’s been reaffirming in the hemisphere and has to be seen and understood entirely by the US public and people and we respect these people as (?00:01:34;09) and we admire their culture and their different ways of expression.
AMANPOUR: That’s great. Well since you brought it up, I wasn’t going to start with the conversation about the press, but 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 seventy 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: Always. And it’s been always the case and it will be the case. The only aggression I know of the foreign correspondents was two nights ago, because of a group of extreme right-wing groups in a middle class neighbourhood in Venezuela. They have taken that neighbourhood and it’s called Altamira, the very same place where eleven years ago sixty military officers tried to topple the constitutional government of President Chavez and remained there for months. Today, they’ll go back to that very place – in that very place a month last we were celebrating Carnival – a group of foreign correspondents were at risk by this sector and they were saved by the National Guard. This information was not broadcast though by the press because of this permanent campaign to represent a picture of Venezuela as a country in violence, chaos, where the foreign press is aggressed. In Venezuela you have all the freedom to go and come, and to broadcast to the world more and more the truth of Venezuela.
AMANPOUR: So just to be clear, you yourself criticised CNN in Espanol. Are you now saying that you guarantee the security of all the press here?
MADURO: We have always guaranteed the freedom of the press. We have fifteen years of democratic, constitutional, peaceful revolution. We have won out of nineteen elections, we have won – the Democratic Revolutionary Forces – we have won eighteen elections, and all those electoral processes, political processes, including coup d’état against President Chavez, against this coup d’état on the way, right now, as the constitutional president myself. These have been covered by foreign correspondents of the whole world – Asia, Latin America, the United States. 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, the role they fulfilled two weeks ago regarding Venezuela was 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 constitutional government. I gave a public warning as 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 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 have just said you are facing now some of the worst violence and disturbance in Venezuela in the last ten years. And even yesterday, 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 the fascist – you called them extremist. Is that really what you think about them? Do you really believe that they are all extremist radical fascists?
MADURO: That’s an excellent question, because indeed the opposition… there’s been a debate, and different positions. At first majority of the opposition is part of the mood, the democratic group, and through electoral means they have tried to change the government. They have participated in elections, they have deputies, the opposition have 40% of the deputies of the assembly. They have governors, they have majors, they have participated in all presidential campaigns of the last years with the single presidential candidate, with all the forces of the opposition behind and they have tried through democratic means to present their programme to the country. However, the opposition participated in the coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002 in April. They attempted another coup d’état in December 2002, 2003, they attempted a similar action like today to provoke violence for another coup d’état in 2004. They tried to get rid of that past, of that record, but I say today you should know in the US and your audience of this prestigious show that those who have started this violence plan is a minority, is a tiny group belonging to the opposition, and they are put the rest of the opposition in a dire situation, and this is a criticism I made publically, and do not say they are in agreement with these attacks. In the US for instance, just give me an example, the case of the US, a political group, they call to offer President Obama, and then they have a road map and say “this day we’re going to do this and this to get rid of Obama, we’re going to the White House this day for President Obama to go”. What would the US do if a tiny group would say they’re going to generate a revolution or a revolt to change the constitutional government of the US? I guess the state will react, will then resort to the tools to restore order and peace and to intact (?) those who are against the constitution, and that’s exactly what happened in this country over the last weeks.
AMANPOUR: In this country polarization has been emblematic of politics for many, many years. While you have supporters – the Chavistas, the Chavista 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. There seems to be no ability to unify. 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: First of all, regarding polarization, in all democracy there are poles, and there is a debate of ideas. In the US you have the Democrats and the Republicans, right? And in the Democratic and the Republican streams you have different confrontations and then you have elections and over the big issues you have the position of the Republicans and some more conservative, and the liberal position of the Democratic party, correct? And the different leaderships. So, we cannot be astonished, surprised or stigmatize or give a negative concept to the topic of polarization. What is negative is polarization to neutralize the country. That we have positions, and one of the positions is not in tune with the objectives of the county, development, democracy, etc. It is there, that commander Chavez, once again, several times, and myself, as President, we have made repeated calls for the opposition to get out of this position of obstructionism. They think they can destroy the democratic, XXX revolution through other ways and that they incorporate to other means [unclear]… So for instance, in December, in December the 8th, you mentioned that I won elections with a short margin. It could happen in any country. With 1.5% of difference. 300,000 votes. At a time, at the moment of tragedy for the country because the chief, the historic chief of the revolution had died. I have never been a candidate in my life in the past. Only to be deputy in the list of my party. So in 30 days I competed with a candidate that for two years had been having the campaign. And I won. And it was an impeccable process. So few months later we won elections with 55% of the vote. 11.5% difference. 1.3 million votes. We widened the legitimacy and the public support. We increased the support. 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’état, the right-wing extremists, and this postponed all the plans that we had advanced through national dialogue that I convened.
AMANPOUR: Again, you’re calling right-wing extremists, coup d’état… There doesn’t seem to be a huge space for reunification between your side and the opposition. Some people are very, very worried that unless Venezuela gets unified, unless there is some kind of pact between you and the rest of the country then you could have an economic collapse. People are very concerned that eventually you won’t be able to pay for your food, which you mostly import. Some are saying it needs outside mediation. You are Roman Catholic. Mr. Capriles – your principal opponent – is a Roman Catholic. You have both met with Pope Francis. He’s the first Latin American pope. Could he mediate? And do you believe outside mediation is necessary? Can Venezuela continue like this?
MADURO: Well, I have very good relations with Pope Francis. I read constantly what he says and follow his speeches. Pope Francis has come to renew the Catholic Church and he has new air to renew the spiritual world. Now, Venezuela does not need mediation.
AMANPOUR: But 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: I think that we need is cooperation. Cooperation. Venezuelans have a long history. So we are able to listen to each other, to talk to each other. From here were born the liberators of the region, and they said before and after that process we have a culture of political action. We are not in despair. That’s the image broadcast to abroad. To try to hit morally a revolution that we are conducting in favour of the poor, of the workers, of the disenfranchised, a revolution that has given public education, free education, good at all levels. You can go to the streets and you find children in the free schools, universities, young people they don’t have to ask for loans to go to the universities to study engineering, law, etc. 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. We have problems, as any other country. We have economic problems of course we have. Do you have problems in the US? Do you have problems in the US? You have a huge debt, a colossal debt, as never, ever before. How come you have a huge fiscal deficit, you have increased in poverty in the US, an awful figure of poverty in the U.S. You had a very good level of life and now you have people in the streets without their houses. You have problems in the U.S. All countries have problems, social problems, economic problems, challenges. Venezuela has its own problems, but the problems that we don’t have are the problems of poverty… and culture that we had in the past and have been solved thanks to the effort that we have made over the last years.
AMANPOUR: You say that, and it’s true that Venezuela sits on the world’s biggest oil reserves and you are a major oil exporter, but, part of these protests are because of the soaring crime rate, soaring inflation, poverty, and lack of basic goods on the shelves in the shops – everything from toilet paper to milk. And I brought this because I’m amazed by it. This is ten thousand bolivars. And it symbolizes the inflation. It’s a huge stack and it’s about a hundred dollars. 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% of the dollars dispersed by the government were diverted from their original purpose. What can you do about that?
MADURO: That is correct. And we have denounced this. Capitalism works in this manner. In Venezuela we are overcoming a capitalism that is dependent solely on rent, and that was very harmful for the exchange rate. I can give you a list. Very soon we are going to publish the list of the owner of companies, capitalists, that stole the money, the dollars, to, that we gave them to meet the needs, and they took the dollars and took it to the US. They have big mansions in the US. And we denounce that. They consider themselves political people, prisoners, etc. But I can tell you this, as a framework of question, because you are overwhelmed by information and you are in anguish with so much information. I can tell you this. over the last years, Venezuela has had… over the last 15 years, a process of expansion. We went from a GDP of 90 billion dollars to a GDP of 400 billion dollars, including last year. We were the target of economic war, because the right-wing sectors in Venezuela they thought that since President Chavez had died is was the end of the revolution. They started an operation to destroy our economy. And we have maintained even last year a programme of growth, of protection, Venezuela has…
AMANPOUR: But all the indicators according to independent organizations… look, standard of living going down. How people feel about their life, crime and insecurity going up, economic security going down…
MADURO: I can tell you something very simple. Go to the streets, talk to the workers… Our children have public and free education guaranteed. In the United States, did you have a public education for the children or the youth in the US? No. Our people have public health guaranteed free of charge. Did you have that in the US? Our people have the higher minimum wage in the whole of Latino America. Our people have housing through a special process. Guaranteed housing we have given, and as soon as I finish this conversation we’re going to a special show of a Venezuelan housing programme. We’re going to deliver 600,000 housing to people. There are going to be 3 million housing units to solve the deficit. Of the 180 million dollars that we have received over the last decades, we have invested 65% of the oil rent in education, housing, food, culture. It’s another (inaudible). That’s what I told you when we started. Try to understand in the US. Try to understand a little bit that here we are building a different social economic model, different from yours. Try to open your mind to the 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. You have the right, of course you have the right, to have your own system. But it’s the results that matter. And the results show that you have 56% inflation- triple what you had even a year or so ago. So my question is, number 1: 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?
MADURO: We have an economic model that is in construction. It’s a socialist model, a productive model that incorporates the private sector. Now, over a year we’ve been the target of an economic war. Let me give you an example. The same very policy applied against Salvador Allende in the 70’s in Chile, Nixon and Kissinger said we need to destroy the Chilean economy, so that (inaudible) will be toppled.
AMANPOUR: But they’re saying that the government here is responsible for these economic woes. Do you take any responsibility at all? Looking forward not looking back.
MADURO: Yes I have responsibility for all that is happening in my country, that’s why I am the President. I assume the responsibility. I have so much responsibility. In November, December I launched an economic offensive against the increase of prices to ensure a nice Christmas for people. Then you discovered the mechanism of capitalism that we need to overcome. They tried to increase prices to harm society, and we succeeded in finding in this process in November, December, we’ve found prices that were up 2000%. It will be impossible in the US because of the laws. For instance, the (inaudible) that once you invest all the inputs, you have all the price for the markets that this price could increase in 2000%. And this happened not in one product, but in the whole of the economy, and one of the manifestations of economic phenomena that have led to this inflation has been used as political strategy to harm the economy and then to destroy, to unravel a new model that have been created, a new model of society, of economy. And rest assured that with the measures we are implementing right now, the economic measures, all these factors will be balanced. And as a matter of fact we’ve just passed a law based on the (inaudible) reality but also starting some laws that exist in the US, in Europe and other places in the World. It is the law of fair prices, and the implementation of this law will take us to a process of balance of the production in the country, of supply, and fair prices for the community and society as a whole. This induced crisis has led us to a new stage in our economy, will take us to a new stage in our economy. A healthy economy, a productive economy, and we’ll go (inaudible). All countries have problems. You cannot pretend just because today you have a problem related to inflation, or in two years time there is to be a problem regarding prices of (inaudible) products abroad that the time has come to topple the government and so on and so forth. No. It’s not a thing of, a matter 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 policy, but Venezuela is so strong that it has continued at its own pace. I can give you two elements because you mentioned some data. First data: unemployment has dropped structurally over the last decade from 25% of open unemployment, and now it’s less than 10%. Last year we went from 6. (inaudible) to 5.2%. Those are complete data of the socio-economic reality of Venezuela. Same thing, the extreme poverty in the 90’s was 35%, 40%. During the revolution it’s been taken to 6% 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: I have heard you now for the last many minutes blaming the outside world and saying that you Venezuela are under constant- sorry. I’ve been listening to you say that everything here is to blame by the outside world, and that Venezuela is under constant attack by the outside world. Let’s take a break and we’ll discuss that when we come back.
AMANPOUR: Ok, so then I go to a break and then I come back to ask you about the United States.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Let me turn to Venezuela’s relations with the US. They have been very bad. We’ve heard many, many attacks on American presidents and many back and forth.
You have now nominated one of your most trusted diplomats to be ambassador. Are you looking to move forward with your relationship with the US?
MADURO: I do not agree with the first part of your question – our relations with the US are very good. Our relations with the workers and artists and intellectuals
AMANPOUR: All right, with the government of the United States
MADURO: With the US government it’s well known via the pentagon papers, WikiLeaks and Snowden’s papers the government’s policy against the Bolivarian revolution and President Chavez. There is sufficient evidence you have conspired to put an end of the revolution. This is not news, this is well known we have been targeted by these attacks, we have tried very hard with President Obama. With the summit of the Americas Obama and Chavez met, we thought it was the beginning of a new era or relations between the US powers. But a powerful elite has run the US since independence. Financial power is at the helm of the power of the US. I sent many messages; we want a new kind of relationship based on respect, a recognition of what we are today. These elites cannot continue to make South America like a backyard. We need equality and respect. They have to understand a new South America is born. We can give excellent relations. The world is no longer uni-polar, you cannot pretend you have a hegemony of the world. I am certain that the American people who can hear us today can agree with these ideas that we respect each other. We must stop these conspiracies of the NSA, the Pentagon to reconquering Latin America.
AMANPOUR: Do you really believe that? They want to reconquer Latin America?
MADURO: Of course I do. They want the economic control – they have political control through political elites – they want military control. The US elite have a project – to have hegemony and control. In Latin America there is a new reality. We are trying to find new models. Venezuelan needs to be respected. You need to know the sectors handling the power in the US. Venezuela cannot be governed if they impose a government in this palace a right wing government. There will be chaos. The Venezuelan people will never abandon the ideals president Chavez gave us. Modestly we contribute to ensure the stability of the region.
AMANPOUR: Do you see any improvement of relations with the US?
MADURO: We’ve made all possible.
AMANPOUR: Do you have a message to the US? You’ve expelled diplomats so have the US. Now you have appointed Max Arveleuz as ambassador so what is your message to the United States?
MADURO: My message is respect. Dialogue. That we overcome the visions they have of our country. I made a decision to appoint a new ambassador, a man that I trust, a great diplomat who knows the world and the US. He knows many sectors with the US. I will be certain he will be very helpful in establishing new relations
Please – in the case of President Obama – we are very humble. I am just a humble worker. Commander Chavez decided I should be president. To President Obama we remember that young leader and of the workers of Chicago. So we have a different kind of relation. For him and John Kerry. We talked to Edward Kennedy. We shared several times within Boston group. Please don’t go to stalemate to a blind alley with Venezuela.
We have a path and on that path we can perfectly understand ourselves. To those running America we ask for respect and a new relationship with Venezuela.
AMANPOUR: Again you mention the opposition. Again you call them radicals and extremists. You mention Brazil – you saw how they dealt with their protest and the demands of the protestors. But you keep calling them Fascists – my question is a) How is this going to end b) Do you worry that this democratic legitimacy that you claim will be lost because so much power has been concentrated in the Presidency – the judiciary doesn’t have much say – the independent press is censored – all this is moving to a dictatorship some people say.
MADURO: My concern is to strengthen democracy. These accusations have been made for 15 years and they crash against the reality. You tell me any other country that has had 18 elections in 15 years.
AMANPOUR: Sir, it’s not just elections. You’ve won your elections. It’s about what happens in governance.
MADURO: It is important to have elections.
AMANPOUR: Of course.
MADURO: In fifteen years there have been nineteen public debates for nineteen public elections, including a recall referendum, which is a figure create by Hugo Chavez. First president in the world to create this recall figure and it was applied in 2005. And then we had a huge victory. Now, we have a democracy strengthened at all levels. You know why democracy is so strong in Venezuela? Because none of the leaders of these powers – we do not belong to international companies, weapons companies or oil companies. I am not a businessman who came here to enrich an economic group. I am an independent president. And president of the power branches can tell you they represent themselves. They do not belong to economic powers. We do not govern for the rich or the economic powers. We have created a new system to govern for all. And that’s what we do – what Commander Chavez did. So we have a strong democracy because we broke the ties of domination of economic powers – national and international. (inaudible). The president did not represent the citizens they represented the cheque book of those paying for them. It is over. I am an independent president.
You ask me 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 opposition as fascists. That’s not true. They are sectors making that effort to foster a project in a framework democracy and the constitution and those heading the call to topple the government… those leading these armed groups onto the streets, that burn and create barricades and threaten public authority and destroy public services… that tiny group, we consider them extreme right-wing groups. The rest of the opposition, we call upon them at the peace conference that we opened last week – all business sectors and all the religious groups, Catholics, Evangelicals, Jewish people, Muslim – they sit down and discuss different sectors and social sectors of society. And the peace conference is working and hopefully in the next hours we are going to create a new commission for talks, for dialogue, for peace with the rest of the political opposition in the country and be able to channel democratically their grievances, their proposals and they can listen to our truth.
AMANPOUR: In that case will you let Mister Lopez out of prison?
MADURO: That is in the hands of the prosecution’s office and the tribunals.
AMANPOUR: But if protest is allow in your constitution then why is he in prison?
MADURO: Well because society has the right to peace. Because the constitution has mechanisms to –
AMANPOUR: But he’s called for peaceful protes
MADURO: You have to be better informed about what he said. He’s created a roadmap to topple a 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 and wife heard our voice and allowed him to be protected by the state. So now he’s in jail and he had to go to justice.
In the US and in any other country they will accept that the leader of any political group who calls for the toppling of a legitimate group and who calls for violence on the streets… the guarantee of the peace is to apply the constitution and this is fully understood by our country.
AMANPOUR: We’re going to take a break. When we come back I’m going to talk more about Hugo Chavez.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. I want to ask you finally about Hugo Chavez. President Chavez was a giant figure. How difficult is it to fill his shoes? How tough is it to do that?
MADURO: Very Tough. It’s very tough not to have him physically here. Not only painful because he was very humane man, lovely, and very authentic in everything he said and did with a lot of passion for the ideals of Boliver. And it is very difficult for all of us. I said yesterday in my public address; Chavez sewed in Venezuela a consciousness and built a new power and a new society. He laid down the foundations of a new state. I was very close to him for the last 7 years. We always had a very excellent relationship since I met him on March 26th 1994. I was here when he left the jail and until March 5th 2013 I never abandoned him. For seven years he formed a group, a team, and Venezuela has a collective rule and he formed us as a collective group and we are ruling the revolution today and taking up all the tasks and I have discover – and it has been wonderful – all the mechanisms he left to govern for the management of resources for the foreign exchange. He left behind a country working in progress and we have ensured that this progress continues. And this has been so strong, this network created by him in this revolution of the 21st century it’s been so strong that we have withstood thousands of campaigns and attacks against us. And Venezuela, a year after his departure, remains democratic and revolutionary and on the path left by him. It has marked the history of our hemisphere and the history of the socialist ideas of social justice in this 21st century and in this world of today.
AMANPOUR: Can you tell me again that story you told in the election campaign – of when his spirit came back to you in the form of a bird?
MADURO (laughs): Well you know that everyone has their own spiritual beliefs and I have mine. That day I conveyed something in the midst of this sensitivity of the beginning of the electoral campaign. It was the first one without our leader. And this humble man for the first time had to take on the shoes of President Chavez to be there and preside over this revolution. And then I conveyed this anecdote and they wanted to present me as a crazy man and that campaign was also conducted against President Chavez . Oh those guys are crazy. The only craziness is our love for our home. Our spirituality is our spirituality. I respect your spirituality and other peoples. That’s the basis to understand each other and to connect with God. I don’t know if you believe in God or not but he exists. He is accompanying us with his blessing. Without those blessings it would be impossible for us to progress and have our history. Otherwise the spirit of the regional ideal of Boliver would have died. What happens in this historic period has been a miracle and the miracle will continue into the future.
AMANPOUR: President Maduro thank you very much for joining me.
MADURO: Thank you, you are always welcome.
AMANPOUR: A question for our online audience… Mister President why has Venezuela blocked Twitter and Zello and not allowed pictures to be send out on social media? What are you afraid of?
MADURO: Have we blocked it? I send video, pictures through Twitter, Facebook. Venezuela is working fully. Now let me tell you what people do not know. We had some problems and did some research into problems created in one of the connection systems in the north of Venezuela bringing internet into our country and it happened a few days ago. And that affected the internet service in our country. But it’s been totally solved. There is total freedom of all services. And if you want to store new systems here you’re totally welcome to do so.
AMANPOUR: And finally, what keeps you up at night… what worries you?
MADURO: I sleep peacefully. I sleep like a child. I go to bed late because that was the habit of Commander Chavez and he used to call us very late. I still keep that pace – go to bed at 3am, 4am and wake up at 9am or 8am and I am activated with intense activity. Luckily I am at peace of mind. And I do so out of habit because I know I’ve been loyal in fulfilling the legacy of this marvellous, giant figure – who is President Chavez – and I do things with honesty to favour our people. I do nothing for my own profit or benefit. I am a free and independent president with no ties and no-one ruling me. The only one governing me is my conscious and the Venezuelan people.