Three years ago, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez caused a stir when, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he called then-US President George W. Bush a "devil." "I can still smell the sulfur," he said, standing at the same podium where, a day earlier, Bush had given his own address. Last week, Chávez once again followed a US president in the UN podium, but this time he caught a whiff of something different–"the smell of hope." In the following interview–conducted at Venezuela’s mission to the United Nations in New York–Hugo Chávez talks about his relationship with Barack Obama and what his election could mean for the United States, as well as about the Honduran crisis, plans to extend the Pentagon’s presence in Colombia, domestic successes and challenges, and the legacy of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Greg Grandin: I’d like first to ask you about the Honduran crisis. Manuel Zelaya–the president overthrown in a coup on June 28–is currently in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, having returned to the country in secret. What happens next? What can be done to force those who carried out the coup to negotiate?
Hugo Chávez: It’s not for me to decide what the next step is. Zelaya has called for dialogue. That was the first thing he did as soon as he entered the Brazilian embassy. The coup-plotters have responded with repression, death and terror. I believe that the brutal nature of this coup will lead to its failure.
GG: But how do you explain the intransigence of Roberto Micheletti, the president installed by the coup? There is about a month to go before the scheduled November 29 presidential elections, and whether Zelaya is returned to office or not, we know that one of two candidates from either the National or Liberal parties–both conservatives–is going to win. So why wouldn’t the de facto government want a negotiated solution, allowing a symbolic return of Zelaya to the presidency for a short period in order to legitimate the outcome of the election?
HC: Noam Chomsky has a book, which I read for the first time when I was in Spain, called Fear of Democracy. There is your answer. Fear of democracy. In Honduras, they had a sham democracy. It was run by elites, what was called a liberal democracy but in reality was a false democracy. Honduras has been governed by a small group that for a long time has been supported by the United States, which used Honduras as a military base against other countries of Central America, against Cuba, turning the country into a colony. Manuel Zelaya came from the ranks of the Liberal Party, he entered the government as an intelligent young man, breathing in the new winds blowing from South America, the winds of change, I would say even winds of revolution. It is different from the revolution of the 1970s. This one is carried out not with rifles but by a peaceful people, it is a democratic revolution. Montesquieu said that men needed to be able to ride the wave of events. And that’s what Zelaya did. With his cowboy hat he climbed up and rode the wave. And as soon as he broached the question of convening a constitutional assembly to consult with the people about refounding the republic, the political class that has governed all this time, the Honduran bourgeoisie, became frightened. That is the fear of democracy.