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?