1 Palast: When you were seized during the coup, and you were put on a helicopter to La Orchila, did you think that this might be your last helicopter ride, and that you would never see Rosa Inés or your other children again? Did you ever think, this is it - they're taking me up in the air and I may not make it to the island, they could just throw me out of the helicopter?
Chávez: (translated) Well, Greg, on that helicopter to La Orchila, from Turiamo Bay where they'd kept me for almost 24 hours, on that journey, no I didn't, because during that flight I felt like Zarathustra coming down from the mountain, I was on fire! I was certain, although incommunicado, that I would return...
2 Palast: Now you had help, from a young officer, who helped you put a message into a garbage can, that you had not resigned. Could you tell me about that, how you were able to be helped, to get the message out that you hadn't resigned?
Chávez: I had the assistance of several soldiers and officials during my captivity. One of them gave me a stone to rub, which is part of his religious beliefs. He told me to rub it and nothing bad would happen to me, that was here in Fort Tiuna. Another person gave me a mobile phone, on the first day, and I was able to make two phone calls, to my wife and my daughter Maria. I said to them, I don't know what's going to happen, but tell the world that I am a President held prisoner, that I haven't resigned and I will not resign...
3 Palast: I spoke to Ali Rodriguez today, and he was telling me something very interesting, that he called you a couple of days before the coup to warn you that there were some members of OPEC who were planning to stop or cut production because of the situation in the Middle East. And therefore there was danger for you because the United States could not allow you to remain in control of OPEC and Venezuela's oil if there was a boycott coming. The question I have for you, did you understand this as a warning from Ali Rodriguez that a coup was imminent because of the oil situation?
Chávez: In all honesty, there was no direct relationship between that oil scenario - the possibility that production would be cut - and the imminence of the coup. But it was a call of alert, for us to think clearly, and decrease the risk of a complicated situation getting much more difficult. That call helped me clarify to the world, which we did through the Minister of Energy and Mines, that Venezuela wasn't going to support an oil boycott; that Venezuela, as current leader of OPEC, was committed to fulfilling the 1999 Caracas Resolution that says OPEC countries guarantee worldwide consumers a secure oil supply. We only clarified our position.
4 Palast: Nevertheless you must have known that your actions in rebuilding OPEC into a real - powerful - organisation had to upset the government of the United States and put you in hot water with the American government; that rebuilding OPEC, which was due to your actions, had to incur the wrath of the American government?
Chávez: The truth is that when our government came to power, even before then, we were in touch with countries like Saudi Arabia, Mexico (which is not from OPEC but very close to us here) and all the other OPEC members, in order to find a price balance. The price was way too low, it was $7 per barrel, which was almost a gift. I once gave this speech, initiating the OPEC conference here in Caracas, and I said something that made everybody laugh but it's absolutely true: a barrel of oil costs $14-15 (this was in 1999) while a barrel of whisky costs 10 times that! A barrel of wine costs far more. A barrel of ice-cream costs three times a barrel of oil - sunscreen, which women especially use on the beach, a barrel of that costs three times more than a barrel of oil. And it's not right that the price of oil is so low. This is about finding a fair price, one that is convenient for everybody from the consumers to the producers, in order to incorporate sustainability into the oil business...
5 Palast: You gave President Clinton a lesson, but now the United States government has said, "Hugo Chávez had better learn the lessons of the coup." What do you think the American government means by "the lessons" you should learn, and have you learned your lesson?
Chávez: I would say that we all have to learn the lessons of the coup, including myself. I also believe that some of the political players in Venezuela and the US, and other parts of the world, should also take some time to revise the lessons of the coup. It's not only me. But I humbly say, yes, I am always learning. Especially as leader of a state, a leader of many, a nation's conductor, I should be humble. I studied the principles of leadership, and I try to apply them always, and the first principle I learned, when I was only 17 - I was a young man, skinny, you know what they called me, they used to call me "Tribilin," you know, Goofy from Disney, because I was thin and my feet were too large, I use size 44 shoes. You too? Then you are also "Tribilin!" Well I learned that first principle of leadership, of commanding men, and I can never forget it: "Know thyself, and always look for self-correction."
6 Palast: But the US, when they say "Hugo Chávez better learn his lessons" - do you take that as a threat from the American government? Isn't that a threat?
Chávez: I don't want to take it as a threat. No, they must have their own reasons for saying such things. You know, before publicly answering expressions like this one, I prefer to talk person-to-person, face-to-face, with those who have actually said them, in order to understand their motivations for expressing such things, and consequently give them personally an answer. I insist, not only to the US, but all over the world to those who have expressed themselves on this matter, that this spectacular coup that happened in Venezuela, which received such a beautiful answer from our people - dignified, valiant, democratic, and also the dignified and valiant answer of the central structure of the Venezuelan military, I believe that these elements, along with many others, must be an extraordinary source of lesson...
7 (watch video) Palast: I read your newspapers, and the papers in the United States, and Europe, and they say, 'Hugo Chávez is crazy, Hugo Chávez is a dictator!' So I'm gonna ask you, Mr President, are you crazy, are you loco?!
Chávez: Look Greg, I also read the papers - not as much as you, but that's your business. I have so many activities, but I do read the newspapers and I make analyses of what I read. I love to read, I love social communication, freedom of speech - I sail on it. So when I read in a newspaper in Europe or North America, or even here in South America, "Chávez is a madman," you know what I say? That I should speak like Christ: "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do!" I don't feel like they're talking about me at all - I am just a Venezuelan, in a struggle every day for my people's rights. What I am is simply a peasant, a soldier and a political leader, who has a dream of a country that is already written down. Here it is, the future of Venezuela, on paper. (produces copy of the constitution) I carry it here in my head, and here in my heart, and I will fight for it all my life, this is what I am.
8 Palast: They also say you're a dictator, so Hugo Chávez - are you a dictator, are you using, for example, your Bolivarian Circles to intimidate your opponents? And we did see bullet holes in the front of a TV station that opposes you.
Chávez: Look, a dictator is what was installed here in the presidential palace, in an illegitimate way, for a day and a half. That was a dictatorship, what happened after that coup. When a fake president swore himself in - that, yes, is a dictator. I was elected by these people. I was elected once, I was elected a second time, and now I've been elected for a third time. April 13th for me was like a third election, the people brought me back again...
9 Palast: Then let me ask you, if according to your own constitution, the National Assembly votes to remove you, will you leave peacefully?
Chávez: The National Assembly could only do it through a series of steps, they don't have the right to take the presidency away from me just like that. There is only one way to do it: democratically, legitimately - and it was this humble servant who proposed to the Constitutional Assembly that it should be included in the Constitution. It's in the shape of a binding referendum, which is applied to every officer elected by the people, after half of their period has been completed. So that's the legitimate and constitutional way through which I could leave government, by the Venezuelan people voting for it...
10 Palast: If they voted, would you accept their vote?
Chávez: Yes, democratically, yes. If I commit a felony, and the General Attorney accuses me in front of the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court finds merit in the case, and the National Assembly orders my resignation, then I would accept. I would have to leave the presidency, how could I resist? This is about the normal behaviour of democratic institutions, but there must be a solid background for this to happen.
11 Palast: You have two problems it seems. You have pressure from the outside, from the last remaining superpower, and internally from the upper classes. From the outside, isn't it true that the reason you're in hot water with the United States is over the issue of oil?
Chávez: I wouldn't like to believe that, in any case you are stating a hypothesis. I have many friends in the United States that I have have won over because of my fight over oil prices. Those are the American oil producers, who are also affected by a very low price of oil. When I go to Houston and visit them, in Texas, or Lake Charles, or any other oil town in the States, they applaud me, because a fair price of oil is also good for them.
12 Palast: It's very clear that the man on the hill, Ambassador Shapiro, and his boss Mr Bush, they don't like you. What is behind this? Not everyone in America, and obviously the government, appreciates you establishing a base floor on the price of oil. Why does the United States government act so hostile towards you?
Chávez: I believe there is something at the bottom of all this, in fact there are probably many reasons. Some, maybe I don't know about, but I'll tell you a small anecdote. One time, ex-President Bush the father, whom I'd already met in Houston a few months beforehand at the beginning of 1999, came here to Venezuela and I received him in the palace. He told me, "Mr President, I believe that your fundamental problem with the United States is that of perception..."
13 Palast: But doesn't it worry you that Otto Reich is in charge of Latin American affairs for the Bush government? He spoke to Carmona, he spoke to other people who may be involved in the coup, he was previously involved in trying to overthrow a government when he worked for Bush the father. Doesn't it worry you that the man in charge of Latin American operations for the United States has made ties to your enemies and has a history of overthrowing governments?
Chávez: We are assessing all this behaviour, but more than concern me, I believe that this man that you mention has been very concerned himself and has been making a lot of effort to explain his behaviour to the world. And also for the image of the US government around the world, they should be concerned to clarify this to the world, for example to the European Union, Latin American countries, to the whole world. I believe the United States must be very concerned to clarify their real position on this coup, this assault on democracy...
14 Palast: Finally, a very last question. You said that you were a simple man - a peasant, a soldier. Do you think this is one of the reasons why the rich hate you here? I've met many rich people and most of them, they don't just dislike you, they hate you! Do you think it's because of your background, or the colour of your skin?
Chávez: Well, I have many friends who are rich, so not all of them hate me, fortunately!
What I believe is that a sector of the Venezuelan high class is the victim of a psychological campaign - systematic, cold, calculating, Goebellian - so they have seen with their own eyes through Venezuelan television so many lies, they have heard with their own ears so many lies told, that I'm sure they have in their heads a phantom, a ghost, which they believe is Chávez, but it's not me. I love the people. I don't care if you're the richest man on earth, you are a son of God, and I love them all. I wish them the best, to their children, to their wives, I wish happiness...