In March 2003, in the midst of the lead-up to the war in Iraq, CBS’s Dan Rather sat down with Saddam Hussein to allow the Iraqi leader to present his side of the story to the American people. This week, Newsweek and Lally Weymouth gave one of the world’s foremost despots, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, a similar opportunity. The following is a sample of the exchange, with Weymouth's questions in bold:
Why did you call the United States a terrorist state?
The country is one thing; we have lovely relations with the people—like in the Bronx [where Chavez paid a visit]. We have economic relations. We have a company [Citgo] that refines daily 800,000 barrels of oil... We have 14,000 gas stations in this country. We have sent major-league baseball players here. But the media is trying to make the American people see me as an enemy. What I said is that this U.S. administration—the current government—is a terrorist administration, not all U.S. governments.
So what's wrong with President Bush?
This administration invaded Iraq. According to Pope John Paul II, it is an illegal war, an immoral war, a terrorist war... In Venezuela they fostered a coup d'etat [in 2002] manufactured by the CIA. Recently, Rev. [Pat] Robertson called for my assassination. This is a terrorist attack, according to international law. In Miami, on a daily basis, people on TV shows are calling for my assassination. This is terrorism.
Reportedly, Venezuela is buying MiG planes from Russia, as well as rifles. Why does Venezuela need these?
Who told you that I am going to buy MiGs? I am going to buy rifles, that's true. Our rifles are very old. Venezuela does not have spare parts or the workshops to maintain our equipment. We are threatened by the empire.
Is the United States the empire?
The government of the United States, that's the empire. We have evidence that there are plans in this country to invade Venezuela. There is a plan called "Balboa." Our intelligence found this plan, and everything is spelled out there—the target is Venezuela. I hope that this will never happen because you're going to regret it. There will be such havoc in the whole hemisphere if this happens. The price of oil would shoot up and reach what—$100 a barrel?