What follows further down is a transcript of an exchange between Guardian reporter Rory Carroll and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, from Chávez’s TV programme Aló Presidente, broadcast 26th August 2007.
I was prompted to look up the transcript when it was referred to by Carroll himself, who has a new book out titled Comandante: Inside The Revolutionary Court of Hugo Chávez, in an interview on Today with Pat Kenny on Friday March 1st 2013. First of all, here is the excerpt from the Pat Kenny show.
Transcript: Excerpt from Today with Pat Kenny on Friday March 1st 2013
PAT KENNY: Now, the kind of weapons that he did use, besides the occasional imprisonment of somebody – humiliation. Heaping humiliation upon people’s heads. I mean, denouncing them on television. And I suggested to you when you came in, like what would it be like if you had Enda Kenny or Bertie Ahern on television for three hours, just mouthing away, commandeering the airwaves, and you said, what are you talking about, three hours? Nine hours. Non-stop.
RORY CARROLL: Yes, yeah. And em, well, speaking of humiliation, my own, I can give you a personal anecdote about that. I was on his TV show, he has a weekly TV show called Aló Presidente, Hello President, and I think I was on episode no. 294. I went in as a journalist, I had lobbied them to let me attend, and he invited me to ask a question. And I did, I asked him about the centralisation of power and risk of creeping authoritarianism, and boy did he let me have it. He proceeded to denounce me and it seemed eternal to me, this was all on live television.
PAT KENNY: Now did he know who you were?
RORY CARROLL: Oh yes, he’d been briefed, he’d been given a piece of paper and it was “Rory Carroll (imitates Chávez accent) del Guardián, bienvenido, welcome, what is your question, Rory?” So I was, well, here’s my question. And there was this, you know, sudden, awful silence. He glowers at me and all these red shirted people seated in the audience started edging away from me because they knew what was coming, and what was coming was this tirade of invective against me as an agent of British imperialism and as a representative of European Old World vice and cynicism and how was it that Europe had colonised Africa, committed genocide all over the world, wars of conquest. Then he threw in the Royal Navy, the British Queen, and this went on and on. And I was left in this kind of puddle, this stew of concern. But he, and then he gave me back the microphone and said, well what do you think of that?
PAT KENNY: (Laughs)
RORY CARROLL: What do you think of that humiliation? And I was like, mmm. Ok. Well I said, well firstly I’m not British, I’m Irish. I’m republican. With a small ‘r’. So really my attitude or my views on British monarchy and so forth are not really relevant so I said “no importa” it doesn’t matter what I think about this and I notice, señor presidente, that you didn’t answer the question so I’ll repeat it.
PAT KENNY (hushed): Ohhh..
RORY CARROLL: And there was another big pregnant silence and, you know, the glower if you like kind of goes up a notch and he very cleverly actually turns my words against me. He says “No importa? It doesn’t matter? No importa el genocidio en África? The genocide in Africa doesn’t matter? It matters to us, compañero, he said. And, you know, he was sort of twisting my words of course, but, in a way that you know, made me look like the villain of the piece and of course that’s what I was, for that particular show I was made kind of, the fall guy or the punchbag.
Transcript and translation of excerpt from Aló Presidente, 26th August 2007.The excerpt begins at 23:10 on this video. HUGO CHÁVEZ: there is also a British journalist, that is, from Great Britain, from England. Rory Carroll, I think last week we were looking for him and he was unable to get here, but he would make it. Rory Carroll. Is he here? (Carroll raises hand. Someone off-screen shouts “Chávez!”) HUGO CHÁVEZ: (to people off-screen): Hello! What happened, my love? That’s enough, don’t have me interrupting the programme, the agenda. A little later, a little later. Don’t leave. Has the journalist not arrived? Does anyone know..ah, sorry. There’s the British journalist, from the Guardian newspaper –El Guardián. Rory, do you speak Spanish? RORY CARROLL: Yes, a fair amount.
HUGO CHÁVEZ: What brings you here Rory, to Valle Seco in the Caribbean? You’re from Great Britain.
RORY CARROLL: No, I’m Irish in fact but..HUGO CHÁVEZ: Ah, you’re Irish. OK. What brings you here, to these parts of the Caribbean? RORY CARROLL: Oh I love the Caribbean, I love your country. I live in Caracas. HUGO CHÁVEZ: How long have you been living here with us? RORY CARROLL: Nearly a year. HUGO CHÁVEZ: Nearly a year? RORY CARROLL: Yes. HUGO CHÁVEZ: You’re a journalist – from where did you graduate? RORY CARROLL: Dublin. I’ve been working for the Guardian for 10 years. HUGO CHÁVEZ: The Guardian. El Guardián. RORY CARROLL: Yes. HUGO CHÁVEZ: Of London, right? RORY CARROLL: Yes. HUGO CHÁVEZ: What brings you here, what kind of question do you have for me? Do you have a question? Generally journalists have a lot of questions.. RORY CARROLL: Yes, we always have a lot of questions. So, one question about the Constitution, one change that is quite an important proposition, that you want to have the right to continue as President, to be a candidate for the next time and in the future. But some critics say there is a risk in this. And you have also said, for example, that it is not a good idea for governors or mayors for example to have that right, because there is a risk that you could, I don’t know, turn into caudillos. HUGO CHÁVEZ: What was that? RORY CARROLL: Caudillos. HUGO CHÁVEZ: Caudillos. RORY CARROLL: Sorry about my accent. And so if there is a risk that that could happen with them, why is there no risk that this could happen with you? HUGO CHÁVEZ: There you go, that’s the question that Rory Carroll brought for us. (To Carroll) I’ll go about answering that on the fly. (Looks at watch) It’ll take us about six hours to answer that, so you can’t complain about the time. And Chui-Yun Cheng (Hong Kong-based journalist in audience. Unclear what the correct transliteration ought to be since Chávez’s pronunciation of her name varies), what question do you have, Chui? Chui-Yun.
CHUI-YUN CHENG: (speaks in English, with translator): I’ve been very impressed, you know, by the social programmes launched by the President here in Venezuela, I think we have a lot to learn from the experience here, and when I go back home I would like to share that. And 21st Century Socialism, I would like to know more about that. What is it?HUGO CHÁVEZ: Right. Thanks, thanks. That was Chui-Yun. I’m going to allow myself to engage in a reflection comparing the two questions. Comparing the two questions. Because we know that in communications media, no medium is neutral. There’ll be people listening saying “no, I have a TV station that’s neutral”, “For me, this newspaper is neutral”. It’s false. No. Not even.. not even nature is neutral. Nature itself is not neutral. And she speaks. She often becomes radical. She is often a rebel. She does not stay still, in a way that is neutral, against things that men, human beings do, or attempt to do, or have done, throughout history. The journalist comes along -this has nothing to do with the journalist, with the person of Rory Carroll or Chui-Yun. No. It’s not to do with them. It is to do with the tendencies [corrientes, which can also translate as currents] in which they move. Rory works for a newspaper in London. So, his question comes guided by the tendencies that that newspaper operates. And frequently, the tendencies that that newspaper attempts to impose upon a people, to generate, like the rain. In Europe there is a lot of cynicism. Rory. Over there in Europe where you’re from, I think Europe competes with the US, but since Europe is older, it is more cynical. Not because it is old, but because it has been at it for longer, Alí, practising cynicism. And I think in the US they learned a lot from European cynicism. Well, what cynicism in Europe, to celebrate the discovery of America. In Europe for example they refuse to recognise the African holocaust. Ah, Reyes, you’re from over there. He is an Afro-descendent [afrodescendiente]. Me too, and proud of it, but less than him. He has more African blood than me. All of us come more or less from Africa. What about you over there? He’s Cuban. Afro-Cuban. (referring to another person) Afro-Venezuelan. In Europe they still talk about the discovery of America. And they want us to celebrate the day..look cameraman, comrade, please (gestures to man off-screen to move slightly), that’s it. Eh, Rory, what a thing, no? Ships left Europe, thousands of ships with armies with weapons, pardon the redundant expression. The British Armada for example. The British Armada. That’s how they called it, the invincible fleet, the Spanish Armada. The German Armada, the Portuguese, the Dutch. Ships of war, you see, war. They reached the coasts of Africa. To kill the blacks. To tie them up. The objective was not to kill them. It was something worse, I think. Worse. Because I prefer to die fighting against an invader than to be chained up and dragged onto a boat, to have my life torn away from me and to be brought to another continent. Enslaved. (applause). Better to die fighting than to be a slave. Europe – I have never seen a European journalist coming here, not even from those more, shall we say critical journalists, to ask, look, what do you all think about the arrival of Columbus here? And the arrival of the British armies. Did you know that they speak English in these islands (points)? And the head of state of some of these islands of the Caribbean is still the Queen of England! The head of state. It would be great if you in the Guardian were to publish work on that. Why is it at this point in time that the Queen of England is still the head of state of I don’t know how many islands in the Caribbean? The head of state is over there in London. And here you have the citizens of that state. How strange, no? So, in Europe, they go around with the notion that Chávez wants to stay in power forever. Because I am proposing that the people decide on the possibility of continuous re-election to head of state. Possibility. Why don’t they go and ask, why don’t they have a referendum in the English-speaking Caribbean Islands for example and ask the inhabitants of these sister islands right here if they want the Queen of England to be their head of state, if they really want to talk about democracy in England? What cynicism there is in the world. What cynicism. The same thing happens here in Aruba, the Dutch Antilles (laughs). We are bordered by kingdoms! How strange, no? Europe. Europe. The learned Europe. The learned Europe, and we are the barbarians, the Indians, the blacks, the sudacas. What cynicism from Europe! What cynicism! I hope these words are not taken by any European as an attack on Europe because then people get offended: Chávez rails against Europe! He offended us. Ah, but Europe offends nobody. Europe has been trampling on us for centuries, and it never offended anybody. It is learned Europe. La belle Europe. (laughs) Cynicism! Europe is the Queen of Cynicism! I hope this gives cause for reflection.
Europe. Europe. So the European newspapers go around like mad, the majority, Chávez the tyrant, Chávez the caudillo (points at Rory Carroll), Chávez who wants to stay in power forever, but you have kings, compadre! (laughs) They still have kings and queens, who aren’t elected by anybody, and on top of that, they are hereditary, and they are heads of state. Heads of state.
And besides, well, in Great Britain for example, England, the prime ministers, who are the heads of government, can be re-elected however many times the people wishes to re-elect them. And so they’re worried because here, it is being put forward for consideration. I doubt that in England they have ever asked the English people if they are in agreement with that continuous re-election. Would they not put that to a referendum? Let’s see what the English people think. They don’t even have a constitution there in England. There is no constitution. Did you know that? Tarek, you knew that, right? There is no written constitution. If there is one country where there are no rules of the game, it’s in England (laughs).
Because here the Europeans come and the North Americans and especially the investors, (saying) where are the rules of the game, the clear rules?
Well, let them go to England and see if there are any game rules. There is no written constitution (laughs). You see the cynicism? It would be great were they to follow our example, our modest example – ask the people, find out what the peoples think. Here everything is consulted with the people.
This constitution (takes constitution out of shirt pocket), our constitution, to change in it..look Rory, if anyone here wanted to change a comma, a full stop, a semi-colon, a little word, no-one can do it without the people, in a national referendum. It is the people that rules here. It is the people that rules.
I wish they would do that in Europe, I wish they would consult the peoples over political systems, economic systems, and I think that it is a healthy measure, you know, to consult the peoples and give them participation in the running of politics, in the running of society, in the running of the economy, and not leave it to elites who think they are all-powerful and enlightened to run things.
The Presidential Commission for the Reform sent me this, they did an important piece of work (quotes from paper). Countries -from Europe, by the way, from the European Union- that are republics and have continuous re-election without a time limit. Germany. Germany. Hey, ask the Germans if they can be caudillos or not. Ask them, Rory, the German Chancellors if they are caudillos or can be caudillos. (Laughs) In France, the presidents can be re-elected indefinitely. In Italy the prime ministers. The same in Portugal. The same in Slovakia. The same in Cyprus. The same in Estonia. The same in Slovenia. The same in Greece. The same in Latvia. All of that is Europe. So you come asking me whether here, what’s this caudillismo, caudillo, then over there is pure caudillo too. Europe is the queen of caudillaje in that case. (Applause from audience) Europe is the queen of caudillaje (laughs). Pure caudillo.That’s where there are republics. And where there are monarchies – monarchies (emphatically)- kings, even at this stage of the 21st century, kings. Kings. The United Kingdom has the Queen. She is there for life, and then comes her son, who will be king. (To Carroll) Do you elect the king? Do you elect the queen? Does anyone elect, has anyone elected kings? I’m asking you. Do you elect kings? What is your opinion on this? Let’s hear your opinion.
RORY CARROLL: (inaudible, sounds like “I’ll repeat” – “repito“) I’m not only Irish but republican too, so I don’t defend that system. But then it doesn’t matter because the question is about this country and you, and the question is, why is it if mayoralties and governors don’t have that right, why should you have it?HUGO CHÁVEZ: Look at that, he replies that it doesn’t matter because it’s about this country. It matters to me. It matters to us. You see? He comes along to say the question I ask him doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. What do you mean it doesn’t matter. It matters to us. Everything that happens in this world matters to us, compañero. Everything matters. That’s something else that you (plural) have. “No, it doesn’t matter because the question is about this country”. It does matter to us. It does matter to us. The destiny of your people matters to us, the Irish people. The destiny of the peoples of Europe matters to us. The destiny of the peoples of Africa matters to us. It all matters to us.
Because it is the destiny of all of us who live in this planet. We all live on this planet, Rory. How is it not going to matter to us? So you can’t put blinkers on (makes gesture) and say no, we’re going alone. No. 360 degrees (makes gesture in shape of globe), the magic formula 4 pi r squared.
Well, you don’t want to answer the question. Well, you did answer. You are Irish and you’re a republican. You’re a republican. But I wish the newspaper you work for, the Guardian, in London, promoted a survey in London regarding the British monarchy. What do the British think about the monarchy? A suggestion. A suggestion.
The same thing happens in Spain. the president of the government. Let’s not talk about the king, the king is the king. The king is king. No? Like the song says, Alí, “I am still the king” (laughs) “I am still the king”. In Spain there is a king. There is no debate or anything about that there. But there is a president of government in Spain who can be re-elected for life, that is, whatever the amount of times, that the majority of the people decides. The same thing happens in Sweden, the same thing happens in Denmark, the same thing happens in Belgium, the same thing happens in the Netherlands, the same thing happens in Luxembourg. In all those countries where there is a monarchy, with the monarch as head of state, there are prime ministers and presidents of government whose period has no limit with regard to the possibility of being re-elected.
So in Europe there is a whole uproar because here we are proposing that the people decide about a figure that has existed in Europe for centuries. Centuries! Centuries, it has existed. Then, if we compare the question of Rory, who comes from, or who works for the London newspaper The Guardian with the question asked by Chui-Yun Cheung, who comes from China. Think about the kind of question. She asks, Rory, about the social reforms. The social reforms. And about 21st century socialism. If the proposed constitutional refom has anything at its core, it is to deepen the social reforms, on the path of building a system of equality, of justice, which is socialism.Capitalism is the realm of injustice. Capitalism is the realm of inequality. Socialism will be the realm of equality, the realm of justice. That is how Bolívar put it: let us form a system where justice is the queen. That is the queen that we want: justice, the queen of all the republican virtues. Specifically, the deepening of social reforms as the journalist Chui-Yun has said. For example, extending social security to self-employed workers [trabajadores no dependientes] of whom there are more than 4 million in Venezuela. For example, the extension of social security to artists, to cultural workers. We are elminating, attacking, the critical knots of injustice that still remain in our society. When we aim for a reduction in the working day to 6 hours a day. 36 hours a week maximum. We are making a historic, giant step. Look at how much it cost workers, how many struggles, how many martyrs, how much torture, how much sacrifice to achieve the eight hour working day. That lasted for more than a century. Now, here we are, with no strikes involved, with no martyrs involved, this is a workers’ government, a socialist one, that is one that rather asks the people. Look at how things are: inside out. The government takes the initiative and asks the people if it wishes to bring the working day down from 8 hours to 6 hours. There you have some elements, Chui, Chui-Yun of what you called the social reforms. That is the core. Now, the most important thing is, well, the most important proposal in the constitutional reform to deepen the revolution, is the central theme of Aló Presidente today. Communal power. Communal power. That is the essence of today’s programme and the essence of this proposal.