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President Ch?vez Tells Larry King That Venezuela Wants Good Relations With the U.S.

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Larry King on the heels of the 64th UN General Assembly meetings in New York, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stressed that Venezuela seeks good relations with the U.S. and that the country is not engaging in an arms race. He also explained Venezuela’s relationship with Iran, spoke of the development of Venezuela’s participatory democracy and highlighted advances made in fighting poverty in Venezuela.

When asked what type relations Venezuela wants with the U.S., President Chávez answered, “We want relations based on respect – relations of peoples where we are respected...We want to be brothers and sisters. We want respect and equality.” President Chávez also stressed that he looks to reestablish the type of relationship he had with President Bill Clinton. “In my first government, I had good relations with the Clintons. I came to the White House. We met here in New York several times. We spoke on the phone. And I said to Obama and I said to Mrs. Clinton in Trinidad, we want – I want to be as close with you as I was with Mr. Clinton.”

He also added that he has great affection for the people of the U.S. Responding to a question on what he likes about the U.S., President Chávez said, “Baseball. The people. Yesterday, I walked a little bit in New York. And the Secret Service people have been very gracious, very efficient…very kind. We walked with them, and we saw a group of people, women, elderly people greeting us. I love America the way I like Russia, Venezuela, Argentina.” President Chávez also expressed his fondness for the late actor Charles Bronson and added, “Baseball, Yankee Stadium, Walt Whitman. I love those.”

President Chávez stressed that despite the strains caused by President George W. Bush’s endorsement of the 2002 coup, Venezuela remains a reliable partner to the U.S. “Despite all the problems with Bush, we always sent you 1.5 million barrels of oil [a day]. And we have here in United States Citgo that processes two million barrels a day,” he pointed out.

Responding to concerns expressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton related to Venezuelan arms purchases, President Chávez noted that due to a 2006 arms embargo imposed by the Bush administration that left the country without the ability to maintain or upgrade U.S.-purchased weapons and equipment, Venezuela has been forced to purchase them from other countries. “Larry, for a long time, Venezuela has bought these F-16 planes manufactured in the United States. They do not sell us, however, the spare parts. So most of them cannot fly. Transportation planes – you don't sell us the spare parts; also, surveillance planes to fight against drug trafficking. The U.S. government does not sell us the spare parts,” he said.

President Chávez also clarified concerns about Venezuela’s defense spending. “Now, let me tell you this, Larry, in Venezuela, our defense budget – and pay attention and I'll tell you this. Our defense budget is one of the lowest of the whole hemisphere. You know, Colombia has a very high defense budget thanks to the support of the U.S., the U.S. president, the Pentagon. Colombia has 10 times more expenditures in military weapons than Venezuela. Venezuela is half that amount.”

Speaking on the issue of Venezuela’s relationship with Iran, President Chávez stated, “Well, we support each other and we have the right to do that…We are sovereign nations [and] we have an excellent cooperation relation in the field of health. We manufacture medicine, technology, technology transfer for food production in Venezuela; we're installing milk processing plants to develop agriculture, to produce food.” He stressed that Venezuela does not comment on internal matters such as the Iranian elections and that Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

On domestic issues, President Chávez stated that Venezuela was in the process of creating a system of participatory democracy in which the country’s people are fully empowered, though he did recognize that Venezuela remains “a democracy in development, in progress.” He also highlighted significant advances Venezuela has made in reducing poverty and advancing social justice, two key pillars of Chávez’s presidency.

“When I became president, poverty in Venezuela was almost 60 percent. Today, it’s below 30. We met the [UN Millennium Development Goals]. Extreme poverty was 24 percent, now it’s seven percent, and it keeps on going down. Unemployment was close to 20 percent. Now it’s close to six percent, better than the U.S.,” he said. “We have improved employment…and child mortality has improved. We have a health care system that’s taking care of 15 million inhabitants and there’s free distribution of food, donated to the poor people. Venezuela has changed in a dramatic fashion,” he added.

President Chávez closed the interview by expressing his hope for a better future for the world. “I’m faithful that there will be a better world. That’s why I said today, it doesn't smell [of] sulfur anyone. I want to smell a different world – hope, faith, peace. We need to unite. The United States should unite with the South American countries to produce food, medicine, to fight against poverty, to take people out of poverty. That’s our goal.”

The full transcript of the interview with Larry King can be found here:

September 25, 2009
Press and Communications Unit
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Washington, D.C.

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