Ordered Chávez's 'Rescue'
Fidel Castro interviewed
by Ignacio Ramonet
25 Apri, 2006
In the book "Fidel Castro,
a two-voiced biography," published by the Debate Publishing House,
the Cuban president told Ignacio Ramonet information not previously
released about the events of April 2002 in Venezuela.
Castro states that he phoned
Miraflores Palace before Chávez surrendered and told him: "Don't
kill yourself, Hugo. Don't do like Allende, who was a man alone. You
have most of the Army on your side. Don't quit, don't resign."
Later, Fidel directed Cuban
Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, to fly to Caracas in one
of two planes to pick up Chávez and fly him to safety.
Castro contacted "a
general who sided with [Chávez]" to tell him that the world
knew the president had not resigned and to ask the general to send troops
to rescue the president.
Fidel Castro, who delivers
so many speeches, has granted very few interviews. Only four long conversations
with him have been published in the past 50 years. The fifth such interview,
with the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, has become
the book "Fidel Castro, a two-voiced biography," a summary
of the life and thoughts of the Cuban chief of state, distilled from
100 hours of conversation. The first interview was held in late January
2003; the final one, in December 2005.
Published in these pages
is an excerpt from the interview in which Castro talks about the Venezuelan
conflict that occurred on April 11, 2002. As the Comandante says, he
will remain in office "as long as the National Assembly, in the
name of the Cuba people, wishes." The book, soon to appear, is
published by the Debate Publishing House.
Progreso Weekly is pleased
to translate and reproduce excerpts from the interview, published in
Ignacio Ramonet (IR): You
have said you feel a great admiration for Hugo Chávez, President
Fidel Castro (FC): Well,
yes. There we have another Indian, Hugo Chávez, a new Indian
who is, as he himself says, "an Indian mixture," mestizo,
with a little white, he says. But you look at Chávez and you
see an autochthonous son of Venezuela, the son of a Venezuela that itself
is a mixture. But he has all those noble features and an exceptional,
truly exceptional talent.
I make it a point to listen
to his speeches. He feels proud of his humble origin, of his mixed ethnic
background, which has a little of everything, mainly of those who were
autochthonous people or slaves brought from Africa, with a mixture of
Indian origin. That's the impression. Maybe he has some white genes,
and that's not bad. The combination always is good, it enriches humanity,
the combination of the so-called ethnic backgrounds.
IR: Have you followed closely
the evolution of the situation in Venezuela, particularly the attempts
to destabilize President Chávez?
FC: Yes, we have followed
events with great attention. Chávez visited us after being released
from prison before the 1998 elections. He was very brave, because he
was much reproached for traveling to Cuba. He came here and we talked.
We discovered an educated, intelligent man, very progressive, an authentic
Bolivarian. Later he won the elections several times. He changed the
Constitution. He had the formidable support of the people, of the humblest
people. His adversaries have tried to asphyxiate him economically.
In the 40 famous years of
"democracy" that preceded Chávez, I estimate that about
$200 billion fled from the country. Venezuela could be more industrialized
than Sweden and enjoy Sweden's levels of education, if in truth there
had been a distributive democracy, if those mechanisms had worked, if
there had been some truth and credibility in all that demagoguery and
all that publicity.
From the time that Chávez
took office until currency controls were established in January 2003,
I estimate that about $30 billion flew out of the country -- capital
flight. So, as we maintain, all those phenomena make the order of things
unsustainable in our hemisphere.
IR: On April 11, 2002, there
was a coup d'état against Chávez in Caracas.
Did you follow those events.
FC: When we learned that
the demonstration by the opposition had changed direction and was nearing
Miraflores [Palace], that there were provocations, shootings, victims,
and that some high officials had mutinied and come out publicly against
the president, that the presidential guard had withdrawn and that the
army was on its way to arrest him, I phoned Chávez because I
knew that he was defenseless and that he was a man of principle, and
him: "Don't kill yourself, Hugo! Don't do like Allende! Allende
was a man alone, he didn't have a single soldier on his side. You have
a large part of the army. Don't quit! Don't resign!"
IR: You were encouraging
him to resist, gun in hand?
FC: No, on the contrary.
That's what Allende did, and he paid heroically with his life. Chávez
had three alternatives: To hunker down in Miraflores and resist to death;
to call on the people to rebel and unleash a civil war; or to surrender
without resigning, without quitting. We recommended the third choice,
which was what he also had decided to do. Because history teaches us
that every popular leader overthrown in those circumstances, if he's
not killed the people claim him, and sooner or later he returns to power.
IR: At that moment, did you
try to help Chávez somehow?
FC: Well, we could act only
by using the resources of diplomacy. In the middle of the night we summoned
all the ambassadors accredited to Havana and we proposed to them that
they accompany Felipe [Pérez Roque], our Foreign Minister, to
Caracas to rescue Chávez, the legitimate president of Venezuela.
We proposed sending two planes to bring him here, in case the putschists
decided to send him into exile.
Chávez had been imprisoned
by the military putschists and his whereabouts were unknown. The television
repeatedly reported the news of his "resignation" to demobilize
his supporters, the people. But at one point, they allow Chávez
to make a phone call and he manages to talk to his daughter, María
Gabriela. And he tells her that he has not quit, that he has not resigned.
That he is "a president under arrest." And he asks her to
spread that news.
The daughter then has the
bold idea to phone me and she informs me. She confirms to me that her
father has not resigned. We then decided to assume the defense of the
Venezuelan democracy, since we had proof that countries like the United
States and Spain -- the government of José María Aznar
-- who talk so much about democracy and criticize Cuba so much, were
backing the coup d'état.
We asked María Gabriela
to repeat it and recorded the conversation she had with Randy Alonso,
the moderator of the Cuban TV program "Mesa Redonda"
[Round Table], which had great international repercussion. In addition,
we summoned the entire foreign news media accredited to Cuba -- by then
it must have been 4 o'clock in the morning -- we informed them and played
them the testimony of Chávez's daughter. CNN broadcast it at
once and the news spread like a flash of gunpowder throughout Venezuela.
IR: And what was the consequence
FC: Well, that was heard
by the military people faithful to Chávez, who had been deceived
by the lie about a resignation, and then there is a contact with a general
who is on Chávez's side. I talk to him on the phone. I confirm
to him personally that what the daughter said is true and that the entire
world knows Chávez has not resigned.
I talk with him a long time.
He informs me about the military situation, about which high-ranking
officers are siding with Chávez and which are not.
I understand that nothing is lost, because the best units of the Armed
Forces, the most combative, the best trained, were in favor of Chávez.
I tell that officer that the most urgent task is to find out where Chávez
is being detained and to send loyal forces there to rescue him.
He then asks me to talk to
his superior officer and turns me over to him. I repeat what Chávez's
daughter has said, and stress that he continues to be the constitutional
president. I remind him of the necessary loyalty, I talk to him about
Bolívar and the history of Venezuela. And that high-ranking officer,
in a gesture of patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution, asserts
to me that, if it's true that Chávez has not resigned, he continues
to be faithful to the president under arrest.
IR: But even at that moment
nobody knows where Chávez is, true?
FC: Meanwhile, Chávez
has been taken to the island of La Orchila. He is incommunicado. The
Archbishop of Caracas goes to see him and counsels him to resign. "To
avoid a civil war," he says. He commits humanitarian blackmail.
He asks [Chávez] to write a letter saying he is resigning.
Chávez doesn't know
what's happening in Caracas or the rest of the country. They've already
tried to execute him, but the men in the firing squad have refused and
threatened to mutiny. Many of the soldiers who guard Chávez are
ready to defend him and to prevent his assassination. Chávez
tries to gain time with the bishop. He writes drafts of a statement.
He fears that once he finishes the letter, [his captors] will arrange
to eliminate him. He has no intention of resigning. He declares that
they'll have to kill him first. And that there will be no constitutional
IR: Meanwhile, was it still
your intention to send planes to rescue him and take him into exile?
FC: No, after that conversation
with the Venezuelan generals, we changed plans. We shelved Felipe's
proposition to travel with the ambassadors to Caracas. What's more,
shortly thereafter we hear a rumor that the putschists are proposing
to expel Chávez to Cuba. And we immediately announce that if
they send Chávez here, we shall send him back to Venezuela on
the first available plane.
IR: How does Chávez
return to power?
FC: Well, at one point we
again get in contact with the first general with whom I had spoken and
he informs me that they've located Chávez, that he's on the island
of La Orchila. We talk about the best way to rescue him. With great
respect, I recommend three basic steps: discretion, efficacy and overwhelming
force. The parachutists from the base at Maracay, the best unit of the
Venezuelan Armed Forces, who are faithful to Chávez, carry out
Meanwhile, in Caracas, the
people have mobilized, asking for Chávez's return. The presidential
guard has reoccupied Miraflores [Palace] and also demands the president's
return. It expels the putschists from the palace. Pedro Carmona, president
of the management association and very temporary President-usurper of
Venezuela, is almost arrested right there at the palace.
Finally, at dawn on April
14, 2002, rescued by the faithful soldiers, Chávez arrives in
Miraflores amid a popular apotheosis. I almost did not sleep the two
days of the Caracas coup, but it was worthwhile for me to see how a
people, and also patriotic soldiers, defended the law. The tragedy of
Chile in 1973 was not repeated.
IR: Chávez is a representative
of the progressive armed forces, but in Europe and Latin America many
progressives reproach him precisely because he is a military man. What
opinion do you have about that apparent contradiction between progressiveness
and the military?
FC: Look, in Venezuela we
have an army playing an important role in the Bolivarian revolution.
And Omar Torrijos, in Panama, was an example of a soldier with conscience.
Juan Velasco Alvarado, in Peru, also carried out some notable acts of
progress. Let's not forget, for example, that among the Brazilians,
Luis Carlos Prestes was an officer who led a march in 1924-26 almost
like the march led by Mao Zedong in 1934-35.
Jorge Amado wrote about the
march of Luis Carlos Prestes in a beautiful story, "The Gentleman
of Hope," one of his magnificent novels. I had an opportunity to
read them all, and that march was something impressive. It lasted more
than two and a half years, covering enormous territories in his country,
and he never suffered defeat.
In other words, there were
prowesses that came from the military. Let's say, I'm going to cite
a Mexican military man, Lázaro Cárdenas, a general of
the Mexican Revolution, who nationalized petroleum. He is very prominent,
carries out agrarian reform and gains the support of the people. When
one talks about affairs in Mexico, one mustn't forget the roles played
by personalities like Lázaro Cárdenas. And Lázaro
Cárdenas originated in the military.
One mustn't forget that the
first people in Latin America to rise up in the 20th Century, in the
1950s, were a group of youths who rebelled, young Guatemalan officers,
who gathered around Jacobo Arbenz and participated in revolutionary
activities. Well, you can't say that's a general phenomenon but there
are several cases of progressive military men.
In Argentina, Perón
also came from military origins. You need to see the moment when he
emerges. In 1943, he was appointed Minister of Labor and drafted such
good laws that when he was taken to prison the people rescued him --
and he was a military chief. There was also a civilian who had influence
over the military men, he studied in Italy, where Perón also
had lived; he was Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and they were
Perón was an embassy
attaché. He worked in Rome in the 1930s during the Mussolini
period and was impressed by some of the forms and methods of mass mobilization
he witnessed. There was influence, including in some processes, but
in those cases where I mention that influence, Gaitán and Perón
used it in a positive sense, because the truth is that Perón
carried out social reform.
Perón commits, let
us say, a mistake. He offends the Argentine oligarchy, humiliates it,
strips it of its symbolic theater and some symbolic institutions. He
worked with the nation's reserves and resources and improved the living
conditions of the workers. And the workers were very grateful, and Perón
became an idol of the workers.