This interview with Venezuela´s President, Nicolás Maduro, is the second in my series of meetings with Oil Magnates and other influential Oil Mafia Figures who are trying to destroy the renewables industry. I caught up with him during his layover at the VIP lounge in the Moscow airport when he was flying his Cubana de Aviación VIP jet to Beijing.
President Maduro was a bit tense, and made sure other Venezuelan officials sat at the table to help him during the interview. I, on the other hand, was relaxed, even though I knew there was a slight chance I wouldn´t come out of that airport lounge in one piece.
Interviewing Maduro in a Moscow Airport VIP lounge
I started the interview by thanking him for allowing me his time, and by giving him the reassurance that his Foreign Minister (Delcy Rodriguez) would get to edit my notes (I lied).
The president smiled and tossed out his first comments:
“I am very thankful to see you here, so you can report to your international audience, and say the truth about me. It is always important, the people in other countries should believe we have a successful process of new economic social models, a new socialist mentality and all that”.
I decided to dive in and asked him about Venezuela´s economic problems, the high inflation rate, the food and other shortages, the shrinking economy, and the collapse of the oil price. He looked a little bit lost for a second, then started what appeared to be a canned response:
Maduro: “The opposition participated in the coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002 in April. The economic problems are the result of an imperialist conspiracy, my government officials worry about the people. Inflation is caused by the merchants and businessmen who want to have profits in a time of scarcity. What would the US do if a tiny group would say they’re going to generate profits when the country is having a crisis like this?”
I decided to get hardnosed and see what he thought about the 60 % inflation rate being experienced in Venezuela, so I repeated my question.
President Maduro: “First of all, regarding inflation, we are trying to print as much money as possible, and hand it out to people so they can buy what they need. You won´t find a Venezuelan lacking a wallet full of bolivars. The problem, I repeat, is caused by merchants and importers who insist on raising prices, and if we don´t allow them to do it they refuse to import what the people need”.
When I pointed out that importers needed hard currency to buy the food and other goods Venezuela imported, he started to look mad, leaned forward and spat out:
President Maduro: “The merchant positions are not in tune with the objectives of the county, commander Chavez, and myself, as President, we made repeated calls for the opposition to get out of this position of obstructionism and stop the sabotage against the economy. They forget I won the election in 2013”.
Me: “Again… There doesn’t seem to be enough hard currency to buy food and other goods Venezuela imports, the economy is shrinking and your credit lines are zilch. Is this why you are going to Beijing, to see if they loan you some more money?”
Maduro (nodding): “Some are saying Venezuela needs outside help. But they don´t realize we have the world´s biggest oil reserves. We are not in despair. That’s the image we broadcast to abroad. To try to hit hard a revolution that we are conducting in favour of the poor, of the workers…We have economic problems, of course we have. Do you have problems in the US? You have problems in the U.S. All countries have problems, social problems, economic problems, challenges. Venezuela has its own problems, but the problems that we don’t have are the problems of capitalism”.
Me: “They say Venezuela sits on the world’s biggest oil reserves, and you are a major oil exporter, but, oil production is falling, your oil quality is dropping, a lot of cash disappears due to corruption, and you are facing protests because of the soaring crime rate, soaring inflation, poverty, and lack of basic goods on the shelves in the shops – everything from toilet paper to milk. And I brought this up because I’m amazed to see the bolivar rate has sunk to 174 to the US dollar. Your own Finance Minister, Giordani, stated that crooks within the government had stolen over $20 billion USD. What do you say about that?”
MADURO: “ That is correct. And we have denounced this theft. Capitalism works in this manner. In Venezuela we are overcoming a capitalism that is dependent solely on rent, and that was very harmful for the exchange rate. I can give you a list. Very soon we are going to publish the list of people who stole the dollars. They have big mansions in the US. And we denounce that. We were the target of economic war, because the right-wing sectors in Venezuela they thought that since President Chavez had died is was the end of revolutionary discipline. They started an operation to destroy our economy.”
By that point he looked very distressed, so I decided to change to a lighter subject:
Me: “So tell me, what´s the best part about being President?”
MADURO: “I can tell you, the best part is meeting with other Latin American presidents. They love me. And when I´m in Caracas I love riding my bycicle with my friends. People love me, they applaud and cheer when I go for a bike ride. Many of them try to come and touch me, and I feel like I´m that little Korean, you know…(an aide whispers in his ear)…Kim Yoon”.
Maduro riding his bike in Caracas
At that point we stopped and had a cup of Russian tea. Maduro looked relaxed and in a better mood, and so I asked him about Cuba:
MADURO: “We have a really brotherly relationship with Cuba. That country sure is authentic, they kept things like they used to be many years ago. And they have Fidel. When I go to Cuba I get to stay in one of Fidel´s houses. They have these really big swimming pools.”
I noticed the interview time was running low and asked him about his political prisoners:
MADURO (frowning): “I don´t agree with your question – we don´t have any political prisoners. They are BAD people. And if the USA wants Leopoldo Lopez we can trade him for the Puerto Rican terrorist. Sounds fair?”
Me: “Mr. President, the US State Department says they can´t swap prisoners because (jailed opposition leader) Leopoldo Lopez hasn´t been convicted by a judge, and the Puerto Rican terrorist says he´d rather stay in a US jail rather than move to Caracas”
MADURO (face turning red) : “ The US government’s policy is against the Bolivarian revolution and President Chavez. They are always lying about us. I can have Lopez convicted by the judge in 24 hours. And if the Puerto Rican wants to stay then I want that Boston Marathon bomber”.
Then he went on, and scared the hell out of me:
Maduro: “There is sufficient evidence you have conspired to put an end of the revolution. You are part of a powerful elite has run the US for many years!!”
I reminded him I was only an old guy who had retired from the KGB, CIA and MI6 several years before, and was only trying to paint him in a positive light. So I went on to the real reason for the interview, and asked him about his moves to manipulate oil prices and destroy the renewables industry. He became more animated and responded:
Maduro: “The Arabs want the economic control – they have an alliance with the Military Industrial Complex, the Israel Lobby, and the USA Oil Mafia allied with President Obama – to have hegemony and control over the world´s energy . But in Latin America there is a new reality. We are trying to find a way to raise oil prices, and we only ask all governments to remember we are a poor people trying to implement socialism”
Me: “So you are at odds with the US oil mafia and the people trying to drop prices to kill renewables?”
MADURO: “The only conspiracy we joined was the one to stop that Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. We’ve made it all possible, we paid a lot of money to buy propaganda against Canadian oil. You know, the Canadian oil is like ours, if it gets to Texas we´re out of our best paying market. And that North Dakota oil from fracking is destroying the earth´s mantle and causes earthquakes. The American people must be convinced to stop producing oil”.
Keystone XL Pipeline protest (photo courtesy Al Jazeera)
Me: “So right now you are at odds with the Saudis and the others in the anti renewables conspiracy, but have your own conspiracy going to stop Canadian and fracking oil. Sounds reasonable¨.
This put him in a good mood, he smiled and closed the interview with a warm handshake and a brief closing statement.
MADURO: “My message is respect, we are very humble. I am just a humble worker. Commander Chavez decided I should be president. We disagree with the US President and his American Petroleum Institute, they want low prices, we want high prices. But I think we share a common bond with Obama himself, and will stop that Canadian pipeline. And if the UN can scare people with the global warming we can even stop the fracking. That´s killing us.”
So I decided to gamble: “If oil prices go back up and you can stop the Canadian pipeline, and your business picks up, will you let Mister Lopez out of prison?”
MADURO: “That is in the hands of the prosecution’s office and the tribunals. I can only talk to the judge to have him declared guilty if the US wants a prisoner swap. But if Obama doesn´t want to make the deal then it´s better to let Lopez stay in jail. That trial could last many years”
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in his cell
in Ramo Verde Military Prison. Maduro has offered
to swap him for a US prisoner, but Lopez hasn´t
been convicted, and the UN has asked for his release.
Me: “But Lopez called for peaceful protests, and the UN Human Rights organization requested his release, they say putting him in jail is a serious violation of international human rights agreements”
MADURO (looking at me as if he wanted to put me in Ramo Verde Prison with Lopez): “I already called him “The Monster of Ramo Verde” on national TV. So now he’s in jail and he had to go to justice, that´s the way we do it in Venezuela”.
Seeing that I wasn´t going to very far, and after I noticed a Cuban G2 agent whispering and pointing at me, I told him I was going for a potty break and ran away from the airport terminal. A few minutes later I looked up and saw his Cubana de Aviacion VIP jet take off on its way to Beijing. I hear he´s meeting with the Chinese to ask for more loans. Things are getting very interesting in Venezuela.