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tv   John Mc Laughlins One on One  WHUT  November 17, 2010 6:00pm-6:30pm EST

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>> welcome to "ideas in action," a television series about ideas and their consequences. i'm jim glassman. venezuela's president has taken a struggling democracy and slowly consolidated his hold on power, nationalizing key industries such as oil and food distribution. tyrant, dictator, socialist hero? whatever you call him, hugo chavez is trying to keep a grip on politics in venezuela and creating real problems for u.s. policy in latin america. but the man some people call "president for life" may be losing the support of his people. joining me to explore this topic are carlos ponce, a fellow at the national endowment for democracy who served as the secretary of venezuela's national human rights commission... mark weisbrot, an economist and co-director of the center for economic and policy
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research. he co-wrote oliver stone's documentary about hugo chavez, "south of the border." and roger noriega, former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs. he currently coordinates the american enterprise institute's program on latin america. the topic this week: "venezuela--how do you solve a problem like hugo?" this is "ideas in action." >> funding for "ideas in action" is provided by "investor's business daily." every stock market cycle is led by america's never-ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. "investor's business daily" helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. more information is available at
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>> nearly 10% of the u.s.' oil is supplied by venezuela, yet its president, hugo chavez, has been a thorn in the side of both the obama and bush administrations. he increased government control of industries from oil to travel, seizing millions of dollars of assets from american companies like hilton and exxon. his self-proclaimed socialist revolution alienates the capitalist world and embraces rogue states like iran and north korea. he has championed domestic programs for the poor, but his policies have resulted in a 30% annual inflation rate. polls show that almost half of the venezuelan people oppose him, and in the september 2010 elections, opposition candidates captured more than a third of the national assembly. carlos, what does this election mean? a third of the national assembly captured by the opposition. >> the opposition is getting better and better. they have been improving from an opposition that took for granted that chavez was
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somebody who they can control, when he won almost 11 years ago, to try nationalist strike, try a coup d'etat, try feelers, even try not to participate in the last ele--in the past election for the congress. so now the opposition has gained more and more coherent kind of approach. i believe that it's failures of chavez in terms of the government and also winnings in terms of the opposition becoming more and more democratic for it. and this means that all the game has been changing. chavez needs to improve his way of government or to step aside in terms of power. >> what about that, mark? i mean, is chavez losing power? >> i don't think that one third of the assembly is really a gain. they could have had that in 2005, according to the polls, before--that was the last legislative election. >> but they boycotted the election. >> they boycotted the election for no real reason. >> so you don't think that his favorability, his support is
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declining... >> well, it's declined just like president obama declined from a 68% approval to 45% today--you know, 68% last year. chavez has declined similarly. when there's a recession, the opposition gains. >> but does this mean he's gonna have less power? he doesn't have a supermajority as he did. he had a 2/3 majority in the legislature. he won't have that. does that mean he's gonna lose some power? >> well, sure, but, i mean, that's how democracy works. i mean, like i said, they could have had this power 5 years ago. they chose instead to pursue a strategy of trying to overthrow the government, and now they're participating, and i think that's an advance for democracy in venezuela. >> what about that, roger? chavez's supporters say that this was a fair election, and apparently the opposition certainly did a lot better than it did before. i mean, doesn't venezuela have a real democracy? >> well, it has democracy chavez-style. first off, i congratulate the opposition for participating. it's an obligation for any opposition
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to participate, offer new ideas and new vision. but they did so in this campaign against the state having all of the resources of the state behind chavez's candidates. the media virtually under control of chavez. there are some outlets that are independent, but the vast majority of the communication is on chavez's side. the rules rigged against the opposition. and here's what i mean by chavez-style: in the past, when chavez has lost these elections--and he has lost elections in the past; for example, the mayorship of caracas--what he does is strip that entity of all of its power. and i suspect that chavez has the same thing in mind in terms of the legislative assembly. >> can i respond to that? because a lot of this is just not true, ok? this stuff about the media, for example. i mean, there's an affiliate of nielsen that does surveys of how much audience watches the different television, and the state television, as opposed to the private opposition-controlled
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television, the state has between 5% and 10% of the market. if you go and look at the newspapers, the biggest newspapers are opposition newspapers. the radio is also--well, the point is-- >> hold it, just one second. just one second. we've read a lot in the united states in liberal publications like "the new republic," for example, about the closing of outlets by chavez. for example, globovision, one of the biggest networks in venezuela--chavez put out an arrest warrant for mr. zuloaga, who's the owner of globovision. he shut down the single most popular network in venezuela, or took away their license. so you're saying that venezuela has a freer press and more of an opposition press than the united states? i've read you say that. >> it has more of an opposition press than the united states, there's no doubt about that. >> explain that. >> you look at the newspapers, the radio, and the television. you add up who reads--well, who
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are the biggest circulation? who has the biggest audience? it's the opposition tv. >> the biggest circulation in newspaper is "ultimas noticias." this is a balanced newspaper, but more oriented to the government. and the major tv station there is venevision. >> one at a time. >> the major tv station there right now is venevision because of soap opera. it used to be radio caracas television, then the government took control of radio caracas. it's good or bad or not, but what roger said is the government has been also changing all the electoral rules. in july this year, just a month before the election, the government changed the electoral rules--one month before the election. if you travel to venezuela, if you go there, you still see the sign in the street that major candidate in the whole country was hugo chavez. was not the members of his political party, was hugo chavez. it was a single candidate against the opposition, using all the power of the government. >> what about these rules? let's talk about what roger said about changing the rules. >> again, i mean, what do we do in the united states? let's
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compare it to the united states, ok? i mean, every 10 years, we have a census, and then the legislatures redistrict, and if the republicans have power in the legislature and governorship in a state, then they change and redraw the districts, ok? there was a little bit of that in venezuela, nothing compared to what we have here, ok? >> roger? roger? so he's saying it's just gerrymandering. >> the point is 50% of the national votes for the opposition--may i just finish my point? and if you said that what i said was untrue, tell me, is it correct that the opposition got roughly 50% of the votes and gets roughly 40% of the seats in the national assembly? >> yeah, that's absolutely right, and you know... >> and that is absolutely unfair. >> in the u.k., the labour party has gotten 24% of the vote and gotten a majority of parliament, and you've had worse discrepancies in spain. and you have a discrepancy in 2008 in the united states. >> but look. you and i are
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americans. we're foreigners. >> yeah. >> our wish should be for the welfare of the venezuelan people, and i would hope that if chavez were to in the months ahead disadvantage the legislative assembly because his people can't compete with the democratic opposition, which is a bunch of talented, independent people, that if he does to the legislative assembly what he did to the mayorship of caracas, that i would hope that you would be prepared to condemn anti-democratic moves by chavez against the legislative assembly. i'm not counting on that happening. >> ...for everything i disagree with them on, and i'm not here to defend any government... >> roger, let me ask you a different question, and i think this is something that mark certainly implies here. the venezuelans, it seems, anyway, even though his support has gone down just as president obama's support has gone down--there's a lot of support for hugo chavez in venezuela. why should the united states be
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involved in being critical of his government or of the way that elections are held when it seems, anyway, that the popular will is being expressed by him being in power? >> i believe that the u.s. does not need to be involved in venezuela. it's one of the major problems. it's a problem of the venezuelans, and the venezuelans need to figure out how to solve their problems. their problems with hugo chavez--hugo chavez is not the major problem in venezuela. hugo chavez is the consequence of a bad government with hugo chavez and the consequences of--the people were telling the governments in venezuela before hugo chavez. when they took a president to jail because of corruption, then came a government that had the opportunity to solve some of those social problems and promised that--president caldera. and he just slipped under his own promise. and then chavez came in a time when people wanted change. but chavez is not the one who has been delivering the changes. chavez is one more of these autocrat governments of latin
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america. >> let me ask roger the same question. what is the united states' interest in venezuela? i mean, venezuela has not--they haven't attacked the united states. we buy 10% of their oil. we obviously have a relationship with them there. so why should we be concerned about what goes on internally in venezuela? >> well, an unaccountable, autocratic, militaristic regime that makes alliances with the likes of iran and cuba and even russia and china should be of concern to the united states. and this is a regime that because of a lack of democracy can do what it wishes with the substantial petroleum resources to undermine u.s. interests in the region. and what we should be concerned with is the drug trafficking which goes on unabated with virtual complicity of the chavez regime. his ties to iran; his illegal support for the iranian nuclear program; perhaps the
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mining of uranium in venezuela by the iranians, which is also illegal; his support for terrorist guerillas in columbia that are waging a proxy war against a member of the united nations, columbia, which is a violation of international law--all of these things should be of interest to the united states. >> those sound like pretty serious concerns, mark. are you bothered by them? >> i can pick, you know, any one of those all--look at the terrorism allegation, for example, ok? general doug fraser, who is the head of the u.s. southern command, was testifying before congress on march 11, and john mccain--senator mccain--asked him about this allegation, and he said, "we have been paying very close attention, and we don't find any connection between the government of venezuela and terrorism." >> mark, he contradicted that the following day. >> yeah, and the next day, of course, he met with the state department, and then he changed his statement. but i happen to believe that he was right the first time, because he's the one with the satellite data, he
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knows what's going on there, and he didn't see anything. >> so we're talking about the venezuelans are not supporting... >> that's right. in 8 years, we've had anonymous officials saying this for 8 years now in the united states, and not once has the united states government presented one shred of evidence to back up this assertion. >> how about president chavez's temporary powers to rule by decree? >> yeah. >> what about that? >> well, he doesn't have those right now. he had that for a while a little over a year ago. the assembly voted to give it to him, and again, our assistant secretary of state, tom shannon, said, "well, that's constitutional." and, you know, he didn't abuse it, by the way. i mean, there wasn't anything that he ruled against, he ruled or did anything. it was mainly used against foreign companies in order to do some of these nationalizations that you talked about, which, by the way, are a lot less than a lot of other countries--certainly less than bolivia. and the state in venezuela is still a lot smaller in its role in the economy than the state in france, for example. so this
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is--you know, everything you hear about venezuela is exaggerated. you're getting the tea party view of venezuela here in the united states. >> what about--he says that the view is exaggerated. one of the things that a lot of americans are concerned about is pursuing businesspeople--barrueco...i mean, i can name a whole bunch of them who have either been put into prison or have been--escaped the country because of charges, and some people say that's because chavez wants to nationalize their businesses or take them over himself. is there any truth to that? >> the problem is that when the government controls the judiciary--and even right now, the government is in a hurry to appoint all the justices for on the supreme tribunal before the opposition gets into the congress--when you try to do business in venezuela, you have to face the judiciary, and you don't have anywhere to go, and you have to face a government that can decide whatever they want anytime they want because the president can decide that day that that business needs to be nationalized. you don't have
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the tools to do good business in venezuela. so you have the risk all the time, and that's why all the business is growing now in venezuela are business from people around the government. and then when they get into trouble from the government, they flew from the government. >> and is this having an impact on the economy? i mean, the venezuelan economy is kind of amazing. you have the sixth- or the eighth-largest producer of oil in the world, and yet they're now one of the few countries in the world that actually won't grow this year as the recession continues. and they've got 30% inflation rate. why is that? >> the economy is collapsing because governments can't run the private sector. but governments have proven in venezuela, for example, that they can't deliver food as efficiently as the private sector can. so you see food rooting all over venezuela. and the economy is going to collapse. you see shortages of energy, blackouts that are
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collapsing the private sector, and it's an extraordinary problem. returning to this issue of a legislative assembly, there's a banner outside the legislative palace today that has a picture of hugo chavez that says, "welcome, opposition deputies. help us build a country that you're going to flee from." that's the message that we're supposed to accept as indicating some sort of democratic vocation or democratic commitment? he's essentially saying that they're gonna continue to run out of the country anybody that opposes him. >> what do you think, mark, about the future of the national assembly? do you think that roger is right, that you've seen examples of chavez essentially stripping power from institutions where the opposition has moved in? just as a prediction, do you think that might happen with the national assembly? >> probably not that much, no. i mean, it's--you know, they had 48% of the assembly back in
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2004, you know, before they boycotted the election, and there was compromise, and there was back and forth. for example, when they had to appoint an electoral council for the 2004 referendum, they had a long negotiation process, and they ended up with a pretty balanced council. so on the economy, you know, this is something that i actually study and have written about, and the economy has probably already begun to recover in the second quarter if you use seasonally adjusted data. and these guys have been talking about the collapse of the venezuelan economy for, like, 8 years now, and from 2003, when the government got control over the oil industry, to 2008, the economy doubled in real terms in size. that's adjusted for inflation, ok? and poverty was reduced by more than half, extreme poverty by more than 70%. and then they went into recession like most of the
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countries in the hemisphere in 2008. and then they're gonna come out-- >> right. they're the only country, though, according to the economists, or consensus economists, that will decline this year in latin america, and they've got a 30% inflation rate. and they've got all this oil. >> yeah. well, their recession went on perhaps one or two quarters more than some other countries', but it wasn't as deep as mexico, for example. they didn't lose as much as mexico did. yeah, but mexico shrank 8%. mexico shrank 8% in'y sanguine about the venezuelan economy. >> i'm saying that, you know, these stories of collapse, it's like everything else. it's just exaggerated. i'm not saying [indistinct]. they have real problems, but they have real problems just like everyone else. >> do you think their problems are related to what roger said, the fact that there are all these businesses that have been nationalized; there's all this worry, as carlos said, about the judges coming in and saying, "we're gonna take your company away, or we're not gonna allow you to operate"? i
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mean, is that kind of thing a damper on economic prosperity? >> i think that, you know, in every country--venezuela is not the only country with a left government in south america. it's the majority now. in every one of these countries, you have had some problems with foreign investors, and the rules of the game have changed. and, yeah, that's gonna be a problem. and they're all focusing on venezuela because they want to isolate the guy with the oil and make it look like he's the outlier. >> brazil that has been actually reducing poverty because the numbers in venezuela are not quite clear. when they call unemployment "unoccupation," and they begin to change the name of stuff to manipulate the system, i prefer-- >> the imf and the world bank and the u.n. accept their numbers, ok? >> ok, but in fact, in brazil, a left government like lula's is a good government, reducing--with social programs, implementing programs with democratic ways, respecting opposition, respecting everyone, respecting civil society. civil society in
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venezuela has been under threat for the last 8 years because chavez from one day decided to begin an action against civil society. >> civil society also tried to overthrow the government and succeeded for 48 hours... >> when? what civil society was that? >> in 2002. the same people that your opposition, that you're talking about. >> i was opposed to the temporary government-- >> you were. you were. >> ...with respect to ngos, they were against that. and now they're under threat. the majority of ngos--[speaking spanish] that's a group of indios. and now some of the organizations have been facing also persecution from the government. >> let me bring roger in here. >> what mark is doing is what chavez does: this mccarthyite denunciation, tarring all of the ngos, because if you can say that they tried to overthrow the government in an illegal way, you can treat them like criminals. and what they are are democrats who want the best for their country. >> what about what mark says
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about other governments in latin america? it's true. brazil has a left government. you can sort of say peru has a left government. >> uruguay. >> but these are countries that are actually prospering to a great degree. what's the difference? >> the governments that respect the rule of law grow. governments that want plural democratic institutions grow. those that don't, fail. >> let me go to an issue that we kind of touched on very briefly, and that is oil. roger, you are concerned that venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the united states and we should be worried about what? >> actually, i'm not concerned. i think that we should be mindful of the fact that chavez has every intention of ending venezuelan dependence on the u.s. market for oil. he is looking for alternative markets. he has every right to do that. the chinese are perfectly willing to do that. they're putting more money in. they agreed to pay $20 billion
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to venezuela. they're building the refineries and the tankers that will take that venezuelan product. we as americans need to be prepared to take up the slack and find other sources of oil, and that will happen over time. it's a market. it's a commodity. i don't carry any brief for u.s. petroleum companies, but they'd better wise up because chavez has every intention of ending sales of venezuelan petroleum to the u.s. market. >> can i respond to this charge of mccarthyism? because i find this deeply ironic. i mean, in washington, anybody who even tries to give--you know, this is--i congratulate you, by the way, for having this show because this is the first show on national tv in the united states that actually has had a discussion like this where more than one side of the story on venezuela has been presented. and so the mccarthyism is really in the other direction. i'm not tarring all the civil society groups or even the opposition in venezuela. i'm just--all i mentioned that was because that was part of--that's part of the stories. and i'm not letting the government off the hook,
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either. i think the government has been unnecessarily polarizing as well. but in terms of being able to talk about this and have a reasonable discussion, this is--you know, what is all this stuff about iran? brazil has very good relations with iran, the same as venezuela. brazil has publicly defended the right of iran to enrich uranium. >> let me let roger respond on the iran point, and then we really have to wrap things up. is there a difference between the relationship between venezuela and iran and that of brazil and iran? >> well, the iranians aren't helping the brazilians develop nuclear technology. if the iranians are cooperating on nuclear technology with venezuela, it's documented. the agreement was signed in november of 2008 or 2009, and that's against u.n. resolutions. >> quick question for--mark.
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quick question for everybody. we're gonna go around the table. what do you think--do you think that chavez will be re-elected in 2012? >> it depends how he moves from now to 2012. he will begin to change all the rules again, because anytime that he loses an election, he changes the rule again. >> ok, but yes or no? >> i hope no. i hope that opposition is gonna begin improving, and i hope that it's gonna be a major movement of people against chavez in the next election. >> roger? >> if the process is more fair, if the opposition is able to change the rules of the game to where there's a more level playing field in terms of access to the media, et cetera, and if they're unified, i think they can give him a real contest. >> do you think chavez will be re-elected in 2012? >> i think probably. i mean, again, the opposition does control still the majority of the media, and they have the majority of the wealth and income of the country because these are the richer people. so they have advantages, and it's true that the state abuses its
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incumbency, like it does in most countries in this hemisphere. >> you think chavez will win? >> i think he'll probably win because, you know, he's the only president they've ever had who has really sided with poor people, and that's still a really large part of the population, poor or working people, and they've gained a real lot in terms of education, health care, and everything else. so they'll vote to re-elect him. >> [indistinct] country. >> i'm sorry? >> according to him, it's a perfect country. it's good to know, because the people that live in venezuela think a different way, and you have to go there and see that the people think a different way, and the majority of the people say that. >> that's the last-- >> i do go there. >> that's the last word. thank you, carlos, thank you, mark, and thank you, roger. before we go, i want to remind viewers that you can catch "ideas in action" whenever and wherever you choose. to watch complete shows, just go to our website,, or download a podcast from the itunes store. and that's it for
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this week's "ideas in action." i'm jim glassman. thanks for watching. >> for more information, visit us at funding for "ideas in action" is provided by "investor's business daily." every stock market cycle is led by america's never-ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. "investor's business daily" helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. more information is available at this program is a production of grace creek media and the george w. bush institute, which are solely responsible for its content.
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