“Crisis of the World Economy, the Capitalist System”

BBC Text of the Fidel Castro–Hugo Chávez Conversation on Venezuelan Television, February 27, 2007, Anniversary of the 1989 “Caracazo” Uprising

Note from Labor Standard: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has a regular television program called Alo, Presidente (“Hello, President”) in which he discusses current issues with the people of Venezuela, often broadcasting from a local area while visiting a Venezuelan city or rural region. Over the years Chávez has had many different guests on his program, including such figures as U.S. antiwar leader Cindy Sheehan and Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara. On February 27, Chávez had a surprise guest phoning in to Alo, Presidente from Havana — Cuban President Fidel Castro, who according to the big business press in the U.S. is “terminally ill.” The following transcript of the Castro-Chávez conversation—which was watched and listened to by millions in Venezuela—indicates that Fidel’s health is improving and he’s obviously in good humor. This version of the transcript was posted on the Internet by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on February 28 with the comment that it “has been edited for brevity.” We reproduce the BBC transcript for the information of our readers, having edited it for clarity and to replace British usage with American. We have also added some explanatory notes.

A more complete, and far more accurate, version of the Castro-Chávez conversation may be read in English on the web site of the Cuban daily Granma.

February 27 is the anniversary of the 1989 Caracazo uprising by the Venezuelan masses. A useful account and description of that uprising may be found here. An even more detailed article, entitled “The Legacy of the Caracazo,” discussing the 1989 uprising and its historical impact, was posted on the CounterPunch site.

Chávez: Let’s see who is calling from Havana. Bring me some coffee please.

Castro: Hello. Hello. Do you hear me?

Chávez: Who is calling?

Castro: Can you hear me?

Chávez: I hear you.

Castro: Distinguished and dear friend, how are you?

Chávez: [Words inaudible]

Castro: I am listening to you on “Hello, President”—[and to] all the figures you have cited. I find your argument very good regarding the growth of the GDP, and the drop in unemployment. Many interesting things.

Chávez: How are you?

Castro: Go ahead, go ahead. Ask me.

Chávez: [In English] How are you?

Castro: [In English] Pretty well. [Laughter]

Chávez: You have no idea how happy it makes us to hear your voice and to know you are well.

Castro: Thank you.

Chávez: We are surprised. We are pleasantly surprised. We were, as almost always, talking about you a while ago. Now, you know that.

Castro: I always knew I would end up on “Hello, President.”

Chávez: Now we broadcast daily. [Previously the program was on Sundays.]

Castro: No. [Words inaudible. Laughter] I am studying a lot, above all.

Chávez: What are you studying?

Castro: I see that you do not let go of the books. When do you sleep?

Chávez: I sleep a little in the early morning. I sleep some. I study a lot. That is one of the responsibilities of every revolutionary. We follow your example. I am now reading…

Castro: [Interrupting] Yes. You have been reading for a long while. You have great talent to keep it all in, to remember everything. The only thing you sometimes forget is figures.

Chávez: I forget numbers, but not that much.

Castro: However, you have them all bookmarked and never miss one. It is not easy to keep up with you.

Chávez: Do you know how many hectares of corn are needed to produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: To do what?

Chávez: To produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: Ethanol. I believe you told me about that the other day. Somewhere around 20 million hectares.

Chávez: [Laughing] Just like that.

Castro: Go ahead, remind me.

Chávez: Indeed, 20 million. You are the one with an exceptional mind, not me.

Castro: Twenty million. Well, of course. The idea of using food to produce fuel is tragic, is dramatic. No one is sure how high the price of food will rise when soy is being used for fuel, with the need there is in the world to produce eggs, milk, to produce meat. It is a tragedy. One of many today. I am happy to know that you have taken up the flag to save the species because... there are new problems, very difficult problems, and therefore to see someone become a great preacher of the cause, a champion of the cause, an advocate of the life of the species, for that, I congratulate you. Continue fighting [words inaudible] to educate the people so they can understand.

There are things that I read and review every day. I am very aware of the threat of war, environmental threats, and threats [to the food supply]. We have to remember that there are billions of people [going hungry]. These are realities, and for the first time in history, the governments are getting involved. Governments that are able and have the moral authority to do it, and you are one of those rare examples...

Forgive me for extending myself. I have stolen half of your show.

Chávez: No. Not extensive at all. It is 1949 [hours; i.e., 7:49 pm]. We were remembering you today. As you know, today is 27 February [anniversary of the Caracazo revolt of the poor in Caracas in 1989]. One of the reasons for the Caracazo is that when you came that time [for the inauguration of President Carlos Andres Peres, a few weeks earlier in 1989], you left here hundreds of agitators who “set the flats on fire,” as we say. [Note: The bourgeois yellow press of Venezuela alleged that “Cuban agitators” were responsible for the revolt of the poor against price increases and other IMF-dictated austerity measures.—Labor Standard]

We were analyzing the causes [of the Caracazo], including the topics of the foreign debt, Black Friday [the 1983 devaluation of the Venezuelan currency], the plundering of the country, the flight of capital, privatization, inflation accompanied by a horrible recession, unemployment, the collapse of the middle class. Well, as Einstein said—we were reading [him] a while ago, I do not know if you heard [what he wrote], when he reflects on socialism and concludes that capitalism generates chaos.

So, Fidel, we were remembering you in connection with the Caracazo . I was thinking that in those days I saw you from afar and I wanted to get close to greet you, but I could not, but we were already involved in the revolutionary movement. [Note: Beginning around 1982, Hugo Chávez organized and led a “Bolivarian” network inside the Venezuelan military, which had links with Douglas Bravo’s Venezuelan Revolutionary Party, of which Hugo’s older brother, Adan, was a member. The oppositional sentiments of such forces inside the military were reinforced by feelings of protest against the Carlos Andres Peres government for using the military to forcibly suppress the Caracazo uprising, involving three thousand or more civilian deaths and many more wounded and/or imprisoned. It was Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian network, linked with civilian revolutionaries, that carried out another uprising on Feb. 4, 1992, seeking to oust the IMF-dominated Andrés Peres government and calling for a Constituent Assembly to reorganize Venezuela in the interests of the majority of the people.—Labor Standard]

I wanted to tell the world [what] I thought [about you on] this “Hello, President” program…Now that I am listening and talking to you, what an honor.

Well, on that day [Feb. 27, 1989], the entire people rose against neo-liberalism. Fidel, as you know, the Caracazo was the first overwhelming and worldwide response against the aims of neoliberalism, just at the time when the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall were falling, at the onset of “the end of history.”

And 4 February [the Bolivarian military uprising led by Chávez in 1992] stems from the Caracazo. You know that one does not make sense without the other. Then came this whole path, our revolution in which Cuba has always and will always be present, Cuba with you at the helm.

There is so much to thank Cuba for. Without Cuba, the energy revolution would have been impossible. Now, we will continue to move forward with you...

Castro: I think it is all wonderful... Venezuela has a territory of nearly one million square kilometres. We are just a nut shell that the Gulf current pushed too close to our friends to the north. [Chuckles]

Chávez: [In English] Our friends…Fidel, listen.

Castro: Well, you say that I know English. I did at one time.

Chávez: Did you forget it?

Castro: The trauma afterwards has made me forget it. This is why I no longer have that excellent memory you have, the capacity to summarize, or your musical ear, your talent to remember songs. I cannot believe that you have partied so much as to remember all those songs.

Chávez: I never partied as much as you.

Castro: I envy you that.

Chávez: Not as much as you. Not as much as you.

Castro: I am talking about the essence of ideas. You have the right words. I have noticed that [words inaudible] the exact words. In the end, you will be one of the greatest writers in this hemisphere. Do not worry, writers have increasingly more power with time.

Chávez: Can I ask you something?

Castro: Yes.

Chávez: What do you think of the latest news to have reached us? That 67% of Americans disapprove of Bush’s policy in Iraq. You know that we are preparing to welcome Bush in South America?

Castro: Ah, you are going to welcome him. Yes, I have heard something. That there will be mass organizations [demonstrating] all in a very peaceful and respectful spirit, but I bet that you do not know about two big news items today.

Chávez: Tell me.

Castro: For example, the Shanghai Stock Market fell 9% today and the New York Stock Exchange, the queen of all stock markets, fell 4%. It is one of the greatest drops in recent years and that really proves our ideas.

Chávez: Well, that news…

Castro: [Interrupting] They lost $800bn (£409bn) there [in New York]. It is the queen of the stock exchanges. The fall was greater than during the South East Asia crisis. So, I do not know what will [have a greater effect on] the U.S. leaders, or whoever leads the U.S. by modo propio [“by special means” or “in their own way”—L.S.], the news of what happened there [on the New York Stock Exchange] or his tour of South America.

Chávez: Yes. No. I tell you. I did not know the news of the fall of the Shanghai or New York markets. However, yesterday—you should already know because you know everything—the [International] Monetary Fund is in a crisis. I said yesterday and today that they may have to ask [for] a loan from the Bank of the South. The Monetary Fund does not have funds to pay wages. They are selling their gold bars.

Castro: Yes. They are selling gold because that is the only thing worth anything today. What they should be selling is paper. Paper for the U.S. to pay, or sell something. Well, the Bank of the South is a serious bank. It aspires to be a serious bank.

Chávez: It will be a serious bank.

Castro: The International Monetary Fund never was; the crisis proves it. This happens [i.e., the IMF sale of gold] three or more days before the fall of the stock exchange.

Chávez: It is the same crisis, as you already know, the crisis of the world economy, the capitalist system.

Well, [we have] the alternative at the national level. Each one has its own model. We have socialism there in Cuba and here in Venezuela [words inaudible]. On the international level, we have the Alba [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas]. As you know, we are moving forward quickly.

Well, everyone asks for you. Yesterday I was in Martinique, pardon, in Dominica. We went by way of Martinique.

We were in Dominica and Saint Vincent. The prime ministers sent their greetings...

Everyone asks about you, and I tell them what I know about your recovery, of your new Sierra Maestra [Cuban mountain range where Fidel led the revolutionary guerrilla war of 1957–58 that resulted in the overthrow of the pro-U.S. Batista regime in Cuba], of that struggle you are waging and in which we accompany you every day. Praying to God—who, as you said, is helping Chávez and his friends—that God continue helping you in your recovery. All of us. We are millions, as you know, in the world that want to see you again fully recovered, as I am sure will be...

You are an example of resistance and now of offensive, Fidel. I do not want to let go of the opportunity of your surprising phone call that so encourages us and makes us happy to continue reminding our people of the courage of Revolutionary Cuba and your courage, your courage, your conscience. We were remembering that you were here in 1959 when the so-called democracy experience here, which failed miserably, was beginning.

That failure led to the Caracazo, and that [resulted in the military uprising Chávez led on] February 4, [1992,] and from there to what is happening here today. But you, Cuba and its example of dignity, of battle, of courage, and its infinite solidarity has always and will always be with us as an example.

Castro: Hugo, I wanted to tell you that I met the head of your delegation and we were talking when the news from over there arrived. So I am very happy. I will see if I can talk to him personally or some of the other figures later on. They are working a lot with great enthusiasm. Taking advantage of the short time we have left. Time cannot be overlooked. In my opinion, we have limited time.

Chávez: As you know…

Castro: [Interrupting] We are increasingly more aware of that. I thank you very much for your greetings, for your thoughts. Overall, I [must remember] to give you back the microphone because if I do not, I get going like you. I could not compete, but I can imitate you a bit. I also want to thank you for the greetings from the people of Venezuela, such a heroic people, who have undertaken the responsibilities that they have now.

History is being rewritten. Two hundred years ago everything was very different. The world has changed so much, especially in the last 70 years. That is the time we must take advantage of and over which we have to meditate a lot. I set aside time for that. I feel good because there is nothing more important...

I cannot promise you that I will visit you soon and accompany you one of these days, but I am gaining ground. I feel more energetic, stronger, and I have more time to study. I have become a student all over again.

Chávez: Morals and Lights.

Castro: Morals and Lights. Those two words are stuck in my head. I do not forget that. This is the first time I see someone trying to win that moral battle on a foundation of winning the hearts and minds of the people. I do not know if you still have more time, but you were supposed to talk to Ramirez [as a guest on the show].

Chávez: No, I can talk to Ramirez tomorrow.

Castro: He is [probably asking]: what do I do?

Chávez: I can talk to Ramirez tomorrow. We are happily listening to you, and we are happy to hear you and to hear about your recovery. Continue to recover. Do not forget about the tsunami.

Castro: No. No.

Chávez: Go ahead.

Castro: I almost forgot one thing. Everyone thanks you for relaying news about me. I speak and then silence. Total silence. I cannot be talking every day. They have to break the habit, the vice of having news every day. I appeal for patience and calm from everyone. I am happy. Everything is quiet. The country is marching along, which is what matters. I also ask for tranquility for me so that I can fulfill my new tasks nowadays.

Chávez: Yes, Fidel. I have become—well, you have turned me into an emissary, a source. Anyone who wants to know how Fidel is doing, can come here, can call me, can talk to me. I always give them—well, I tell them the truth about what is happening. Your recovery, your example, your perseverance. You have said that you cannot accompany me here soon on a trip, but it is not necessary because you are always here with us. I hope to return to Havana soon so we can continue talking, working, and gaining ground as you have said.

Do you know how many people listened to the first hour of the program? Forty percent. As you know, the audience of “Hello, President” is huge. Let’s gain ground. We will win the battle for life. We will win that battle. Thank you for your call.

Castro: A million thanks.

Chávez: Let’s give Fidel a round of applause. [Applause] A hug. Comrade, companion, and you know, I do not have any qualms about calling you father in front of the world. Ever onward to victory. (Hasta la victoria siempre.)

Castro: Ever onward to victory.

Chávez: We will prevail. (Venceremos.)

Castro: We will prevail. [Applause]