JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: The years-long economic crisis in Venezuela has the country in a steep downward spiral. Violence rocked the nation earlier this year, as President Nicolas Maduro pushed through controversial political changes.
Maduro has come in for tough criticism from President Trump and some Latin American leaders. Through it all, rates of hunger and crime have skyrocketed.
In a rare interview, Maduro sat down with NewsHour special correspondent Ryan Chilcote at an energy summit today in Moscow.
RYAN CHILCOTE, Special Correspondent: President Trump has upped his criticism of you and your administration since the creation of the Constituent Assembly.
And I want to read you a quote from President Trump that he made, a statement that he made at the General Assembly. He said: “The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed. The situation is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch.”
As far as I know, Mr. President, you haven’t spoken with President Trump. If you do, what will you say to him, and what would you say now to the American people?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO, Venezuela (through interpreter): I would say to the U.S. people the truth, that we have always done so.
Venezuela wants only one thing, respect. The time of U.S. interference in the social and political life of Latin America and the Caribbean should be left behind. Venezuela is the object of desire of ruling circles in Washington for two reasons, our riches, the riches of our country.
We have the largest proven reserves of oil in the world. We have growing reserves of natural gas. We are number eight in terms of gas reserves in the world. And these reserves are growing, because, on top of oil, we are also exploring some gas deposits.
Now Venezuela raised the flag of a new model of waking up the peoples on our continent. But they want to suppress this idea, this example.
It’s not just about Trump, because Trump is reading his notes. He doesn’t even know where Venezuela is on the map. He doesn’t even know where Puerto Rico is. He didn’t know that. He went the Puerto Rico, and he came there during the tragedy and insulted them. These are our brothers.
If you say to him Simon Bolivar, he thinks that’s a rocker, a singer. He doesn’t know what that is. He repeats what the Pentagon writes for him. My voice will never shut up, and my voice will be loud always, with or without Trump. Trump is rude. He’s telling me he is going to deal with us and end us.
But, even with Trump, Venezuela will keep moving forward and we will fight for this destiny.
RYAN CHILCOTE: I would like to ask you about that. President Trump has not ruled out military action in Venezuela. Do you take that threat seriously?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): This is a forum on energy.
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): Of course we can discuss other types of energy, spiritual energy.
Let’s take a look at this. The president of the largest, the most powerful military power in the world has no right to joke or not be serious. The people of Venezuela are rebellious people. We fight for our freedom. And, of course, we have certain threats. Venezuela has no weapons of mass destruction. We have no nuclear weapons, no strategic weapons.
We have no significant armed forces and military places abroad. We are a modest country in this sense. And all of a sudden, Trump threatens to attack Venezuela by military force. Of course all Latin American and Caribbean countries oppose that.
And I think the U.S., despite anything, they will have some minimum common sense.
RYAN CHILCOTE: Venezuela has one of the largest collections of Russian arms in the region. Amidst this threat of intervention, you’re here in Moscow. Will you be or are you asking President Putin for military assistance and more weapons?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): As for this Russian assistance, yes, we do have. Russia supports us. Thank goodness there is such a leader in the world, a true leader, with a fast-growing economy like Vladimir Putin. He holds high the flag of peace, dignity.
RYAN CHILCOTE: You are asking for military assistance, in a word?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter):We have enough. What we have is enough. But, at the same time, there are new arrangements that are coming up, even if we don’t ask for them. We are going to be given even more support to defend our sovereignty and our defense capabilities.
RYAN CHILCOTE: According to some statistics, in 2016, around three-quarters of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds because there’s not enough food. What are you going to do to solve that problem?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): Venezuela is still at an important position, in spite of the crisis, in spite of the drop in the oil price, in spite of the domestic trade and economic war that some entrepreneurs fight against us.
Venezuela is investing more than 60 percent of its available resources in quality-based education and health care; 65 percent of students in the country receive free and good-quality public education.
RYAN CHILCOTE: Are you saying that there is no food crisis in Venezuela?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): I never heard this. Who is saying this?
Venezuela is facing a global mass media campaign against it. They have been saying Venezuela has so many problems, that he probably deserves an intervention. And people said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Well, let’s do an intervention to get rid of this WMD. Let’s get the bad guy, the Caribbean Stalin, as probably some people think. Let’s get Mr. Maduro, and that would be the end of problems.
This is a global campaign.
RYAN CHILCOTE: As you know, there are concerns about the treatment of journalists. Journalists have been attacked. They have been kicked out of the country. They have been allowed not — they have been barred from coming in the country.
And there are concerns, as you know, about political violence in Venezuela and the question of whether there are going to be elections, presidential elections in 2018.
Can you give us a guarantee that journalists will be given access to Venezuela, that there will be presidential elections in 2018, and that demonstrations and protesters will be treated with dignity and without violence?
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): In April, May, June, and July of this year, we had attacks from the ultra-right movements. No government in the world, I think, would be tolerant of this type-situation and risky situation.
So we had to live through very difficult times. This also coincided with the coming to power of the Trump administration and the right-wing powers in the U.S. And there were some spots of violence in Venezuela across the country, and those spots of violence were fueled by journalists and global mass media.
The opposition of Venezuela was claiming that we need intervention to stop this violence. Now, if we ever had even one case of a reporter who wasn’t allowed to come and get accreditation in the country, maybe this would have been seen as a violation of our national legislature, but this is probably because of the libel and distortions that were spread by such mass media.
Now, from April to July, if we never had any reports in the major newspapers of the world about violence, maybe we wouldn’t have had such violence.
RYAN CHILCOTE: Mr. President, I suspect we could go on all day. This has been a very interesting conversation, but I think we’re going to need to wrap it up there.
I would like to thank you.
And please thank the president of Venezuela for joining us today.
I thank you, and thank you on behalf of PBS NewsHour. It’s been interesting speaking with you, sir.
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO (through interpreter): Gracias. Thank you very much.
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