Steve Kroft talks to Chavez in his first U.S. television appearance for a report to be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, May 12, at 7 p.m.ET/PT.
Chavez wants to know why the U.S. ambassador was quick to embrace the coup leader and content to see him, a duly elected president, in exile. “…The government of the United States…I believe that they really owe an explanation…to the people of the United States and also to us,” he tells Kroft. Nevertheless, Chavez says he doesn’t believe the U.S. had a hand in the coup, but “some reports [of U.S. complicity] have come up and we’re looking into it.”
Chavez denies the report amplified by the White House that he had resigned during the coup. “Never. Never. Never,” he says, calling the coup - led by the military - “almost a miracle,” because it was bloodless and so short-lived. “This had never happened before, for a president to have been taken prisoner by a large group of generals. A dictatorship takes over…and 48 hours later, the president returns and not a single shot is fired,” he tells Kroft.
The U.S. has reasons to dislike Chavez, whose country provides the U.S. with almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia. Besides his open admiration for Cuba’s Fidel Castro, he became the first head of state to visit Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War and he has also called on Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
“To tell you the truth, I honestly didn’t know [the visits would anger the U.S.],” says Chavez. Venezuela is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Chavez says his visits were in connection with OPEC business. “[I visited Saddam Hussein] for the same reason I decided to visit King Fahd in Saudi Arabia...to revamp OPEC, which was in shambles,” he says, “and to insure for you Americans and our brothers on the Continent and the world, a secure supply of oil.” But he says he has his own country to look out for. “Now, if I had known [visiting Saddam would anger the U.S.], I still would have gone to Baghdad because what I am basically doing is defending my country’s interests,” says Chavez.
He insists he likes the U.S. “I do like the United States. I enjoy Whitman’s poems, and ‘New York, New York’ the song. I love baseball, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, hot dogs…freedom,” he tells Kroft.
He also says he is in charge of Venezuela. “I’ve never been fully in charge. I am not a dictator. I do understand your question, however... yes I am [in charge].”