‘John Bolton tried to assassinate me’: Interview with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal sits down with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. We discuss the plots to kill him, US sanctions on food distribution, corruption allegations, and the corporate media’s industrial grade demonization campaign against him and his elected government.

Video by Ben Norton

Transcript

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Six months ago, the United States government recognized an unknown opposition leader as interim president of Venezuela. But here in Caracas today, it’s pretty clear who’s in charge.

I’ve just concluded a conversation with the elected president, Nicolas Maduro. We talked about the US government’s attempts to delegitimize him as leader, to destroy his country’s economy, and to even end his life.

Mr. President, the last US journalist you spoke to I believe was Jorge Ramos, of Univision. And when I actually was leaving Venezuela I was on the same flight as Jorge Ramos, and I confronted him and challenged him on his reporting. And he told me that he was informed that Mike Pence and Marco Rubio were very happy with what he had done down here in his interview with you. What he did with you, in the first question, was to call you a dictator, in an attempt to delegitimize you, to take away your legitimacy as the president.

But since that time a lot has taken place. In the last weeks you’ve hosted the Non-Aligned Summit, where representatives of over 120 countries have come to visit and endorsed your rule as the elected president. You also hosted the Foro Sao Paulo, a gathering of the left across the hemisphere, where you gave a major speech walking through the four stages of the fight against imperialism.

My question is how do these two events, particularly the Non-Aligned Movement, confirm that the coup has failed and that you are indeed the legitimate president?

NICOLAS MADURO: Welcome, this is a conducive environment for reflection. This is a beautiful mountain, you can see all of our lovely Caracas.

If you ask me, that journalist came here to provoke. I gave him an opportunity. I knew he was a provocateur. He’s one of those journalists that’s an agent for US intelligence agencies.

He’s an agent. Jorge Ramos is a US Intelligence agent and he plays a role. They’ve tried to turn him into an anti-Trump journalist, but the Hispanic, the Latino community in the US should know that he’s a paid agent.

He came with a plan, and he failed. It’s not worth talking about him. It’s in the past and his provocation went badly for him.

Regarding the second part of your question, we had the ministerial summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Venezuela has presided over the Non-Aligned Movement for the last three years, since the September 2016 Margarita Summit.

It was our responsibility to hold the ministerial summit. We held it. It was successful. Representatives from governments of 120 countries attended. We approved fundamental documents for strengthening the United Nations system, advancing important causes such as climate change.

As you know, climate change is affecting all the regions of the world. President Trump refuses to acknowledge climate change. It’s craziness! Climate change is affecting warming, it’s harming the planet.

The Non-Aligned Movement ratified the Paris Accord and every commitment on climate change.

We also ratified the 2030 agenda, that’s what it’s called, the 2030 agenda for social equality, for investment in public education, public health, housing, in work — the entire 2030 agenda for development and other key issues.

We received great support against the aggressive measures, the sanctions and blockade by the government of the United States against Venezuela. We received great solidarity.

I believe it has been very successful from a diplomatic perspective. Recently, a few days ago, we received the Sao Paulo Forum. Over 150 social and political movements, political parties, from over 70 countries attended. 720 leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.

We had the opportunity there to analyze the global situation, the geopolitical situation of Latin America and the Caribbean, and there too we received full, absolute support for Venezuela in its struggle for independence, sovereignty. In its struggle against the blockade, against financial persecution, against everything related to the Trump administration’s economic aggression.

I think these two international events were carried out at a high level.

Now in the months of August, September, October we will have global meetings about indigenous peoples, women and feminism, the labor movement and unions, and more.

Venezuela is a meeting place for debating ideas, and for dreaming about the future, which is the most important thing.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: These events were totally ignored in US media. And I think one of the most interesting aspects of the Non-Aligned Movement is that 21 of the countries out of the some 120 countries that came to Caracas for this event are targets of US sanctions. And these sanctions are essentially a form of hybrid warfare. It’s about regime change.

And so my question is, what came out of this summit to enable Venezuela, your country, to build a block with these other sanctioned countries, to resist this attack on their independence? And also what is Venezuela doing to work with countries like China, which is the target of a US trade war, to survive this attack?

NICOLAS MADURO: There are various components to that question.

First of all, I can say that the U.S. media is aligned with Trump’s policies against Venezuela, against Cuba, against Nicaragua, against progressive movements, leftist movements in our continent.

Unfortunately they are blind to reality in Venezuela. They only report to say negative things in order to support the unconventional war strategy and to mislead and manipulate the reality of our country, of Cuba, of Nicaragua, of Latin America, of independent countries that act in Latin America.

This is a reality. I don’t think it will change. That’s why I say we have to use social media, alternative media, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter —

MAX BLUMENTHAL: — The Grayzone.

NICOLAS MADURO: Correct.

Using alternative media so the truth can reach people. I am sure, Max, that the truth reaches millions of people in the US. That is why I’m doing this interview and any other interview.

Secondly, there is a growing movement of solidarity and support for Venezuela in the world. Venezuela is the victim of a brutal, criminal multidimensional aggression.

The people of the United States should know that this is a war. Experts call it an unconventional war. It is an economic, financial, trade war.

The United States, the government of the United States, persecutes Venezuela so that it cannot buy medicine around the world. They persecute us so we cannot buy food, supplies, commodities, so we cannot buy anything around the world.

They stole Citgo from us. In the United States, you see Citgo gas stations – those are Venezuelan and the government of the United States expropriated it. They expropriated it.

They have frozen accounts worth over $20 billion in banks in Europe and around the world. It is persecution.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: $1.3 billion from the Bank of England.

NICOLAS MADURO: Just in gold reserves of the Central Bank of Venezuela. You know that central banks in countries have special immunity – that’s a post-war agreement. Special immunity for central banks.

And all the gold reserves they have around the world have special immunity according to international law. Well, the U.S. Government, in complicity with the British government, have frozen, have stolen over 1.4 billion dollars from Venezuela in gold reserves. Venezuela’s gold reserves.

So we are facing this war with work, with creativity, with perseverance, with resistance.

I can tell the people of the United States that sooner rather than later, we will defeat all of these criminal policies.

I can tell the people of the United States, that with all of the sanctions, the persecution, the aggression, they haven’t been able to overcome our fighting spirit, our dignity. And they won’t be able to. Venezuela stands up. Every time we’re hit, we stand up with work, with production, with productivity.

On the third part of your question, yes, we have alliances around the world with independent governments for trade, financial and energy relations, and we will keep moving forward.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I want to ask you another question about sanctions. In 2016, your government created a program known as CLAP, to help offset some of the social costs of sanctions, to distribute food for very low cost, along with sanitary supplies, to now 6 million families — not 6 million people, but 6 million families, which is a large percentage of Venezuela’s population.

Now the United States says that it wants to sanction the CLAP program, while it is denying Venezuela assets to buy food for import. An advisor to the opposition candidate Henri Falcón has written an article and told our colleague Aaron Maté that he believes that as a result of these sanctions Venezuela will experience a famine in the next 12 months. And he said that the sanctions are designed to do just that, to cause a famine.

Is this something you’re concerned about? And considering that the US blocks you every time you try to get out from this economic blockade, what can you do in concrete terms to prevent this from happening?

NICOLAS MADURO: This didn’t happen in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If you remember, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had U.N. approved sanctions. They were not unilateral measures. They were not illegal. They were multilateral and legal. Although they may have been unjust.

The U.N. Security council approved an oil for food program. Oil for medicine. Even Saddam Hussein, at this time when he was in a military war with the U.S. — the UN Security Council opened a path for him to import food and medicine.

Donald Trump, John Bolton, the KKK extremists who govern the United States today — I can say it; I don’t know if this is said in the United States, but I will say it: They are Ku Klux Klan extremists. Like the KKK that attacked the homes of civil rights activists, they are trying to attack our home, Venezuela.

They prevent us from getting access to food, medicine, essential goods. We’re not asking that anyone give this to us, we have the money to buy it.

It’s important to know about the CLAP program. What is CLAP? It is an acronym for Local Committees for Supply and Production. I created the Local Committees for Supply and Production in 2016 for distribution of food to reach communities.

Today, we have 33,000 Local Committees for Supply and Production. Local Committees for Supply and Production. Those 33,000 reach over 6 million families.

You should know that Venezuela is a country of 30 million residents. Each family has four members. This means that the CLAPs reach nearly 80 percent of Venezuelan families, particularly the poorest families.

With the CLAPs, we created a program to, at least once a month, bring families a basket of food. Do you have this in the United States? Groceries. A box with 24 products, 24 fundamental products. Subsidized. They are delivered to the home. In some parts of the country we have managed to deliver it every 15 days, in others its every 20 days.

What’s true is that Venezuelan families, who receive support through free public healthcare, free public schools, support in housing, support through a program called the homeland card that gives a direct subsidy, money.

In addition to all that support, families receive groceries. Now we have a special plan for animal protein so families can receive all their food.

That program has just been sanctioned by the Trump administration, at the request of the coup supporting Venezuelan opposition. The U.S. public should know this. The world should know this. It’s something unthinkable. They are going after our food.

John Bolton, this KKK extremist, and Elliott Abrams, this KKK extremist who is known for the Iran-Contra scandal in the ’80s, they say we have to leave the Venezuelan people without food. They say it openly and publicly.

They’re immoral. We have to defeat them. U.S. public opinion has to rise up in solidarity with the Venezuelan people.

But I can guarantee, Max, that the CLAP program will continue. That there will be no famine in Venezuela.

As I say in Venezuela, and I don’t know if this can be translated into English, whether there’s rain, thunder or lightning, the CLAPs will continue and we will continue serving those 6 million households with national production and a great effort from our country.

With production and work, we will defeat the criminal plan to cause a famine in Venezuela carried out by Donald Trump, John Bolton, and the KKK that governs the White House.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Many Americans are familiar with the events since January, when the US enacted a coup against your government, through Juan Guaidó. But they don’t know about a lot of crises and the really grisly events that led up to it.

In 2017, the city that you see behind us, Caracas, was on fire, with the guarimbas. And many people were killed, including Chavistas like Orlando Figueroa, who was burned alive because he was black.

You called a Constituent Assembly, which many people, including on the Chavista side, didn’t expect. You were branded a dictator by the US for doing so, because of the National Assembly and its role — it lost its role.

In August of 2018, you faced an assassination attempt. Drones strapped with explosives attempted to detonate during a military parade, when you were standing with your ministers. So it was an attempt to kill you and many of your ministers.

I want to know what was going through your head during the assassination attempt. What were you thinking as it occurred? And what was the hardest decision you took during this period from 2017 leading up to the coup?

NICOLAS MADURO: First of all, Venezuela is a deeply democratic, free country. In 20 years, we have lived through a process of revolution. Commander Chavez who was the founder of this Bolivarian Revolution, inspired by the ideals and legacy of our Liberator, Simon Bolivar, can be considered for history as the great democratizer of the political and civil life of Venezuela.

In these 20 years, we have had, for example, 25 elections. Presidential elections every time the Constitution calls for it. Parliamentary elections, elections for governors of the 23 states, elections for mayors of the 330 municipalities, elections for local and regional legislatures. Elections for referendums for consultations on national issues, such as reforming the constitution. 25 elections.

Our forces, the Bolivarian, Chavista forces, have won 23 of those 25 elections. We have won against the united opposition. They are always united. We have beaten them 23 times.

Last time, for example, we beat them, just two years ago or less – 18 months ago, we beat them in 19 of 23 governorships, including in the country’s biggest states.

Of the 335 municipalities, through popular votes, we beat the opposition in 307. And on May 20th of last year, I beat two opposition candidates who participated in the elections, with 68 percent of the vote.

Venezuela has an open electoral registry. Venezuela does not have compulsory voting. It has an electoral registry in which 99 percent of voting age people are registered. In contrast to the United States in which over 30 percent  of voting age people are not in the electoral system. It’s a big difference.

I won with 68 percent of the votes cast. But I can give you more information. I won 33 percent of registered voters. How much did Donald Trump get when he won? 22 percent of registered voters, on top of the fact that 30 percent of voting age people in the US are not registered. There are small details one can see.

The level of legitimacy of the Bolivarian revolution, of Venezuelan democracy, the level of legitimacy of my leadership as president of the republic, of the governors, of the mayors, of the constituent members, of the legislators, is very high, it’s real. It’s what the KKK of the United States does not want to understand. They don’t want to understand that our legitimacy is real. We are real, just as this wood is. We are real. Our legitimacy is real, certain, strong.

That is why they fail and will continue to fail, Max. Write it down. We’re in 2019 and they have failed. They will continue to fail in their coup attempts, their destabilization, they will fail in everything, we will defeat them in everything with votes, with the people, with democracy, with freedom, with institutions.

Now, a year ago, it will be a year in August, there was the attempt. I can tell you that today I have proof that the assassination attempt was ordered by John Bolton in the White House.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: You’re saying John Bolton personally commanded an assassination attempt against you?

NICOLAS MADURO: And he waited for the results in the White House. If you dig deeper, you’ll see it someday. The proof will come out how John Bolton, in coordination with then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. And they gave the task to Julio Borges, a former legislator in Venezuela.

We have testimony, we have witnesses, proof. All the material authors of this assassination attempt by drone were captured. Some of the operational and intellectual authors were captured. And it all points to Julio Borges in Bogotá. It all points to Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia. All of it.  All the logistics, the institutional support, technical assistance, support from Colombian intelligence. It all points to John Bolton, who has a criminal mentality, a murderer’s mentality.

We survived that day.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Jaime Bayly said the plot emanated from Miami.

NICOLAS MADURO: Correct. The intellectual authors, the financiers, and the people who directed the operations via video conferences, they live in Miami. They are protected by the US government and are part of the networks established by the White House – in this case, by John Bolton.

I can’t accuse President Trump, I can’t do it at this time, but I do have all the evidence to accuse and ask for a landmark investigation into John Bolton. A criminal. He’s a criminal. He failed.

What went through my head at the time? I was focused on the speech I was giving. I thought it was nothing, I didn’t think it was an assassination attempt.

After, my security personnel protected me and the second drone exploded. That’s when I realized it was an assassination attempt. At the time I was worried about the safety and life of the families, the soldiers there.

Fortunately they dispersed because more bombs could have come. There were seven injured among the troops there.

Later, when I withdrew from there, my mind was focused on the people and their worries. That’s why I was quick to speak after, because I knew the people were worried. They wanted to know what happened.

I’m a man of faith. I believe in God very much. A man of action and prayer, a Christian. I believe that there was an event that day, that God saved our lives.

Because they planned it to perfection, with so much evil, to assassinate us. And Venezuela would have entered a new phase – the revolution would have been radicalized. You can be sure of that, Max.

The revolution would have gone from the phase we’ve been in for 20 years, into a more radical phase, a deeper one. A stage of armed revolution. It would have backfired.

Thank God and our good fortune, we are alive and triumphant. More triumphant than ever.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: We hear so much in our media in the US about corruption in your government. We hear very little of course about corruption in the Honduran government, where the president is under DEA investigation, and where $300 million were stolen from the public health services.

But nevertheless, we hear these constant allegations. And having spoken to grassroots Chavistas here, and even government officials, there are complaints about public officials who are harming the revolution by theft and embezzlement, these kinds of things.

I also know that you’ve taken, your government has taken steps to crack down on corruption, for example against Rafael Ramirez, the PDVSA executive who was an  ambassador and is now still in the US. I think he’s accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars.

What could you tell the US public about about these allegations of corruption, and about efforts you’re undertaking against them?

NICOLAS MADURO: That’s a sensible issue. It’s a pending issue for the Bolivarian Revolution. Without a doubt we have given a tremendous battle against the rotten culture of corruption, against corrupt officials. We have given a tremendous battle. First Commander Hugo Chavez and then it was my turn. It is a bitter battle.

It has been up to me to carry out orders, following impartial and scientific investigations, to carry out orders given to me by the Attorney General and the courts to imprison ministers. And I have sent them to jail, several ministers.

It was up to me to imprison high level officials, from PDVSA for example, where we revealed a mafia. That man you mentioned, Rafael Ramírez, he’s the biggest mafioso, the biggest thief. It pains me to say it, because he was with us. Chavez trusted him, and he mocked and betrayed Chavez’s trust. Now he lives in a massive palace in Italy, protected by the US government.

Because that’s another thing, all the corrupt people we discover here end up fleeing. They go live in Miami, in Florida. Not just corrupt public officials, but corrupt people in the private sector.

I can say that the big financier of Marco Rubio and Donald Trump’s campaign, a man by the last name of [Nelson] Mezerhane who was the owner of the Federal Bank in Venezuela – he’s a financier, he’s one of the most corrupt people who took billions of dollars that were stolen from his bank’s depositors in Venezuela. He lives in Florida protected by the US government.

It’s a double standard. I can say that it’s a pending issue. I can say that the corrupt practice of some officials harms the people. I can say that I can commit fully to the people that I will expand the battle for ethics, for morality, against corruption. You can be absolutely sure of that.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: We’ve talked a little about your opposition here. Your foreign minister is in Barbados right now, in dialogue with the opposition. And there is a mediated dialogue as well in Norway.

The last time this happened was in 2018, when you agreed to early elections at their request. You moved up the elections, and then you entered into negotiations with Voluntad Popular and the MUD.

And ultimately they decided to boycott the elections to delegitimize the election. And then the US I believe threatened to sanction Henri Falcón, the main opposition candidate, for running in the election.

Do you think the outcome might have been different in 2018 if they had all participated and joined around one candidate? Do you think they could have won? Especially given the state of the economy under sustained US attack.

And I guess another part of the question would be, do you see any hope for this dialogue when they’re demanding early elections again? What is the point?

NICOLAS MADURO: The opposition has always been like that and the world should know this. First of all, the opposition isn’t in charge of itself. They have owners, they have bosses. These owners, these bosses, unfortunately are in Washington.

It’s not an independent opposition, with its own positions. They cannot reach an agreement with us if Washington does not agree and tell them to do it. That’s the point we have reached in this situation.

It’s what happened in January and February in 2018. The opposition had spent three years asking that the presidential elections be held early. We went to a dialogue and we said yes, let’s hold the presidential elections early.

We reached an agreement, drafted the document, gave every electoral guarantee, and when we were going to sign the document, in front of the president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and the former president of Spain, Rodriguez Zapatero — they are witnesses to this — the documents were ready to be signed, and Donald Trump’s then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called and he gave the order to the opposition’s chief negotiator Julio Borges to not sign it.

His owner, Rex Tillerson, gave the order. A part of the opposition refused to participate in the elections. Could they have won? I don’t know. We have a base. We have won 23 of 25 elections.

I have faith, I had it then and I have it today, that even facing a united opposition, we would win. That we would win in 2018 as we did win. I have faith in that. Of course, [this scenario] would be political fiction, but we have faith, certainty that we would have won, because of the experience we’ve had, because of the people’s power we have.

Why did they withdraw, Blumenthal? Why did they withdraw in 2018? Because they already had this strategy of total aggression against Venezuela. They had this strategy in place of ignoring the elections, of attempting to not recognize me or our government from the United States and other governments allied to Donald Trump. Of taking our properties overseas, of expropriating Citgo.

The plan we’ve seen this year? US Southern Command already had it in place for Venezuela. That’s why they gave the order.

They knew, Blumenthal, that they wouldn’t beat us in elections. They weren’t going to run the risk of losing elections and giving strong legitimacy to the Bolivarian government of Venezuela.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: What would the consequences be for this country, and for the continent, if your government were to fall in a US-backed coup, and elements like Popular Will were to come in? Would you — for example, I think I’ve heard you allude to the possibility of a civil war. What was the consequence be?

NICOLAS MADURO: If something like that happened – I think it’s unlikely. An overthrowing of the revolutionary government would cause a national, people’s, civil-military uprising. A general insurrection. It would lead to an even more radical revolution that would take a different path. You can be sure of that.

Latin America would enter a revolutionary phase with a different strategy. A different phase because we will never surrender. We will never give in.

We will always fight, and when I say we, I mean humble people, the millions of Venezuelans who have given us 23 victories in 25 elections, those Venezuelans who are not covered by CNN or Fox News, who continuously march in support of the revolution. Millions of Venezuelans who don’t appear on CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News. They’re invisible but they exist.

I wanted to go back and answer part of the last question. I act with hope and faith to establish an ongoing dialogue. It is our central proposal in Barbados, to establish ongoing dialogue with an agenda that goes beyond the current circumstance.

The opposition can ask and propose what it wants and we could move forward with an agreement. We could propose and ask for what we want and we could move forward with an agreement. Partial agreements on different issues of the economy. Partial agreements to request and demand the lifting of the US blockade and sanctions. Partial agreements to offer social services and provide care for the people. Partial agreements to guarantee everything for elections that we can all participate in to renew the Venezuelan legislature. Lots of agreements.

But the fundamental thing, the truly fundamental thing of this stage in the dialogue we have with the opposition in Barbados, with support from Norway, is to set up a permanent dialogue with a permanent agenda to start showing progress in partial agreements, in sovereign understanding between Venezuelans.

Nobody should interfere in this. Nobody should interfere. I can tell you, Blumenthal, that every day that negotiations in the dialogue begin, the United States takes measures, brutal sanctions full of hate because the KKK extremists in the White House don’t want dialogue; they want violence, they want chaos.

But in Venezuela — and I say this with a lot of hope and faith — dialogue, peace, and stability will prevail.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I don’t know if, when you refer to Jorge Ramos, if he is an agent of the US government; I’ve seen no evidence towards that. But I think that he’s doing what he wants to do; he wants to gather fame. There are many other US journalists who are acting as stenographers for our national security state.

And what they have done is demonized you more than almost any figure I can remember since Saddam Hussein. They’ve called you a dictator; they’ve said that you have Hezbollah in your country; they’ve said that you have thousands of Cuban operatives everywhere — maybe the cameramen are Cuban operatives, I don’t know.

They’ve basically accused you of everything short of eating the hearts of children. And I will be attacked for having this interview with you, and not forcing you to have an enhanced interrogation.

So I want to give you this opportunity. I think it’s my duty to offer this opportunity, and to give the other side of the story that the US media refuses to give — including much of our progressive and alternative media.

Which is for you to tell Americans who Nicolas Maduro is, how does he see himself, and what would he tell a future leader of the United States — you’ve called Donald Trump a klansman — but a future leader who is willing to sit down and have a dialogue with you.

NICOLAS MADURO: Let’s talk. I have said it to President Donald Trump in every way and in every language. If some day, in the present or the future, there were a possibility of dialogue, of respectful understanding between equals, I would be willing to shake his hand, make progress and overcome this phase. I hope so.

We believers call upon God. I hope there will be light, a halo of light, of hope for dialogue, for a new kind of relationship between the United States and the Bolivarian Revolution and Venezuela. I hope so.

Who am I? I can tell you, I believe in truth. Truth can break down any wall, any lie, any manipulation. Only the truth shall set you free, said our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in the truth.

I am a humble, working-class man, a bus driver. A Bolivarian activist, a revolutionary, Chavista, educated by Commander Hugo Chavez.

Everything we have, we have achieved through work, through effort, through the popular vote, through the popular vote. We have never gotten anything by force. It has always been through the people’s vote, through the people’s legitimacy. That’s how we will continue.

They can say what they want. The Bolivarian Revolution will continue on its path and the truth will pave the way.

Thank you very much. Thank you.