One charge was especially explosive. Chavez said that he does in fact possess documentation about a secret US plan to invade Venezuela, codenamed Operation Balboa. He said that an aircraft carrier had been sent to the Caribbean recently to conduct exercises related to Balboa. Koppel interrupted him to confirm that Chavez was claiming to have actual evidence of this plan, and he asked Chavez if he would hand over the evidence to ABC. Chavez said that he would give some of the evidence to Koppel.
Follow me on the flip.
As for Operation Balboa, Chavez first claimed to have evidence about it on July 3, as this Washington Post article indicates. In mid-July a report in a Venezuelan weekly, Las Verdades de Miguel, gave further details. The plan, allegedly dating to May 2001, was drawn up by Southern Command with the goal of removing Chavez but never implemented, according to this story at SF.Indymedia.org. This news probably was lost here in the buzz about Plamegate.
Here is the full text of the exchange on Nightline. Emphasis is mine. Chavez spoke in Spanish with a translator:
KOPPEL: You have spoken in the past of cutting off Venezuelan oil to the United States. You have signed new agreements with China. You have visited India. There is a sense that you want to be able to bring the United States to its knees.
CHAVEZ: It's very difficult for someone to bring the empire to its knees. That is not my pretension. That would be something totally disproportional.
What we do want to do is have both of us on our feet -- both of us standing up or both of us sitting down. Or, if we kneel, let both of us kneel. That would be to pray -- to pray, as we Christians pray.
Now, there's the matter of oil. Look, let me clarify. And I would like to clarify this for the people of the United States. The people of the United States should know that we are the owners in a U.S. territory of a great oil (inaudible) which has eight major refineries. That company has a value in near $10 billion.
We're one of the biggest investors of Latin America. I think we're the prime investor of Latin America in the United States. We are giving employment to more than 2,000 U.S. workers and their families. We are paying taxes to the government of the United States. We cooperate with many cities, with mayoralties, Houston.
And now with Katrina, this awful drama that the United States is living through, from the very first day I ordered a group -- a coordinating a group of support being sent to where one of our refineries is located. We've been helping. And we've been even rescuing people.
Practically no one in the United States knows that we've donated millions of dollars to the governorship of Louisiana, to the New Orleans Red Cross. We're now giving care to more than 5,000 victims, and now we're going to supply gasoline, freely in some cases, and with discounts in other cases, to the poorest of communities, starting with New Orleans and its surroundings.
The people of the United States should know that.
The only time that I have said where Venezuela would not supply oil to the United States, it was no threat. It's rather to respond to a threat, the threat of invasion. We have obtained evidence of something which would be absolutely foolhardy, the invasion of Venezuela. That's where we said that under those circumstances...
KOPPEL: Let me stop you.
CHAVEZ:... there would be no oil.
KOPPEL: Are you saying you have discovered evidence of an invasion plan against Venezuela or are you saying "if" you discovered a plan?
CHAVEZ: I'm telling you that I have evidence that there are plans to invade Venezuela. Furthermore, we have documentation: how many bombers to overfly Venezuela on the day of the invasion, how many trans-Atlantic carriers, how many aircraft carriers need to be sent to (inaudible) even during (inaudible).
Recently, an aircraft carrier went to Curacao (inaudible) the fact that the soldiers were on leave.
That's a lie. They were doing movements. They were doing maneuvers. All on documentation. The plan is called Balboa, where Venezuela is indicated as an objective.
And in the face of that scenario, I said that if that actually happens, the United States should just forget the million and a half barrels of oil. Because everyday since I've been in power for seven years, we haven't missed it even one single day -- just one day, when we were overthrown. We were overthrown by that coup -- oil sabotage -- which was supported by Washington...
KOPPEL: If I may, Mr. President, you say you have documentation of this plan. Can I ask you now, on camera, will you make that documentation available to me?
CHAVEZ: I can send to you -- I can't send it all, but I can make sure I can send part of it to you. I can send it to you.
CHAVEZ: I can send you maps and everything, and you can show it to the United States citizens. What I can't tell you his how we got it, to protect the sources, how we got it through military intelligence.
But nobody can deny it, because (inaudible) the Balboa plan. We are coming up with the counter-Balboa plan. That is to say if the government of the United States attempts to commit the foolhardy enterprise of attacking us, it would be embarked on a 100-year war. We are prepared.
They would not manage to control Venezuela, the same way they haven't been able to control Iraq. (inaudible) Venezuela, my impression is that there would be a movement of a resistance in other parts of this continent. Oil could reach $100 or $120 a barrel, among other things.
It's clear that Chavez believes that Bush might try to overthrow him again. It's not yet clear what that documentation for Operation Balboa consists of, but let's hope that Chavez and Koppel both follow through. Chavez's claim that a US carrier recently did exercises near Venezuela under the pretense of taking shore leave (if I understood him correctly) appears to be new. There's little chance that Bush could get away with another invasion of an oil-rich country, but the allegation that he ordered such a plan could be politically damaging to Bush if it gains attention in the US.
Here is another section of the interview (slightly edited for length) in which Chavez charges Bush with engineering the coup against him in 2002, and of harboring terrorists who've threatened him:
CHAVEZ: ...With President Clinton, I sat down just like we are now on at least three occasions. There was no occasion for disrespect on either side.
Now, this administration has truly broken with all protocols of democracy and respect for people. The coup d'etat against Venezuela was manufactured in Washington. My death was ordered. And it was ordered recently.
Reverend Pat Robertson, who is very close to the president, asked for me to be physically eliminated, for me to be killed.
KOPPEL: I'm going to perhaps shock you a little, but these are your words. You called President Bush an asshole.
CHAVEZ: I've said various things about him. I don't know if I actually used that word. But I have been really hard on him.
But I have always responded to things that I was termed. I was termed a threat, a threat to the continent. It was said of me that I harbor terrorists.
There have been official reports issued from the State Department. The secretary of state has gone through South America saying publicly that I have to be isolated; that I am a threat; that I am using oil to subvert order in Latin America. Some secretaries of state -- other secretaries of state, that I am allied with drug traffickers -- a series of lies and aggressionists that sometimes I respond to. And sometimes we raise the tone.
We wait to get signals, and we respond to signals we receive from Washington.
KOPPEL: So you haven't got any -- you haven't received any good signals lately?
CHAVEZ: Really good signals? No. You know where right now my medical team is? In the presidential plane, 200 kilometers from here. The government of the United States, in violation of the laws of the United States and conventions, prevented my doctors from coming to New York. Where is the chief of staff of my military detachment and my chief of security? On the plane. They've been locked into the plane, two days. They can't come out of the plane.
KOPPEL: I've been told by contacts of mine in the U.S. intelligence community that you have members of Al Qaida, you have members of other terrorist groups who are allowed to operate within Venezuela. Not true?
CHAVEZ: It's absolutely false. And one time someone said that bin Laden -- did anyone ever say bin Laden could be in Venezuela?
KOPPEL: Not to my knowledge.
CHAVEZ: Those are part of the lies that are circulating. So the lies haven't reached that point, but it's absolutely false.
But it's part of the whole chain of rumors in this campaign to even justify my death, because recently Pat Robertson and an ex-CIA agent added that I should already be dead because, since I'm a threat, you have to liquidate the threats, you have to wipe them out, you have to kill them. That would justify any greater (inaudible) aggression against us.
KOPPEL: It was a foolish thing to say, and Pat Robertson admitted later that it was a foolish thing to say. And certainly no one from the government condoned what he said. Why do you take what a private citizen says, foolish as it may have been, and ascribe it to the U.S. government?
CHAVEZ: Well, take a look at this. The U.S. administration has to reject -- should have rejected the term of terrorist that Robertson used. The U.S. administration seriously sinned with respect to international and national laws, because the call to murder a chief of state is, in accordance with international law, terrorism. So this gentleman, Robertson, should be under arrest by the government of the United States -- silence.
Consequently, harboring a terrorist, but not only Robertson -- there have been television channels in Miami, various people, including some Venezuelan terrorists who participated in the coup d'etat and who lived here in the United States freely -- went to request my death, and the government of this country does absolutely nothing.
Chavez appears to exaggerate the closeness of that ninny Robertson to the Bush administration, but his ultimate point is well taken. In the war on terror, Bush believes that his own terrorists get a free pass. Chavez might have added that Bush has all but formally endorsed the use of torture on a permanent basis. Anyhow, the hypocrisy is stunning, and I'm sure Nightline viewers caught a whiff of it. Kudos to Koppel for airing this interview in full.