Geopolitics

"Obama Doesn't Respect Us" - The Nicolas Maduro Interview

In the first interview with the foreign press since his victory, the new Venezuelan President tells Le Monde that he will carry on Hugo Chavez's policies, both at home and abroad.

"We will make sure Venezuela won’t witness the rise of another Pinochet," Maduro told Le Monde
"We will make sure Venezuela won’t witness the rise of another Pinochet," Maduro told Le Monde
Marie Delcas and Natalie Nougayrède

CARACAS - In this exclusive interview with Le Monde, his first for any international media since his recent victory in the April 14 Venezuelan presidential election, former union leader Nicolas Maduro, 50 years old, does not waver.

The hand-picked heir of Hugo Chavez had served as the Comandante’s Foreign Minister, and you can hear it in his speeches as he preaches radical “Chavism:” no mercy against the opposition's disputing his election, endless references to the Bolivarian revolution's legacy, hero-worshiping of leaders, and a strident anti-American stance that echos Gaddafi and Iran’s dictatorial regime. Maduro apologies for none of it, and only seems open to foreign investors such as China, referring to the very Chinese “special economic areas” concept.

Nicolas Maduro - sporting a colorful tracksuit - received us in the hall of his modest presidential residence, located on a military base as the capital Caracas saw its streets filled with May 1st demonstrators, both opposition supporters as well as the “Chavists,” deprived of their iconic leader who ran this oil state for 14 years.

LE MONDE: Brawls in the parliament, violent incidents in the streets resulting in seven dead: Venezuela is a very tense and polarized state. How do you intend to prevent such events from recurring?
NICOLAS MADURO: The country is not polarized, it’s mobilized. It remains so thanks to our revolution against economic dependency, poverty, impoverishment, inequalities. It’s a revolution against the same capitalism that devastated our homeland in the past. We have a democratic socialism. When groups of people decide to fight against us –- it happened 200 years ago during the struggle for independence, it’s happening again, this time for our new independence -- it always creates tensions. We rely on our constitution and institutions to move forward, and we can trust them. I can guarantee you peace and democracy. Whatever threat is made against us, we shall overcome it. Europe needs to understand this for the Europeans still trust their stereotypes. People think Venezuela is a dictatorial regime.

Are you willing to open a dialogue with the opposition?
I have called for a sit-down with everyone, but the opposition’s leadership is composed of very extreme right-wingers, they won’t let the political parties have peaceful negotiations. This group wants to hijack the government. I’m calling upon Europeans to open their eyes. Chile had Pinochet. When (Salvador) Allende was attacked, everyone was shocked by the violence. The same ideology is emerging here. If I make any comparison with Mussolini, Franco or Hitler, people say I’m exaggerating. But I’m sounding the alarm here in Latin America. All the ingredients for an extremist right-wing project are there. If those people happen to take over – it won’t happen - they would destroy democracy in Venezuela and enforce a totalitarian regime.

Maduro in his colorful tracksuit - Photo: Joka Madruga

The opposition convinced 49% of the Venezuelans. Do you believe all of its members are “fascists” as you call them?
Not all of them are but what we call social democracy or Christian democracy is on the verge of extinction in Venezuela because of these extremists on the right. We won 17 out of the 18 elections these last 14 years. We just faced the most difficult of them all for we had to run without Commandante Chavez, the soul of the Bolivarian revolution. I was a candidate who started with nothing and I won. Chavism was fluctuating between 50 and 60%, sometimes 63%. It’s a very strong and solid historic movement. My message to France and Europe is that we will make sure Venezuela won’t witness the rise of another Pinochet. And we will do it the democratic way.

You see yourself as Hugo Chavez’s heir. His stance on the international stage was the one of a “resistance” against an alleged American imperialism and through alliances with repressive regimes – Gaddafi, Al-Assad, Lukashenko, Ahmadinejad. Are you willing to take a step back from all this?
You say “an alleged imperialism.” Imperialism exists! The US has practiced worldwide imperialism. They had already invaded half of Mexico in the 19th century. During the 20th, they accomplished a total hegemony, an economic, military and political empire. The 21st century was the start of a new era. On one side, you have a unipolar imperial world and on the other, an emerging pluripolar, multicentric, and balanced world, which in fact follows the path of our libertador Simon Bolivar. We believe in a balanced world without empires. Venezuela has coped with a century of oil domination, American companies sowing misery, this is why we have an anti-imperialist program.

As of our friends… Gaddafi was friends with Sarkozy and Berlusconi. They attended banquets together. He was financing their campaigns. As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, we have always been friends with Libya. President Chavez has always been a loyal friend of Gaddafi, assassinated in the crudest way possible. Europe should think about the bombings and the destruction of Libya that filled the country with terrorists. Who’s truly ruling Libya’s military and sending thousands of armed men to fight in Syria? It’s Al Qaeda.

The Syrian president is bombing his own people with planes and tanks. Why aren’t you condemning these actions if you’re preaching democracy?
The foreign intervention in Syria has created a civil war. We have a good economic agreement with Bashar Al-Assad. We need to draw a line here anyway: Venezuela is a democratic country. And in Latin America in general, everyone’s looking for its own economic model after the 1990s neo-liberal disaster. As a matter of fact, what’s happening now in Europe echoes what occurred here during the 1990s: every social indicator was pointing downward, and it led to a political explosion and revolutions. This is the reason why Chavez, Kirchner, Correa and Lula came to power. Europe, be advised.

You speak of a multipolar world. Who should be Venezuela’s ally in the 21st century? Europe or China and Russia?
A group has been formed: the BRICS. This is the global core which may bring balance through great changes. It comprises 3 billion people: China, our Brazilian brothers, India, South Africa…It brings great hope to the world, just like Europe once did. The problem is Europe let itself get dominated by the American policies. Europe needs to join the BRICS to form a great global alliance for a new kind of coexistence in order to end interventionism and war.

What would it take for Obama’s United States and your country to normalize relations?
Respect. Respect for Latin America. They don’t respect us. It’s an old grudge. Two doctrines. The Monroe Doctrine used to mean “America for Americans,” that is the United States of America. And then there was Simon Bolivar saying “the union of America, former Spanish colony.” These are two different doctrines. One is imperialist and the other is preaching liberation. I know for a fact that there is a group of ultra-conservatives and terrorists within the US. Look up Roger Noriega, John Negroponte, Otto Reich…Each of these men are planning the violent destabilization of Venezuela. Sometimes, the US government tries to control them, sometimes it doesn’t. The United States are ruled by a financial, media-centered, military-industrial apparatus. Behind Obama’s grin, he orders bombings. He just displays a different image than Bush. That’s how he expands US global domination. We just appointed a new chargé d’affaires. We are willing to work on a more positive relation. We will see.

Oil has been Chavez’s great tool of leverage in his regional policy, with the social programs. However, your country’s production is stagnant. How are you going to open this sector for foreign investments? How are you planning to diversify an oil-dominated economy?
In Venezuela, the oil belt hosts 27 multinational companies from around the world, including French ones. We welcome everyone who hasn’t invested in our country yet to do so. We are creating special economic areas to favor investments and technology. We have studied the Chinese experience of the municipality of Pudong in Shanghai. On the other hand, Venezuela has 33 million hectares of arable land available and only use 3 million. We have all it takes to be a major power in agriculture.

You speak of liberty. When you go to Cuba to talk with Raul and Fidel Castro, which you recently did, do you tackle the subjects of political prisoners and detained journalists?
We are proud of Cuba and we will continue to show our support for this noble and united people. Fidel and Chavez had a special bond, like between father and son. Fidel Castro represents the dignity of the South American continent against empires. He’s a living legend, an icon of independence and freedom across the continent.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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