Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
Interview with Father Roy Bourgeois about Hugo Chavez
by Charles Hardy
Sunday Jan 25th, 2004 3:21 PM
had finished visiting one family and was on my way to another home when
my cellular phone rang. “Charlie, there are some Catholic missionaries from the U.S. on Alo Presidente.”
Interview with Father Roy Bourgeois
"Hugo Chavez is giving the poor some hope, and it is contagious"

Wednesday, Jan 21, 2004

By: Charles Hardy

Sunday I visited some long-time friends in a barrio on the periphery of
Caracas, Nueva Tacagua. The part I was visiting is composed of cardboard
shacks (called “ranchos” in Venezuela) covered with laminated tin sheets
to keep the cardboard from collapsing should it sop up the water when it
rains. I lived in one of these shacks from 1985 to 1993 as a Catholic
missionary priest at that time. My home no longer exists due to a
landslide in August 1993 that wiped out my immediate neighborhood. This
public housing project was built during the first presidency of Carlos
Andres Perez when oil money was pouring into the country.

I had finished visiting one family and was on my way to another home when
my cellular phone rang. “Charlie, there are some Catholic missionaries
from the U.S. on Alo Presidente.” I had just passed a shack where I had
heard the president speaking. (When you live in a cardboard house, not
only can passersby hear every word you say but they also know what you are
watching on television.) I backtracked and knocked on the door. A woman
whom I did not know answered and I asked, “Would it be possible to watch
Alo Presidente with you for a few moments?”

If I had been in a wealthy part of the city, I would never have done that.
But barrio life is different. She let me in, gave me a chair and I sat and
watched and engaged in conversation for the next half hour. Speaking to
President Chavez was a Catholic priest associated with the Maryknoll
Missionaries, Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch (,
an organization that tries to keep an eye on the School of the Americas in
Fort Benning, Georgia, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation (WHISC). He mentioned that two of the generals who
had led the April 2002 coup in Venezuela were educated at the school:
General Efrain Vasquez Velasco, the Army Commander-in-Chief, and General
Ramirez Poveda. The next day, I had a chance to interview Father Bourgeois
and the following is a transcript of our conversation. If this were for a
printed publication, I might have edited it in order to shorten it, but
the internet gives me the chance to share with you what he said to me.

* * * * *

Hardy: Why did you decide to come to Venezuela?

Bourgeois: Because of what we have been hearing—that there is something
going on in Venezuela, that there is a revolution going on here where the
poor are being talked about, that somehow we’ve got a president and a
government here that’s on the side of the poor that is offering the poor a
vision that gives them hope and promise for a better way of life. That is
something very, very unusual in Latin America I was invited to come as a
part of a delegation and thought it was important to come and to see for
myself what is happening here.

Hardy: Who invited you to come?

Bourgeois: The Maryknoll Global Concerns Office in Washington, D.C.,
wanted to pull together a delegation and invited me as founder of the SOA
Watch. That fits in very well with what we are all about. So, I came and
I am grateful that I came.

Hardy: Who are the other people that came with you?

Bourgeois: There was a representative of a large national peace
organization, Pax Cristi, which is in the U.S. and also exists worldwide;
someone from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA); a reporter
from SOJOURNERS magazine, a well-known periodical in the United States;
and someone from the religious sister’s community.

Hardy: How long ago did you come?

Bourgeois: I have been here for about a week.

Hardy: What was your impression of Alo Presidente?

Bourgeois: Let me touch on something else first. I have been a Catholic
priest for about thirty-two years. I got educated in Latin America years
ago in Bolivia where I was arrested and forced out of the country. I could
not get back into Bolivia during the
days of General Hugo Banzer.

Hardy: What did you do? Why were you forced out?

Bourgeois: I lived in a barrio. I just went up into a barrio in one of
Maryknoll’s big parishes and just lived there with the poor. I had a
little apartment, paid $13.00 a month and lived with the people. And they
taught me; they educated me. Those whom I went to serve became my
teachers. They taught me about my country’s foreign policy. There we were
supporting a brutal dictator, General Hugo Banzer, who came into power
through a violent coup and sent his men around the country with their guns
to defend that system that kept the rich rich and the poor poor. I was
forced out of Bolivia and went to the U.S. and started to educate North
Americans, people of my own country, about U.S. foreign policy. I later
went to El Salvador, then later to Guatemala. Wherever I went, I saw a
common denominator: my country, the United States, was defending its
economic interests. It had been very difficult and challenging for us
trying to educate people in the United States about Latin America. It
seemed so distant. But then something happened. On November 16, 1989,
there was another massacre in El Salvador. This time it was six Jesuit
priests at the university, a Salvadoran woman co-worker and her teenage
daughter who were dragged out of their rooms during the night and shot at
close range. At the same time we were pumping about a million dollars a
day into the government there. A congressional task force was sent to
investigate and they came back reporting that those responsible were
trained at the U. S. Army School of the Americas in
Fort Benning, Georgia.

When I read that report that got a lot of press in the U.S., my instincts
just set in--helped along by my own experience in Bolivia and my trips to
the other Latin American countries. I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and
started to do some research. I was joined by some friends: a Jesuit, a
Dominican, three Salvadorans, Kathy Kelly who is doing a lot today on Iraq
and three others.

We began with ten people. Last November, just three months ago, ten
thousand gathered at the main gate of Fort Benning to call for its
closure. Who were we? About half were college students. We had a lot of
nuns there who had worked in Latin America and some clergy. There were a
lot of senior citizens, a lot of military veterans, parents with their

What has happened is that this issue—that school in our backyard—became a
door to Latin America. We learned through some basic research--through the
Freedom to Information Act, from some of our human rights’ reports-- that
there were over 60,000 soldiers who were trained there: commando
operations, psychological warfare, counter-insurgency techniques. And who
are the insurgents? They are who they have always been in Latin America.
They are the poor, those who call for land reform, adequate housing and
welfare, schools. These are the targets of those trained at this school.

But what really exposed this school for what it was, a school of
assassins, was when the United Nations Truth Commission Report on El
Salvador was made public [1993] and received lots of press. It revealed
that those who killed Archbishop Romero were graduates of this school.
Those who killed the Jesuits and the two women were graduates of this
school. Those who raped and killed the four U.S. church women, two of whom
were Maryknoll sisters, were graduates. In El Mozote where over eight
hundred were killed--men, women and children—they were graduates of the

The list went on and on and on. This was getting a lot of publicity and
people began to make a connection between these atrocities and this school
and its graduates. So, not overnight, but in time a movement began to take
root. And now we have this huge, grassroots national organization called
the SOA Watch that is educating people on Latin America. This door, again,
has become a window to Latin America. It is bigger, we realize, than just
this school. This school simply provides the muscle in Latin America for
its foreign policy. It simply provides for the economic interests of that
small, powerful, wealthy elite.

Now, back to Venezuela. Coming here has been such a joy for me: to come
here and meet with the leaders of the “pueblo.” We went into some of the
barrios here and there was a hope here that I found which is so important.
Talking to the people and hearing their excitement—just seeing in their
eyes hope and joy. They’re talking about schools, literacy programs,
health care, hands-on stuff that they are involved in. And how they talk
about “their president” who has now brought them into a whole new future.
You know, it is revolving around them and not around the rich. And, oh
man, this is so rare!

Now the problem, the challenge, as you know is that in the United States
the lies are being published. We are not getting the right information,
just as we never got the right information about El Salvador or about
Guatemala or Bolivia or about Chile in those days, and on and on. It is so
different here today.

But what is important is for North Americans to come here, connect to
people like Lisa Rodriquez and other Maryknoll missioners who have been
living here for many years, to draw on their experience and their
contacts. They put us into contact with the people.

So we came and listened. We came to learn. Now we’re going back. I leave
tomorrow for the U.S. and I cannot wait to meet with the national office
of SOA Watch and to get on the phone and to call Maryknoll friends at
their headquarters and to talk to so many others—we’ve got a big network
out there—to talk about what I have seen and heard in Venezuela.

What we want to do now is to bring more people here, delegations, to learn
and to see for themselves what is going on here because Venezuela has
become for us a model. It is a model that gives the poor some hope and it
is very rare that this happens.

Hardy: Yesterday you appeared on Alo Presidente. What is your opinion of
the program?

Bourgeois: Oh, wonderful, wonderful. It was incredible, incredible. I
mean, I have never..., where..., of course it is a program for the
majority of the people of Venezuela—who are poor. Of course the rich think
this guy—you know, what is this? They get bored and tired. They don’t have
the time nor the patience. But it’s not for them. It is for the poor.

He recommends books. You know what one of the books was that he
recommended? Noam Chomsky! He’s recommending all these articles that he
has read in the newspaper—he is a teacher! He is looking at Latin America
like few have: through the underside of history. He is looking at it
through the eyes of the poor and the oppressed. And when you do that you
are going to have a lot of enemies. And he’s got enemies. He’s got the

But that [television] program—it was just incredible. It was wonderful to
see it. It was teachable moment, helping the poor to see how they have
been lied to, how they have been deceived. He is opening up their eyes,
little by little. Of course the problem is that there are a lot of people
in Venezuela, especially the super-rich, who do not want the poor to
become educated. They want them to be paralyzed, to be docile. And this is
what is most frightening for them: they know that in Venezuela right now
this man, Hugo Chavez, is giving the poor some hope and it is contagious.
And they realize that the eyes of Latin America are beginning to turn to
Venezuela as they turned to Nicaragua years ago. They see some hope here.

And, of course, in the midst of it all, the United States and George Bush
are here to do everything they can to make sure that this revolution
fails. Because if it succeeds, if the poor here will get justice, if there
will be a real re-distribution of the resources here (especially the
wealth, the money, the power) and in a country like Venezuela, this will
spread to other countries. And so, what is at work of course and this is
no secret, the U.S. is pumping money into Venezuela as we pumped money
into Chile when Allende was there.

Hardy: You had a private interview with President Chavez today. What did
you talk about? How did it go?

Bourgeois: It was wonderful. We talked about this issue of the School of
the Americas. He is going to have to do his homework on the matter. We are
not quite sure how many, or if, Venezuelans are at the school. Since 9-ll
we have had real problems getting information. But I have the feeling that
if they are there, they won’t be there for long.

We also had a religious sister with us who works with about 200 families
whose homes were destroyed in mudslides. And this...this really impressed really got to me. She had a specific request, just as I did, and I
felt I was listened to and I felt somehow he is going to do something
here. What happened with the sisters is that he got on the phone. He
wasn’t just bluffing [by saying something like]: ”I’m going to take your
letter, I’m going to take your request, I’ll give it to my secretary” and
then you never hear from the secretary, etc. That’s the way it is normally
done. No, he got on the phone! And I had the feeling, the problem is going
to be resolved.

* * * * *

Most of our conversation had been in the back of a taxi and had to end
when we arrived at Radio Nacional where he had another appointment. Hope
you enjoyed listening to it.

Charles Hardy is a regular columnist at
He can be reached at hardyce2 [at]
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


donate now

$ 87.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network