Inshallah, says Venezuela’s Maduro
ANALYSIS BY CÜNEYT ÖZDEMİR
The feelings of a journalist who is preparing to complete his 30 years in the profession do not change much when landing in a critical city’s airport that the entire world has its eyes on and which he has never set foot in.
On the way to Venezuela, I have only one goal as a journalist: Interviewing Nicolás Maduro. Even though I am visiting the country for the first time, I have been reading countless books and articles for days.
I have probably read more than an ordinary Venezuelan reads in his entire lifetime. Still, I am aware that I know nothing when traveling to Caracas from the airport. The likelihood of correspondence of what you’ve been reading and what you’ve been living is about 50 percent.
For a while, I have traveled with a couple of Spanish-speaking guides in the streets of Caracas. I have been warned often. If we were to talk over the phone outside of the car, we will be robbed.
If we were to go to slums in our flashy outfits, we might get kidnapped for ransom money. Perpetual warnings, uneasiness and alarms for danger, O.K.!
A different perspective on Venezuela
We all listened, and it got really tense. I walked around the streets of Caracas and looked around idly for a few moments. There is no one starveling in sight yet I see a town “neglected” for at least 10 years. The streets are empty. No one is walking. Everyone is in their cars. A part of the city of Caracas is made up of slum areas. Our entrance there is not advised.
There are some other peculiar prohibitions as well.
For instance, one should be careful about the pick-pockets that roam around the streets very closely in motorbikes, and one should know that anything can happen at any time. There is the possibility of being kidnapped for money… Yet life continues like nothing is going to happen under this cloud of horror!
My goal in Caracas is sharp: Interviewing Maduro. I know that all eyes in the world are on him. Even though having just arrived, I snuck into the press conference on the first day. Do not take amiss, when I say sneaking, I mean achieving something truly impossible by entering the conference room in the middle of the press conference.
There is Latin American journalists around me. I am trying to understand what Maduro is saying, even though I do not speak Spanish.
Occasionally, I see myself in the live broadcasting of Venezuelan television. For whatever reason, I am making an effort to look more serious.
After the press conference, the Venezuelan information minister shakes my hand quite sympathetically. He says that he knows me. I am surprised! He says that I can interview Maduro at 03:00 p.m. the following day. I get delighted.
Throughout the night, 20 Turks out of the 30 living in Venezuela were out together. Turkish Ambassador to Caracas Şevket Mütevellioğlu has been one of the shining stars among diplomats in recent years. I have seen many Turkish ambassadors who are unobtrusive in my visits to different countries.
There is an outstanding ambassador in front of me. Energetic, exultant, desiring to help the Turkish people and motivating his entire team…
He tells me all about Venezuela. A very different perspective of a country from what I have been reading for days. The following day, we arrived at Maduro’s palace at 3.
They made us wait in a very elegant room. An hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, it was like the wait would never end. Finally, they took us to the hall where the interview will take place. Our microphones and headsets got ready and Maduro’s makeup artist entered the room in the back. We are ready!
‘You are from Ankara’ says Maduro
I am eagerly revolving around the chair where the interview will occur. Everybody is sure that the interview will commence shortly. People are smiling. Just at that time, the information minister approached me to say that Maduro cannot come, that he is in a meeting with generals and the interview will be conducted at 3, the next day. I am devastated, but I do not let it get noticed. “It is okay” I say, smiling. I spend the worst night of my life in a hotel called eurobuilding.
The 24-hour delay of the interview at such a critical moment in such a country breaks all my hopes. Sounds like it cannot happen! The next morning, I was shooting the opposition’s rallies. To pass the time, we went to drink hot chocolate. I was touring around the American Embassy in Caracas.
There wasn’t much action at that time. We entered the slum areas and went to golf courses. I once again realized that I am in a city that is confusing and breaks all the taboos.
I was eating ice cream in a pastry just one hour before the interview. There was no sorbet! When I had asked for it, they looked at me bizarrely.
Still, I am thankful for only this too. We have arrived at the palace and started waiting in the same room. One hour, two hours and three hours pass by and I was wondering if the interview was not going to happen, again.
Just then, Maduro arrived. I thought I was big, but Maduro is bigger than me! We shook hands. He had a card with all information about me. In order to start the conversation, he said “You are from Ankara!” to me. I say “Yes.” It seems like he is confident about himself.
I wanted the interview to start as immediately as possible. In the middle of the interview, I asked him about the tweets of U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo about him and how Pompeo pictures him as a dictator.
Maduro fumed. I was asking the same question which I have asked Muammar Gaddafi’s son: “Do you have a backup plan?” He responded with the same answer, word by word.
I am surprised. Just when he wrapped up his response, the Information Ministry came running behind the cameras and said “the interview is over!” I am baffled. I am looking at him with eyes questioning how. Maduro was baffled as well. The minister was baffled by our confusion.
He asked me ‘Have you concluded your questions?’ I answered: “No, I have many more.” He said “Ask two more.”
Maduro had intervened and said: “He can ask three more.” The translator translated some parts of it yet I did not understand much at the moment.
I asked three more questions and the interview ended. We shook hands… Then photos were taken one after another. We left. At midnight, I started to send the footage to Turkey… For hours I dealt with dubbing, voiceover and deciphering… I fell asleep not sure at which point…
When I woke up, I saw outnumbered Twitter comments and many messages on WhatsApp. Hundreds of newspapers had spoken of our interview! At that point, they had not even seen the interview yet!
Anyhow, these things happen!