Chavez tells U.N. Bush is `the devil'

September 21, 2006|By Letta Tayler | Letta Tayler,Newsday

UNITED NATIONS -- Bringing his verbal war against the White House to the United Nations yesterday, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez branded President Bush "the devil" and the United States an "imperialist empire" on the verge of collapse.

"The devil came here yesterday ... talking as if he owns the world," the flamboyant leftist said from the floor of the General Assembly, making the sign of the cross. "It still smells of sulfur."

Bush came to "preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillaging," Chavez continued as he waved a copy of leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky's book Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. "But Goliath will fall," Chavez vowed at a subsequent news conference.

The U.S. delegate's seat was empty as Chavez spoke. Asked later about the swipes at Bush, U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton said: "We're not going to address that sort of comic-strip approach to international affairs."

Bush administration officials are increasingly concerned about Chavez, who is using his nation's vast oil wealth to spread his influence through dozens of countries - including the U.S., where he is selling subsidized heating fuel to low-income residents in areas including Harlem and the Bronx in New York - and is befriending U.S. nemeses including Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The comments were pro forma for Chavez, who rarely lets a week pass without attacking Bush or accusing the United States of trying to oust him to steal Venezuela's oil reserves. The United States, which buys nearly one-sixth of its imported oil from Venezuela, denies the accusations.

But the Venezuelan leader's decision to make such remarks on a world stage underscore growing opposition among nonaligned nations to U.S. policies, from the war in Iraq to free-market economic programs that have failed to lessen the gap between rich and poor. Several other leaders used the U.N.'s annual floor debate that began Tuesday to vent at the United States or to call for greater clout for less-developed nations within the U.N.

Waving a leaf of coca, the ingredient used to make cocaine, Bolivia's President Evo Morales accused the United States on Tuesday of "blackmail" for trying to make his country stop producing the plant, which is used legally in Bolivia as a mild stimulant for religious and medicinal purposes. "We won't change anything," said Morales, adding that U.S. demand is fueling cocaine production.

Moderate social-democratic President Michelle Bachelet of Chile said it is a "requirement of justice" that rich nations start importing products from poorer countries to stem the negative effects of globalization.

Still, none of those speakers matched Chavez, who clearly sought to carry the anti-U.S. torch of his ailing mentor, Castro.

Showcasing his growing alliance with Ahmadinejad, who in a speech here Tuesday night rejected U.S. calls for Iran to end a nuclear energy program that Iran insists is for peaceful purposes, Chavez said that, instead of thwarting other countries' aspirations to develop nuclear power, the United States should stop building its own atomic weapons.

Chavez also criticized U.S. efforts to stop Venezuela from gaining a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council as "immoral."

He said Iran, Syria, China, Russia, the Arab League, and much of the Caribbean and Latin America. would vote to give Venezuela the seat. The United States has been lobbying furiously to have its ally Guatemala win the seat in secret General Assembly balloting Oct. 15.

leaders appear set to back Venezuela either because of Chavez's generous oil sales to their countries or as a protest of what they see as U.S. global meddling.

Some political analysts said, however, that Chavez's inflammatory comments could backfire and dissuade some moderates from supporting his bid. Venezuela would not have veto power as a rotating member of the Security Council, but it would seek to thwart U.S. dominance on such issues as Iran's nuclear program.

Letta Tayler writes for Newsday.

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