January 22, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela —
President Hugo Chavez told U.S. officials to "Go to hell, gringos!" and called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "missy" on his weekly radio and TV show Sunday, lashing out at Washington for what he called unacceptable meddling in Venezuelan affairs.
The tirade came after Washington raised concerns about a measure to grant the fiery leftist leader broad lawmaking powers. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the president's political allies, is expected to give final approval this week to what it calls the "enabling law," which would give Chavez the authority to pass a series of laws by decree during an 18-month period.
On Friday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Chavez's plans under the law "have caused us some concern."
Chavez rejected Casey's statement in his broadcast, saying: "Go to hell, gringos! Go home!"
He also attacked U.S. actions in the Middle East.
"What does the empire want? Condoleezza said it. How are you? You've forgotten me, missy ... Condoleezza said it clearly, it's about creating a new geopolitical" map in the Middle East, Chavez said.
In typical style, Chavez spoke for hours Sunday during his first appearance on the weekly program in five months. He sent his best wishes to the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his close ally and friend who has been sidelined since intestinal surgery last summer.
Other comments ranged from watching dancing Brazilian girls wearing string bikinis at a recent presidential summit to Washington's alleged role in the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"They took out Saddam Hussein and they hung him, for good or worse. It's not up to me to judge any government, but that gentleman was the president of that country."
Holding up a newspaper with a photograph of him gazing at a string bikini-clad Brazilian dancing samba during a summit last week in Rio de Janeiro, Chavez laughed and said: "I didn't know where to look ... It was truly a thing of beauty."
Chavez, who was re-elected by a wide margin last month, has said he will enact sweeping reforms to remake Venezuela into a socialist state. Among his plans are nationalizing the main telecommunications company, CANTV, and the electricity and natural gas sectors.
He said Sunday his government will not pay the market value for CANTV, but rather will take into account debts to workers, pensions and other obligations including a "technological debt" to the state. CANTV, partially owned by U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc., was privatized in 1991.
The president's opponents accuse him of using his political strength to expand his powers.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense since Chavez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup that he claimed the U.S. played a role in. The Bush administration has repeatedly denied being involved, although it recognized an interim government established by coup leaders.
Since then, Chavez has consistently accused the U.S. of conspiring to oust him and often asserts the CIA is working to destabilize his government. U.S. officials have denied trying to overthrow Chavez, but they have labeled him a threat to democracy.
Criticizing excessive consumption and self-indulgence, Chavez also announced plans in his broadcast to raise domestic gasoline prices and approve a new tax on luxury goods such as private yachts, second homes and extravagant automobiles.
He did not give details on the gas price hike, which he said would not affect bus drivers who provide public transportation, or the luxury tax. He said revenue from the new measures would be put toward government social programs.
Venezuela is one of the world's leading petroleum exporters and gasoline now costs as little as 12 cents a gallon due to government subsidies.