New York Times
September 21, 2006
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela bitterly and sarcastically assailed President Bush before the United Nations General Assembly today, portraying Mr. Bush as “the devil” who thinks he is “the owner of the world.”
“Yesterday, the devil came here,” Mr. Chávez said, alluding to Mr. Bush’s appearance before the General Assembly on Tuesday. “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.”
Then Mr. Chávez made the sign of the cross, brought his hands together as if in prayer and glanced toward the ceiling.
The moment may not become as famous as Nikita Khrushchev’s finger-wagging, shoe-thumping outbursts in the General Assembly in the cold-war era, but it still produced chuckles and some applause in the assembly hall.
In case anyone had missed the point, Mr. Chávez drove it home:
“Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.”
The Venezuelan leader also had sharp words for the United Nations, which he said is “antidemocratic” and “doesn’t work.”
Mr. Chávez, a left-wing populist who tried to seize power in a coup six years before winning election in 1998 on a tide of poverty-driven resentment, looked somewhat incongruous in a buttoned-up gray suit as he delivered an address that blended anti-Americanism with snippets of American life and culture.
“I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday’s statement by the president of the United States,” Mr. Chávez went on. “As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.
“An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: ‘The Devil’s Recipe.’ ”
Mr. Bush spoke on Tuesday about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and how they might be curbed, and about his broader visions for the Middle East — visions that Mr. Chávez saw as insincere, ridiculous or both.
“Wherever he looks, he sees extremists,” said Mr. Chávez, who won office by defeating a businessman educated at Yale, Mr. Bush’s alma mater. “He looks at your color, and he says, ‘Oh, there’s an extremist.’ Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him.”
Indeed, Mr. Morales, another leftist, does raise potential problems for United States interests in Latin America, though perhaps not as thorny as those posed by Mr. Chávez. Unlike Bolivia, Venezuela belongs to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and is a major energy supplier to the United States, and Mr. Chávez has courted Fidel Castro and the leaders of Iran and Syria, all factors that make him a man Washington must watch.
Mr. Chávez’s remarks were translated from Spanish, and while subtleties can sometimes be lost in translation, his feelings about the United States seemed to come through clearly enough. The United States, he said, is “the gravest threat looking over our planet, placing at risk the very survival of the human species.”
“We appeal to the people of the United States to halt this threat, like a sword hanging over our heads,” Mr. Chávez said.
It was not clear if Mr. Chávez was exhorting Americans to rise up in revolution, or if his gibe was an indirect reference to previous American-aided upheavals in Central and South America.
Needless to say, the speech did not go down well with American officials. John R. Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, called the remarks “insulting.”
Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman in Washington, was a bit more diplomatic, saying, “I don’t think you’ll find it surprising that we disagree with the views that were expressed in President Chavez’s remarks.
President Bush often notes that some of America’s one-time enemies, notably Japan and Germany, are now friends. But any rapprochement with the Caracas government would seem to be a long way off, to judge by Mr. Chávez’s closing remarks.
“It smells of sulfur here, but God is with us, and I embrace you all,” he said. “May God bless us all. Good day to you.”