Hugo Chavez Harshly Criticizes Bush at U.N. Speaking at the United Nations in New York Wednesday, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez unleashed a verbal assault, calling President Bush "the devil."
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Hugo Chavez Harshly Criticizes Bush at U.N.

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Hugo Chavez Harshly Criticizes Bush at U.N.

Hugo Chavez Harshly Criticizes Bush at U.N.

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In an extraordinary speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier today, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States of wanting to dominate the world.

President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Through translator) The greatest threat looming over our planet, the hegemonistic pretentious of the of the American Empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species. We continue to warn you about this danger, and we appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our heads.

CONAN: Mr. Chavez, speaking through an interpreter, urged Americans to read Noam Chomsky's book, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. We're going to have some analysis of it in a moment, but we wanted you - people are going to be talking about this speech, I think, for some time. Here's an opportunity hear a substantial excerpt. Hugo Chavez.

President CHAVEZ: (Through translator) I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is in their own house. The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here, right here, right here, and it smells of sulfur still today.

This table that I am now standing in front of, yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum the president of the United States - the gentlemen to whom I refer as the devil - came here talking as if he owned the world, truly as the owner of the world. I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. 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. As Chomsky says here clearly and in depth, the American empire is doing all it can to consolidate its hegemonistic system of domination, and we cannot allow them to do that. We cannot allow world dictatorship to be consolidated.

The world tyrant's statement - cynical, hypocritical, full of this imperial hypocrisy from the need they have to control everything. They say they want to impose a democratic model, but that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and I would say a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons - what a strange democracy. Aristotle might not recognize it…

CONAN: That, President Huge Chavez of Venezuela, speaking through an interpreter earlier today at the United Nations. Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said that the Chavez speech was, quote, not worthy of reaction.

Well, joining us now is Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, who worked in the Inner American Affairs during the Clinton administration. Thanks very much for joining us here in Studio 3A.

Professor ARTURO VALENZUELA (Director, Center for Latin American Studies, Georgetown University): Sure, my pleasure.

CONAN: And what do you make of this speech?

Prof. VALENZUELA: Well, it's clearly a speech that's really quite over the top when you think about diplomatic speeches at the United Nations. They're usually read speeches. They're fairly formal with carefully calibrated diplomatic language, and here's a gentleman who stood up and spoke to the United Nations and to the world in the same way that he speaks to some of his own followers in Venezuela on his popular radio show - with a lot of invective, with an enormous amount of passion, and clearly trying to signal to his followers and to the world that he stands against what he views as the great evil in the world, which is the United States.

CONAN: It is extraordinary. We've had ideological opponents addressing the United Nations now for a very long time. I don't think anybody can recall a speech that so personally castigated - tyrant, see a psychiatrist, the devil.

Prof. VALENZUELA: Yes. Unfortunately, Chavez has this quality to him. I had the experience of meeting him on several occasions when I worked for the United States government, and it's a curious phenomena, because on the one-to-one basis, he's a very charming, very intelligent, very reasonable, very moderate person. But when he stands before a crowd, you know, an audience and so on, he simply gets carried away.

And if there's something that really motivates him in the most profound sense, it's this hatred for the United States, this contempt for the United States, despite the fact - ironically - that, of course, Venezuela today is doing fairly well economically precisely because most of its exports go to the United States. There's a long history of close relationships between Venezuela and the United States.

To a certain degree, it's something personal, but it also - this was a campaign speech. I think we need to underscore that. Venezuela is seeking a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations as one of the non-permanent members. I think Guatemala is the other candidate from Latin America. And he was trying to appeal to the third world, to the non-aligned, to the people who have great, severe reservations about the United States' position in the world and try to get their vote.

CONAN: We're speaking with Arturo Valenzuela about Huge Chavez' speech earlier today at the United Nations. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I have to say, at least in terms of the audience there in the General Assembly today, he got quite a hand when he was finished.

Prof. VALENZUELA: Well, I think that - you know, unfortunately, what this does, even though this speech was clearly, in my view, way, way over the top - it does speak to an unfortunate reality, and that is the United States has lost a tremendous amount of respect in many places in the world. In working on Latin America for the last 30-some-odd years, I've never seen a moment where there is as much sort of rejection of U.S. policy in the world itself. So he is speaking to a general sense of disquiet in the world over U.S. leadership, and that's a very unfortunate development.

CONAN: You mentioned the campaign speech in the context of Venezuela's campaign for a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. How is this going to play back home in Venezuela, do you think?

Prof. VALENZUELA: Well, it'll play very well among his followers. It'll play also very well among sectors of the populations of other countries in Latin America and the third world, people on the left. They see him as a hero. He's been trying to position himself in some ways as the new incarnation of Fidel Castro, as the person who's willing to stand up to the United States. He hasn't been doing that well, necessarily, in the region. And several countries -people that he has supported like in Mexico and Peru - have in fact not been elected president. But he wants to play on the world stage, and this is why Venezuela going into the Security Council at the U.N. is so important to him.

CONAN: And that's why he's also been flying around the world to campaign for this slot.

Prof. VALENZUELA: Right. And he does so in such a way that he seeks out, specifically, ways to try to annoy the United States. So he will go to Belarus, he will go to those countries - to Iran. He's even talked about going to North Korea - going to countries that the United States, of course, views as axis of evil and that sort of thing and standing up - in other words, in his view - for the little guy in the world against the United States, and this is what came through so strongly in this speech.

CONAN: And he's come out and said I believe that he would not recognize the newly declared president-elect in Mexico.

Prof. VALENZUELA: Yeah, he does that. Ironically, he does that at his own peril, because if anything, the chances are fairly good that the Peruvian candidate that he most supported might have been able to win in Peru if he hadn't provided him with such support. So there is definitely…

CONAN: Are you talking about Peru or Mexico?

Prof. VALENZUELA: In Peru. There was a backlash towards him. And in Mexico there's also a backlash. He was clearly supporting the other candidate, and in fact, the loss of Lopez Obrador in Mexico, as the loss of Humala in Peru, is probably that Chavez embraced both candidates too strongly.

CONAN: He's hardly going to be less controversial after today.

Prof. VALENZUELA: I think that's correct.

CONAN: Arturo Valenzuela, thanks very much for you time.

Prof. VALENZUELA: You're very welcome.

CONAN: Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University. He was here with us in Studio 3A. More on this later today from NPR News, so stay tuned. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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