NEW YORK – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez used his fiery oratory to blast his way into New York’s limelight this week, jolting the U.N. General Assembly with a hard-hitting speech that blamed President Bush for many of the world’s ills.
Chavez said a United Nations declaration finalizing a meeting of over 150 world leaders was “illegitimate” and asked the U.N. to be moved from New York because the United States did not respect its resolutions. At the end of his speech he was roundly applauded by the delegates.
On a rare trip to U.S. soil, Chavez made it clear that he had no plan to stray from his penchant to strongly criticize the Bush administration. In the past, Chavez has refused to travel to the United Nations because he said the CIA had a plot to kill him.
His visit to New York recalled that of Cuban leader Fidel Castro 10 years ago. So did the rest of his schedule.
Castro fascinated many New Yorkers and was wined and dined by the city’s glitterati, but took a moment to visit the city’s underprivileged in Harlem and the Bronx. Today, Chavez plans to tour a community center in the Bronx and then address the Latino Pastoral Action Center, a faith-based Hispanic group. The events were organized by Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., a Bronx native who also hosted Castro 10 years ago.
Serrano said Chavez is being unnecessarily attacked by the Bush administration because of his friendship with Castro and because he “is quick not to accept a bullying tactic by Bush.”
Chavez’s public schedule proved to be a moving target in New York. He canceled an event to address investors at the Council of the Americas and a press conference. The Venezuelan embassy in Washington said Chavez got called to a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the last minute.
Chavez’s speech on Thursday said the U.S. invasion of Iraq showed a lack of respect for U.N. resolutions.
“That’s why we propose to this assembly that the United Nations leave this country, which is not respectful of the very resolutions of this assembly,” he said.
He said Bush’s economic policies that pushed free trade and market openness were “an infinite tragedy.”
When a diplomat handed him a note telling him he had gone over the allotted time, Chavez tossed it away, saying that if Bush could speak for 20 minutes, he could too. He spoke for 22 minutes.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Friday that “a lot of discussion with Venezuela is characterized by outlandish rhetoric as opposed to sincere desire to engage on the issues of substance.”