Venezuela’s left-populist President Hugo Chavez made history this weekend with a visit to New York for an appearance at the UN summit. His brief sojourn in La Manzana Grande consciously evoked his mentor Fidel Castro’s historic 1960 debut address at the General Assembly—complete with a blistering verbal attack on the global economic order, and visits to the city’s poor communities.
Chavez generated the loudest burst of applause for a world leader at the summit, where he blasted US plans to reform the world body. He offered counter-proposals, including ending the veto power of the five permanent Security Council members. He even proposed moving the United Nations to Jerusalem, or a city in the developing world.
In his address Sept. 15, Chavez also harshly criticized the Bush administration for its failure to protect residents of New Orleans, and accused the White House of abetting “international terrorism” by not arresting televangelist Pat Robertson for suggesting the US should have him assassinated.
“The only place where a person can ask for another head of state to be assassinated is the United States, which is what happened recently with the Rev. Pat Robertson, a very close friend of the White House,” Chavez said. “He publicly asked for my assassination, and he’s still walking the streets.”
Passing the five-minute limit for speakers, Chavez was visibly irritated when a UN official slipped him a note requesting that he wrap it up. “I think the president of the United States spoke for 20 minutes here yesterday,” he said. “I would ask your indulgence to let me finish my statement.” (WP, via Boston Globe, Sept. 18)
In his comments Sept. 17 to a packed house at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew on Manhattan’s West 86th Street, Chavez acknowledged that he has occasionally “gone too far with words” when responding to US officials who criticize his government, and he said his criticism of the Bush administration should not be taken as attacks against the US public. “I love the people of the United States,” he said.
Refering to the US-led war in Iraq, Chavez said people in an invaded country are justified in taking up arms. “The true war we ask for is the war against poverty and misery,” he said to rousing applause. (AP, Sept. 18)
Flanked by Rep. José Serrano of the Bronx, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Father Roy Bourgeois of School of the Americas Watch, Chavez reiterated his plans to make gasoline from Citgo (a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state company) available to US consumers at a subsidized rate. In a statement personally addressed to Roger Toussaint, leader of New York’s Transportation Workers Union Local 100, he also suggested cheap Venezuelan oil could be made available to run the city’s subways and buses. He said that having spent the day visiting with community groups in the Bronx, he had found the “soul” of the people of the United States. He also offered to send Citgo environmental engineers to help restore the polluted Bronx River, and “make it a paradise once again.”
Clearly playing to a North American audience, his lengthy speech quoted Walt Whitman, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and noted how the early Venezuelan independence leader Francisco de Miranda collaborated with George Washington in the American Revolution. After repeatedly mentioning that he was about to fly down to Havana to share a bottle of wine with Fidel, he reached out his hand to the audience and said, “I extend my hand to the United States government.” He finished by simultaneously waving a Venezuelan and US flag, one in each hand. (WW4 Report on the scene)
Arriving back in Caracas the next day (presumably after a late-nigh drinking session with Castro in Havana), Chavez presided over a rally by several thousand of his supporters outside the presidential palace. Speakers cheered his “defense of humanity” at the United Nations and his criticism of “illegal” UN reforms. (AP, Sept. 19)
Speaking with ABC’s Ted Koppel Sept. 16, Chavez also reiterated his charges that the US is planning an invasion of Venezuela to overthrow him. “We have obtained evidence of something which would be absolutely foolhardy, the invasion of Venezuela… The plan is called ‘Balboa’, where Venezuela is indicated as an objective.” He stated that in the event of an invasion, Venezuela would cut off oil exports to the US. (ABC, Sept. 16)
Chavez made similar claims in a Sept. 3 interview with CNN. “We discovered through intelligence work a military exercise that NATO has of an invasion against Venezuela, and we are preparing ourselves for that invasion,” Chavez was quoted as saying.
He said the military exercise is known as “Plan Balboa” and has included rehearsing simultaneous assaults by air, sea and land, involving troops from the United States and NATO countries.
The US-based website VHeadline.com, which focuses on Venezuela, published an article in May 2004 saying the Spanish military led an “Operation Balboa” in May 2001, conducting a mock assault simulating an attack on Venezuela by the US and allied countries from bases in Panama and Colombia.
Citing documents on the exercises, the article said US and NATO officials provided secret information about Venezuela for the simulation conducted by the Spanish air force and other US-allied militaries.
Chavez said the invasion plan included a wave of bombings over Caracas and the cities of Maracay and Valencia. “It’s known they have everything planned out to capture the oil fields of the west and the east, the south,” Chavez was quoted as saying.
He also pledged the Venezuelan people would resist any invasion: “If it occurs to the United States to invade our country—Fidel Castro said it and I agree—a war will start here to last 100 years. Not only this country would be burned up, but a good part of this continent; they shouldn’t make any mistake about it, we are preparing to repel an invasion.”
Chavez, a former army paratroop commander, accuses the US of backing a short-lived coup against him in 2002, another claim that US officials have repeatedly denied. Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is up for re-election next year, and polls suggest he is strongly favored to win. (AP, Sept. 3)
We have noted before evidence that the US is preparing to launch military aggression against Venezuela from bases across the Colombian border.
See our last post on the ongoing US-Venezuela showdown.