The devil wore Hugo: Chavez upstaged Darfur crisis

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By John Metzler

Monday, October 2, 2006

UNITED NATIONS — In a tirade evoking the UN of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, launched a rhetorical broadside against U.S. President George W. Bush. The tawdry incident recalled the less than diplomatic déjà vu of times happily gone by when dictators and potentates ranging from Castro to Arafat to Idi Amin postured on the General Assembly rostrum for a round of raucous tub thumping America bashing.

Calling President Bush the “Devil” plays well to the Third World and the Upper West side of Manhattan but at the same time has inadvertently triggered a considerable backlash not only to Chavez, but the UN in general. Equally it brought rebukes even from some Congressional Democrats such as House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who distanced themselves from Chavez’s crude remarks. Even many diplomats, though hardly pro-American, were shocked how the UN debate has been “cheapened” and “disgraced” by this rhetoric.

Hugo Chavez presents a theatrical counterpoint to many of the UN speeches which quite typically drone on with either feel good themes or the sky is falling melodrama. For this Chavez will be remembered.

Yet, there are other things he can be remembered for too. At the start of the 61st General Assembly there was a considerable amount of political momentum towards stopping the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. President Bush and others made an extra effort to bring a settlement to the enduring humanitarian crisis in that troubled African land. What Chavez did, was to knock the subject off the news and instead cause commentators to focus on the crackpot remarks from this man from Caracas. So in other words, what little chance the people in Darfur had on the world stage, was sidetracked by this buffoon. Well done President Chavez!

But why should the USA after all really care about the rhetorical rants from this Castro-wannabe?

Here’s the short list. Venezuelan Oil and the fact that our energy dependent economy imports gobs of the black gold from Lake Maracaibo. Presently Venezuela is America’s number three petroleum provider supplying one and a half million barrels a day. Chavez’s dreams are ironically fueled by the country he loves to hate—the USA!

Secondly, there’s no doubt that Chavez sees himself as the new Castro—face it Fidel is one step short of a nursing home, while Hugo Chavez at 52 is primed to play political supremo for quite some time. Chavez courts close political ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran, People’s China and Syria. He has unabashedly used his oil wealth to meddle in Latin American politics while promoting his revolutionary Marxist agenda. He has become the Oil Slick Caudillo.

Part of his current political push is for Venezuela to gain a two year seat on the UN Security Council. Over the next month candidates for the rotating seat on the Council will face off. Both Guatemala and Venezuela are vying for the Latin American seat now held by Argentina. Despite support from the U.S., the chances of Guatemala gaining the seat are dwindling in direct proportion to Venezuela spreading favors, should we say lubricated by oil money, to grab the seat.

Venezuela on the Security Council will further complicate American efforts in a host of diplomatic endeavors ranging from terrorism to the Middle East and African aid. Thus Chavez’s high octane rhetoric about President Bush leading a “world dictatorship” and the U.S. government being “imperialistic, fascist, assassin and genocidal” can play out in the not just to captive audiences but with a vote inside the Security Council. Talk about a pulpit for a bully!

There’s one other thing about Chavez rarely appreciated. Venezuela has for the most part been a democratic and fairly prosperous country of 26 million people. Yes, oil has brought both boom and inequality, but at the same time Venezuela has not been a land of kook politics, military dictatorships, and grinding poverty. Unhappily under Hugo Chavez, it is becoming so. His large political opposition forces are sadly divided going into December elections and so it’s the devil’s pleasure to see a once prosperous land slide down the slippery slope of despotism and corruption, all lubricated by oil.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World