Chavez Stirs Things Up at the U.N.
Venezuelan Leader Wins Cheers With Rant Against U.S.
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 17, 2005;
UNITED NATIONS -- President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has taken on the mantle of the bad boy of UN summitry, winning plaudits from Third World envoys for bashing the United States, and rattling UN officials by questioning the legitimacy of this week's summit of world leaders.
Chavez's appearance on the world stage here last week echoed his mentor Fidel Castro's historic 1960 debut address before the General Assembly, complete with a fiery condemnation of US imperialism and planned side trips this weekend to a Harlem church and community groups in the Bronx.
Chavez generated the loudest burst of applause for a world leader at the summit with his unbridled attack on what he characterized as US militarism and capitalism. He even offered a proposal to move the United Nations to Jerusalem or a city in the developing world.
He had threatened to disrupt plans by the 191-member General Assembly to formally endorse -- by consensus and without a recorded vote -- a 35-page agreement calling on governments to combat poverty and terrorism and promote human rights and democracy.
The pact had been agreed upon in principle by 189 nations on Tuesday, with Venezuela and Cuba registering protests on grounds that they were excluded from a group of about 30 nations that crafted the final deal.
But after meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chavez dropped his threat to force a vote on the declaration, a maneuver that would have allowed governments to abstain or oppose the agreement.
In his address Thursday, Chavez railed against the Bush administration for what he said was a failure to protect residents of New Orleans. He also accused the United States of abetting ''international terrorism" by not arresting television evangelist Pat Robertson for suggesting that the United States should consider assassinating Chavez.
''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."
Chavez, passing the five-minute limit for speakers, grew 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."
U.N. experts and foreign envoys said Chavez, like Castro, was able to capitalize on a reservoir of resentment of American power in the world body. "Obviously people are pleased with what he said, but they cannot express themselves as frankly as he does," said one Arab ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to offend the United States.
Chavez's popularity also reflected the penchant of some U.N. members for rallying around political figures who face attack by conservative U.S. lawmakers. Annan got a standing ovation from the General Assembly last year following calls for his resignation by Republican members of Congress. The assembly also gave a standing ovation to President Bill Clinton in September 1998, when he was facing attacks from Republican lawmakers over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The applause for Chavez was recognition of the "sheer entertainment factor" of his undiplomatic speech, said Nancy Soderberg, a former senior U.S. diplomat at the United Nations. "Those speeches get so boring."
But Chavez would never be able to translate the popular reaction to his rant into political support for his positions because, while the moment "might be emotionally satisfying," the delegates "know this is not the real world," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a seasoned U.N. analyst at the Century Foundation.
Some U.N. diplomats complained that the Bush administration had exacerbated the problem by acting as a poor host, delaying a visa request for the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and preventing the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, from attending a meeting of international parliamentarians on the eve of the summit.
Ric Grenell, the spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, denied complaints by Venezuelan diplomats that the United States had delayed visas for members of Chavez's entourage. "We have not denied a single visa for the Venezuelan delegation," he said. Grenell said the United States issued the Venezuelans a total of 135 visas, including 88 for Chavez's security detail. "There were 10 submitted very, very late. We are working very, very hard to meet those requests."
Staff writer Michelle Garcia in New York contributed to this report.