Sunday, September 25, 2005

Chavez Raises His Profile At U.N. Summit

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 Chavez Raises His Profile At U.N. Summit

Tuesday September 20, 2005 8:16 AM

AP Photo LCAR102


Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - In a matter of days, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez denounced the U.S. government on the floor of the U.N., called President Bush a threat to the world, then waved an American flag and told New Yorkers he hopes for peace.

Chavez appeared to have succeeded in raising his profile on the world stage at last week's U.N. summit and emerged as perhaps the most critical voice at the gathering of world leaders.

During his New York visit Chavez called the U.S. government ``a terrorist state'' and suggested Iraqis were justified in defending against what he called a ``criminal'' war.

The Venezuelan president's fiery speech denouncing the Iraq war before the U.N. General Assembly drew some of the loudest applause at the summit.

``He reminded Americans that Bush cannot be trusted, and warned world leaders, too,'' said Josefina Morales, a single mother who joined the rally to welcome Chavez home. ``He sends his message to the world, and people are listening.''

Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has emerged as one of Latin America's most outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy. He takes his message against Bush's ``imperialist'' government everywhere he goes.

Chavez gave Americans a glimpse of ``a sympathetic figure who is a great showman,'' said Michael Shifter, of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue.

``Much in the way Fidel Castro did for a half century, he said what a lot of Latin Americans would like to be able to say about the United States in a public forum, but don't and can't afford to,'' Shifter said.

During his three-day U.N. trip, Chavez sharply criticized Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina and accused the U.S. government of making plans to invade his country during an ABC television interview, saying the plot is known as ``Plan Balboa.''

Some said Chavez's charisma made him one of the most noticed leaders.

``Chavez went to the poorest congressional district in the nation's richest city, and people on the street there just went crazy,'' said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., who invited Chavez to the Bronx. ``A lot of people told me they were really mesmerized by him. He made quite an impression.''

Rep. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, said Chavez may have soaked up the spotlight, but his rhetoric was only enticing to ``those people that oppose freedom and dislike the United States.''

``He's an emerging threat, a gathering storm we have to pay attention to,'' Mack said.

Chavez has repeatedly denied U.S. suggestions that he poses a threat and has said it's the United States that regularly threatens other countries.

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter, and Chavez says he hopes to keep selling oil to the United States as long as Washington doesn't try anything against him.

``I love the people of the United States,'' Chavez said in his weekend appearance at a Manhattan church.

He waved the flags of Venezuela and the United States, and also held out a hand over the podium into the air, saying he was offering it to the U.S. government.

The American civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said he thinks Chavez's messages resonated with many and pointed to a need for the U.S. government to stop giving him ``the cold shoulder.''

``The fact is the U.S. and Venezuela need each other,'' Jackson said, noting Venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the United States.


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