September 23, 2006
By Stephen Johnson
There was plenty of sulfur in the air at the
United Nations on Wednesday, but it wasn't coming from George W.
Bush. It was in the fire and brimstone of Venezuelan President Hugo
Heads of state, including U.S.
presidents, have sometimes used the U.N. General Assembly to
lambaste other governments. But Chávez's diatribe was over
the edge. It painted him as what he claims his U.S. counterpart is
- dangerous, imperialist, and a threat to the world.
Lacking independent courts, a congress, or a healthy opposition to
restrain him at home, Chávez is free to say whatever he
likes. And he often does, using public platforms such the November
2005 Summit of the Americas to send U.S. free-trade proposals "to
hell" and call Mexican President Vicente Fox Washington's "lapdog."
He once reportedly described Pope John Paul II as a "potato" using
a crude play on words after the pontiff met with him.
This time he said "the devil is in the house. He came here
yesterday ... this place smells like sulfur," in reference to
President Bush's participation in the General Assembly.
Chávez alleged that "U.S. hegemonic pretensions put the
survival of humanity at risk." He also called for changes in the
world body to admit new member states from the developing world -
such as Venezuela - as permanent members of the Security Council
with veto power.
Chávez suggested that his government would become "the
voice of the Third World" if his country were chosen to occupy a
rotating seat on the Council. Member states will vote next month by
secret ballot, with a choice between Guatemala and Venezuela.
Venezuela has already served on the Council several times, while
Guatemala, a U.N.-founding member, has yet to be selected.
Only a few weeks ago, Chávez was circling the globe lining
up votes in developing nations like Belarus, Iran, Malaysia, and
Syria. At the same time, he signed contracts in Russia worth $3
billion for two dozen Su-30 advanced fighter-bombers and more than
50 helicopters, and he agreed to buy some 100,000 Kalashnikov
assault rifles and to have the Russians build him a munitions
factory. In China and Malaysia he pledged to shift Venezuela's
petroleum exports to South Asia.
Following the September meeting in Havana of the nations of the
Non-Aligned Movement, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited
Venezuela to advance a growing petroleum partnership between Tehran
and Caracas. In return for helping tap Venezuela's oil reserves,
Ahmadinejad may expect collaboration in strengthening his own
efforts against the United States, using the alliance of Venezuela,
Cuba, and a burgeoning satellite state in Bolivia as platforms for
intelligence gathering and arms trafficking in the Americas.
To close neighbors in the Western Hemisphere,
Chávez's agenda is regional. Interviewed by Michael Shifter
in the Washington Post last June, Peruvian President-elect
Alan García said, "Chávez is using his millions of
dollars to try and extend influence in the Andean countries, first
Bolivia, now cloning a comandante in Peru [rival presidential
candidate Ollanta Humala], then Ecuador, to surround Colombia,
where he sees U.S. imperialism as strongest in Latin
But when he spoke at the U.N. General Assembly this week,
President Chávez made it clear that his objective is to lead
a global coalition to confront the United States. To do that, he
must build an empire of his own. With improvised oil alliances, he
seeks to turn a commodity into a strategic political tool. Through
arms purchases, he hopes to shore up his own strength and supply
neighboring guerrilla movements. In multilateral forums, he
proposes to remake institutions to suit his purposes.
Over the long term, it's possible that the United States and other
industrial democracies will reduce their reliance on foreign
petroleum, and that then authoritarian rulers with oil won't have
money to buy rebellion. For the time being, Venezuela's threat is
limited - U.N. members will likely think twice before voting for
Venezuela to occupy the rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Some may dislike America's prosperity and denounce its palpable
influence in world affairs, but that doesn't mean they want to be
identified with a capricious leader who seems to have become all he
is senior policy analyst for Latin America in the Davis Institute
for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in the National Reiview Online
There was plenty of sulfur in the air at the United Nations on Wednesday, but it wasn’t coming from George W. Bush. It was in the fire and brimstone of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Senior Policy Analyst
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