Taking the U.N. by storm, a successful oilman from Venezuela berates an unsuccessful one from Texas
Hugo Chávez, speaking at the U.N. Thursday, showed George W. Bush how to use a bully pulpit. Following Bush by a day, the Venezuelan president generated the loudest applause at the biggest gathering of world leaders in Planet Earth’s 4.55-billion-year-history.
He did it blasting the U.S. for being a bully — and for even using a pulpit to do it. Here’s how the plain-vanilla AP story portrayed Thursday’s performance:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez took President Bush to task in front of a global summit for waging war in Iraq without U.N. consent and won rousing applause for his critique.
The leftist leader told a U.N. summit Thursday that fighting the war without U.N. authorization showed Washington did not respect the world body. He recommended moving U.N. headquarters to a country that has more regard for the organization.
“There were never weapons of mass destruction but Iraq was bombed, and over U.N. objections, [it was] occupied and continues being occupied,” Chávez said.
Fascinating how the U.S. press describes Chávez. This morning’s Los Angeles Times makes sure to call him “the socialist leader,” and the AP tabs him right away as “the leftist leader.” That’s OK, but then why isn’t Bush regularly called a “right-wing leader”? When I refer to Israel’s current government under Ariel Sharon, I try to mention that it’s “right-wing,” because it is and because Israel’s population, from most indications, isn’t nearly as right-wing.
By the same token, we’re not as right-wing a country as the Bush regime is — or tries to make us think we are.
As far as I can tell, the increasingly right-wing New York Times didn’t even run a separate story on the lefty, socialist Chávez’s speech, even from the wire services. The Washington Post did, and Colum Lynch‘s story, though buried inside, was pretty smart — and he spared the appellations. Here’s how Lynch started his piece:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has taken on the mantle of the bad boy of U.N. summitry, winning plaudits from Third World envoys for bashing the United States, and rattling U.N. officials by questioning the legitimacy of this week’s summit of world leaders.
Chávez’s appearance on the world stage this week echoed his mentor Fidel Castro‘s historic 1960 debut address before the General Assembly, complete with a fiery condemnation of American imperialism and side trips scheduled for Saturday to a Harlem church and community groups in the Bronx.
Chávez generated the loudest burst of applause for a world leader at the summit with his unbridled attack on what he characterized as American militarism and capitalism. He even offered a proposal to move the United Nations to Jerusalem or a city in the developing world.
The Miami Herald‘s Pablo Bachelet wrote that Chávez “used his fiery oratory to blast his way into New York’s limelight.” (The Times was apparently too blinded by the glare to run anything.) Bachelet added that Chávez, who was allotted five minutes to speak, clearly had more to say:
When a diplomat handed [Chávez] a note telling him he had gone over the allotted time, Chávez tossed it away, saying that if Bush could speak for 20 minutes, he could too. He spoke for 22 minutes.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Friday that “a lot of discussion [with Venezuela] is characterized by outlandish rhetoric as opposed to sincere desire to engage on the issues of substance.”
I get the “rhetoric” part, but was Ereli saying that Bush’s speech the day before was “sincere”?
Bachelet noted that New York City congressman José Serrano was scheduled to take Chávez on a tour of the city’s poorer parts and added:
Serrano said Chávez is being unnecessarily attacked by the Bush administration because of his friendship with Castro and because he “is quick not to accept a bullying tactic [by Bush].”
The U.N.’s own news service didn’t mention Chávez’s specific targeting of the U.S., but it did say:
In a stinging critique, Hugo Chávez Frías, the President of Venezuela, said the issue of reform was being used as a ruse for avoiding action on the real problems facing the world. He denounced the outcome document as “illegal,” and called on those present to reject it. “If we’re going to accept this then we are lost. Let’s just turn off the lights and close the doors and close the windows.”
Well, what exactly did Chávez say? There’s a U.N. video (in Spanish) and a transcript (also in Spanish). But if you’re an ignoramus like me and you’re still illiterate in Spanish, it’s hard to know. The U.N.’s dubbed video gives a slightly different version from a transcript translation on Venezuelanalysis.com, a site sympathetic to Chávez. As for finding an English transcript on any of the sites of major U.S. media outlets, well, I looked for half an hour and gave up. (If someone else knows of one, please let me know.)
Surprisingly, Bush’s U.N. speech the day before was delivered in standard English. Another clue that our president didn’t want to be there — and thus didn’t do his usual riffs — was that his perfunctory remarks were even more platitudinous than usual — the “free world” versus the terrorists, al-yada, yada, yada. Check the video: Bush’s delivery was so dead it wouldn’t have registered on any forensics scale. He couldn’t even muster a smirk.
Our permanent ugly face to the world at the U.N. is neocon nabob John Bolton, and one thing is clear: Bolton and Chávez agree that the U.N. doesn’t work.
They have different reasons for saying so, of course. For starters, Bolton wants the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission abolished, and Chávez says he wants the U.S. to stop forcing “frightening neoliberal globalization” policies down the developing countries’ throats.
I could go on, but it would take too long.
One thing that isn’t lost in translation is that Chávez’s speech was highly entertaining. That’s how some in the mainstream media tried to explain why the world leaders’ applause-o-meter favored Chávez over Bush. The Post‘s Lynch wrote:
The applause for Chávez 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 Chávez 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.
Depends on how you define “the real world.” Laurenti must be talking about politicians, big bidness, big media, and “seasoned analysts.”
In business terms, though, Chávez presides over a huge oil industry — Venezuela even owns a big U.S. company, CITGO, which has 14,000 American gas stations. Whereas Bush was a bust as an oilman in the private sector, and he’s presiding over a country whose citizens are increasingly angry about high prices at the pump.
Another way of looking at the world is that 37 million Americans are officially living in poverty. Or that the world’s 500 richest individuals have more money than the planet’s poorest 416 million people.
In the so-called real world of people who think they count more than poor people, the Bush regime wants to at least marginalize Chávez. But Venezuela is the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter and supplies 13 percent of the U.S.’s daily oil imports. So if it can’t marginalize Chávez, and if it can’t get an aging televangelist to assassinate him, the next best thing, the way the Bush regime thinks, would be to overthrow him.
For those reasons alone, Chávez is a player in world politics. But there was one part of his speech in which he strayed far from the “real world.” Speaking about the U.S.’s war in the “other” gulf, he said:
Today we know that there were never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
True. But then Chávez added:
The people of the United States have always been very rigorous in demanding the truth [from] their leaders; the people of the world demand the same thing.
We’re “rigorous”? We haven’t even had a single full-fledged investigation of any part of the Iraq debacle. It’s more like we’re cosseted by our consumerism and entertainment media and anesthetized by a largely boring mainstream news media.
Speaking of being put to sleep, U.S. CEO Dick Cheney is scheduled to go into the hospital next week. Hope everything goes well. Initially, I thought the guy who “goes where the oil is” was going to get a new heart — or his first one.
Turns out, though, that Cheney’s having elective surgery to repair an aneurysm south of the border, not as far down as Venezuela but somewhere around his knees.
Salon‘s Aaron Kinney notes that Cheney plans to go with a local anesthetic.
Cheney should be put fully under, before his reckless greed for oil puts the rest of us in the “free world” under.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2005