Friday, September 22, 2006

Venezuela's Chavez continues anti-Bush harangue

Venezuela's Chavez continues anti-Bush harangue
By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After branding President Bush as the devil at the United Nations, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took his anti-imperialist rhetoric to Harlem on Thursday and ridiculed the Texan as a puffed-up John Wayne wannabe.

And the crowds -- a carefully selected group of leftists and liberals -- loved it.

Chavez stunned delegates at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday by calling Bush "the devil himself" and saying he left the smell of sulfur hanging in the chamber from his appearance the previous day.

He received an ovation at the United Nations, but nothing like the raucous and upbeat receptions later Wednesday at a free university and again on Thursday at a Baptist church in the predominantly black neighborhood of Harlem.

Friendly leftist crowds soaked up his critique of the Iraq war, his interpretation of the history of U.S. military interventions and his stories about visiting Cuban President Fidel Castro, who is recovering from surgery.

They chanted pro-Chavez slogans and applauded his oil diplomacy. Chavez extended his policy of giving away heating oil or selling it at a discount to poor Americans, this time benefiting a Native American group.

"Every day I ask God, and the sooner the better, for the American people to elect a president who you can talk with, who you can work with, who you can talk with face-to-face as a brother and see each other as equals," Chavez told the Harlem Church on Thursday.

"Not this gentleman who walks like John Wayne," Chavez said, puffing out his chest and swinging his elbows back and forth. The crowd went wild, but the carefully chosen audiences reflected public opinion outside the American mainstream.

U.S. officials said Chavez's remarks did not dignify a response. Even Nancy Pelosi, a liberal member of Congress and one of Bush's fiercest political opponents, called Chavez a "thug" for likening Bush to the devil.

"Hugo Chavez fancies himself a modern day Simon Bolivar but all he is an everyday thug," the House Democratic leader said at a news conference.

Simon Bolivar led the fight for independence against Spanish rule in several South American countries in the early 19th century and is a political role model for Chavez.

In his New York appearance, Chavez invoked Bolivar and his other favorite leaders and thinkers as he lectured Americans on their own history and race relations, such as slavery and the conquest of Native Americans.

The dark-skinned, mixed race leader told New Yorkers to read Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain as well as modern thinkers like Noam Chomsky and John Kenneth Galbraith, lamenting he could not meet Galbraith before he died in April at age 97.

"It's not easy talking to Americas about these topics, but it is the truth," Chavez said. "You need to understand the truth."

On Wednesday, Chavez began his speech by displaying a copy of American writer Chomsky's 2004 book "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance," and recommending it to U.N. delegates and U.S. citizens.

By Thursday, the book had risen from backlist obscurity to the No. 3 bestseller at online bookseller