Bush critics condemn Chavez reference to Bush as 'The devil'

Friday, September 22nd 2006, 8:40 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Democrats are joining Republicans in condemning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's speech at the United Nations in which he called President Bush ``the devil.''

``I want President Chavez to please understand that even though many people in the United States are critical of our president that we resent the fact that he would come to the United States and criticize President Bush,'' said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Chavez Thursday night, saying he was concerned by the name-calling and believed both sides should tone down their rhetoric.

``Of course he feels that the U.S. government is part of trying to pull a coup on him. ... But my appeal to him is get beyond the anger,'' Jackson said.

``I think that he should not be calling President Bush 'devil.' President Bush should not be calling him 'evil' or calling him 'tyrant,''' Jackson said. ``We must cease these hostilities.''

House majority leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, called Chavez a ``power-hungry autocrat'' and said his U.N. speech on Wednesday was ``an embarrassment and an insult to the American people.''

The New York Daily News Page 1 headline on Friday told Chavez to ``ZIP IT!'', and the New York Post called him a ``JERK!'' and the ``Caracas Crackpot.''

Chavez stood by his comment.

``Sometimes the devil takes the form of people,'' Chavez told hundreds of supporters in a church in Harlem on Thursday. He called the war in Iraq criminal and said Bush is a ``sick man.''

Chavez accused the U.S. of keeping his doctors and his security chief from coming to New York by not granting them visas.

``Some people would like for me not to come, but I come. I come to say what I think must be said,'' Chavez said.

The Venezuelan has said he did not prepare a script for his U.N. speech, but went in with ideas and spoke spontaneously.

Chavez described himself as a friend of the American people, and announced Venezuela would more than double sales of discounted heating oil to poor Americans. But there were signs the effort might face some new obstacles.

Maine's Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who approved an agreement last winter to buy discounted oil, said Thursday he had no plans to seek a similar arrangement this winter, and called Chavez's words ``unnecessary and offensive.''

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., whose state also participates in the program, called the comments ``destructive to the United Nations as an institution'' and said Chavez should face a rebuke.

Rangel called the heating oil program very effective and said he expects that next year his district will be getting an even larger amount of oil.

``But you don't come into my country, you don't come into my congressional district and you don't condemn my president,'' Rangel said.

Chavez said he has the highest respect for the United States but insisted, ``we're enemies of imperialism.''

He also used the word ``devil'' to refer to examples of barbarism in the world, mentioning nuclear weapons, the Iraq war and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At the mention of Sept. 11, a man in the audience blurted out, ``The devil,'' and Chavez replied, ``Yes, friend, the devil. That's barbarism.''

But Chavez did not mention an idea he voiced earlier this month, when he suggested theories of U.S. government links to the attacks are ``not absurd'' and bear examination. He said at the time that such theories were plausible in part because the Bush administration needed to justify its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In New York, Chavez urged Americans to conserve energy and recited the words of Americans like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln. He also mused he would have liked to be a fighter with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa nearly a century ago when he led his men in a raid into U.S. territory.

Chavez repeated his warning that he would halt oil shipments if the U.S. tries to oust him. He added he would like to see a U.S. president ``who you could talk with.''

On Friday, Chavez was said to be returning to Caracas, where he had afternoon events scheduled, although Venezuelan officials declined to comment on his travel schedule for security reasons.

Insults have flown between Caracas and Washington since 2002, when the U.S. swiftly recognized leaders who briefly ousted Chavez, only to have their coup cut short when Chavez returned to power, strengthened by huge street protests.

U.S. officials regularly call Chavez a destabilizing force, and Bush has said he sees him as a threat to democracy. Chavez has called Bush a ``devil'' in other speeches.

The U.S. government has sought to block Venezuela's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, arguing it would be a disruptive force and backing Guatemala instead. Chavez says the Bush government has a twisted view of democracy, and Venezuela would be ``the voice of the Third World'' if chosen in a U.N. vote next month.

Chavez is practicing a sort of ``diplomacy for show'' that thrives on confrontation, said Milos Alcalay, who was Chavez's U.N. ambassador until he resigned in 2004 amid differences with the government. He said a race for a rotating Security Council seat ``has never been so politicized.''

Some who turned out to hear Chavez speak said they share the views behind his message, even if they might choose different words.

``He likes to set fires, to do good or just to get people riled up,'' said Natalia Munoz, a 25-year-old public health coordinator who attended a speech. ``He gets a lot of people thinking.''