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International Relations

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez
Speech to the United Nations

16 September 2006
[see also Chavez, the Devil, Chomsky, and Us - Michael Albert]

"..The President of the United States, yesterday, said to us, right here, in this room, and I'm quoting, "Anywhere you look, you hear extremists telling you can escape from poverty and recover your dignity through violence, terror and martyrdom." Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. And you, my brother -- he looks at your color, and he says, oh, there's an extremist. Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him. The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up. It's waking up all over. And people are standing up..."

Representatives of the governments of the world, good morning to all of you.

First of all, I would like to invite you, very respectfully, to those who have not read this book, to read it. Noam Chomsky, one of the most prestigious American and world intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, and this is one of his most recent books, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance [Holds up book, waves it in front of General Assembly.] It's an excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century, and what's happening now, and the greatest threat looming over our planet.

The hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species. We continue to warn you about this danger and we appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our heads. I had considered reading from this book, but, for the sake of time, [flips through the pages, which are numerous] I will just leave it as a recommendation.

It reads easily, it is a very good book, I'm sure Madame [President] you are familiar with it. It appears in English, in Russian, in Arabic, in German. I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is right in their own house.

The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.

I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: "The Devil's Recipe."

As Chomsky says here, clearly and in depth, the American empire is doing all it can to consolidate its system of domination. And we cannot allow them to do that. We cannot allow world dictatorship to be consolidated.

The world parent's statement -- cynical, hypocritical, full of this imperial hypocrisy from the need they have to control everything. They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons. What a strange democracy. Aristotle might not recognize it or others who are at the root of democracy. What type of democracy do you impose with marines and bombs?

The President of the United States, yesterday, said to us, right here, in this room, and I'm quoting, "Anywhere you look, you hear extremists telling you can escape from poverty and recover your dignity through violence, terror and martyrdom." Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. And you, my brother -- he looks at your color, and he says, oh, there's an extremist. Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him. The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up. It's waking up all over. And people are standing up.

I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations. Yes, you can call us extremists, but we are rising up against the empire, against the model of domination.

The president then -- and this he said himself, he said: "I have come to speak directly to the populations in the Middle East, to tell them that my country wants peace." That's true. If we walk in the streets of the Bronx, if we walk around New York, Washington, San Diego, in any city, San Antonio, San Francisco, and we ask individuals, the citizens of the United States, what does this country want? Does it want peace? They'll say yes. But the government doesn't want peace. The government of the United States doesn't want peace. It wants to exploit its system of exploitation, of pillage, of hegemony through war.

It wants peace. But what's happening in Iraq? What happened in Lebanon? In Palestine? What's happening? What's happened over the last 100 years in Latin America and in the world? And now threatening Venezuela -- new threats against Venezuela, against Iran?

He spoke to the people of Lebanon. Many of you, he said, have seen how your homes and communities were caught in the crossfire. How cynical can you get? What a capacity to lie shamefacedly. The bombs in Beirut with millimetric precision?
This is crossfire? He's thinking of a western, when people would shoot from the hip and somebody would be caught in the crossfire.

This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire and Israel firing on the people of Palestine and Lebanon. That is what happened. And now we hear, "We're suffering because we see homes destroyed.' The president of the United States came to talk to the peoples -- to the peoples of the world. He came to say -- I brought some documents with me, because this morning I was reading some statements, and I see that he talked to the people of Afghanistan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Iran. And he addressed all these peoples directly.

And you can wonder, just as the president of the United States addresses those peoples of the world, what would those peoples of the world tell him if they were given the floor? What would they have to say?

And I think I have some inkling of what the peoples of the south, the oppressed people think. They would say, "Yankee imperialist, go home." I think that is what those people would say if they were given the microphone and if they could speak with one voice to the American imperialists.

And that is why, Madam President, my colleagues, my friends, last year we came here to this same hall as we have been doing for the past eight years, and we said something that has now been confirmed -- fully, fully confirmed.

I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless. Oh, yes, it's good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Abel's yesterday, or President Mullah's . Yes, it's good for that. And there are a lot of speeches, and we've heard lots from the President of Sri Lanka, for instance, and the president of Chile.

But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world. And that is why Venezuela once again proposes, here, today, 20 September, that we re-establish the United Nations.

Last year, Madam, we made four modest proposals that we felt to be crucially important. We have to assume the responsibility our heads of state, our ambassadors, our representatives, and we have to discuss it.

The first is expansion, and Mullah talked about this yesterday right here. The Security Council, both as it has permanent and non-permanent categories, (inaudible) developing countries and LDCs must be given access as new permanent members. That's step one.

Second, effective methods to address and resolve world conflicts, transparent decisions.

Point three, the immediate suppression -- and that is something everyone's calling for -- of the anti-democratic mechanism known as the veto, the veto on decisions of the Security Council.

Let me give you a recent example. The immoral veto of the United States allowed the Israelis, with impunity, to destroy Lebanon. Right in front of all of us as we stood there watching, a resolution in the council was prevented.

Fourthly, we have to strengthen, as we've always said, the role and the powers of the secretary general of the United Nations.

Yesterday, the secretary general practically gave us his speech of farewell. And he recognized that over the last 10 years, things have just gotten more complicated; hunger, poverty, violence, human rights violations have just worsened. That is the tremendous consequence of the collapse of the United Nations system and American hegemonistic pretensions.

Madam, Venezuela a few years ago decided to wage this battle within the United Nations by recognizing the United Nations, as members of it that we are, and lending it our voice, our thinking. Our voice is an independent voice to represent the dignity and the search for peace and the reformulation of the international system; to denounce persecution and aggression of hegemonistic forces on the planet. This is how Venezuela has presented itself. Bolivar's home has sought a non permanent seat on the Security Council.

Let's see. Well, there's been an open attack by the U.S. government, an immoral attack, to try and prevent Venezuela from being freely elected to a post in the Security Council. The imperium is afraid of truth, is afraid of independent voices. It calls us extremists, but they are the extremists.

And I would like to thank all the countries that have kindly announced their support for Venezuela, even though the ballot is a secret one and there's no need to announce things. But since the imperium has attacked, openly, they strengthened the convictions of many countries. And their support strengthens us. Mercosur, as a bloc, has expressed its support, our brothers in Mercosur. Venezuela, with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, is a full member of Mercosur.

And many other Latin American countries, CARICOM, Bolivia have expressed their support for Venezuela. The Arab League, the full Arab League has voiced its support. And I am immensely grateful to the Arab world, to our Arab brothers, our Caribbean brothers, the African Union. Almost all of Africa has expressed its support for Venezuela and countries such as Russia or China and many others.

I thank you all warmly on behalf of Venezuela, on behalf of our people, and on behalf of the truth, because Venezuela, with a seat on the Security Council, will be expressing not only Venezuela's thoughts, but it will also be the voice of all the peoples of the world, and we will defend dignity and truth.

Over and above all of this, Madam President, I think there are reasons to be optimistic. A poet would have said "helplessly optimistic," because over and above the wars and the bombs and the aggressive and the preventive war and the destruction of entire peoples, one can see that a new era is dawning.

As Silvio Rodriguez says, the era is giving birth to a heart.

There are alternative ways of thinking. There are young people who think differently. And this has already been seen within the space of a mere decade. It was shown that the end of history was a totally false assumption, and the same was shown about Pax Americana and the establishment of the capitalist neo-liberal world. It has been shown, this system, to generate mere poverty. Who believes in it now?

What we now have to do is define the future of the world. Dawn is breaking out all over. You can see it in Africa and Europe and Latin America and Oceanea. I want to emphasize that optimistic vision.

We have to strengthen ourselves, our will to do battle, our awareness. We have to build a new and better world.

Venezuela joins that struggle, and that's why we are threatened. The U.S. has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere. President Michelle Bachelet reminded us just a moment ago of the horrendous assassination of the former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier. And I would just add one thing: Those who perpetrated this crime are free. And that other event where an American citizen also died were American themselves. They were CIA killers, terrorists.

And we must recall in this room that in just a few days there will be another anniversary. Thirty years will have passed from this other horrendous terrorist attack on the Cuban plane, where 73 innocents died, a Cubana de Aviacion airliner.

And where is the biggest terrorist of this continent who took the responsibility for blowing up the plane? He spent a few years in jail in Venezuela. Thanks to CIA and then government officials, he was allowed to escape, and he lives here in this country, protected by the government. And he was convicted. He has confessed to his crime. But the U.S. government has double standards. It protects terrorism when it wants to.

And this is to say that Venezuela is fully committed to combating terrorism and violence. And we are one of the people who are fighting for peace.

Luis Posada Carriles is the name of that terrorist who is protected here. And other tremendously corrupt people who escaped from Venezuela are also living here under protection: a group that bombed various embassies, that assassinated people during the coup. They kidnapped me and they were going to kill me, but I think God reached down and our people came out into the streets and the army was too, and so I'm here today.

But these people who led that coup are here today in this country protected by the American government. And I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.

We mentioned Cuba. Yes, we were just there a few days ago. We just came from there happily.

And there you see another era born. The Summit of the 15, the Summit of the Nonaligned, adopted a historic resolution. This is the outcome document. Don't worry, I'm not going to read it. But you have a whole set of resolutions here that were adopted after open debate in a transparent matter -- more than 50 heads of state. Havana was the capital of the south for a few weeks, and we have now launched, once again, the group of the non aligned with new momentum.

And if there is anything I could ask all of you here, my companions, my brothers and sisters, it is to please lend your good will to lend momentum to the Nonaligned Movement for the birth of the new era, to prevent hegemony and prevent further advances of imperialism.

And as you know, Fidel Castro is the president of the nonaligned for the next three years, and we can trust him to lead the charge very efficiently. Unfortunately they thought, "Oh, Fidel was going to die." But they're going to be disappointed because he didn't. And he's not only alive, he's back in his green fatigues, and he's now presiding the nonaligned.

So, my dear colleagues, Madam President, a new, strong movement has been born, a movement of the south. We are men and women of the south.

With this document, with these ideas, with these criticisms, I'm now closing my file. I'm taking the book with me. And, don't forget, I'm recommending it very warmly and very humbly to all of you.

We want ideas to save our planet, to save the planet from the imperialist threat. And hopefully in this very century, in not too long a time, we will see this, we will see this new era, and for our children and our grandchildren a world of peace based on the fundamental principles of the United Nations, but a renewed United Nations. And maybe we have to change location. Maybe we have to put the United Nations somewhere else; maybe a city of the south. We've proposed Venezuela.

The only country where a person is able to call for the assassination of a head of state is the United States. Such was the case of a Reverend called Pat Robertson, very close to the White House: He called for my assassination and he is a free person. That is international terrorism! We will fight for Venezuela, for Latin American integration and the world. We reaffirm our infinite faith in humankind. We are thirsty for peace and justice in order to survive as species. Simón Bolívar, founding father of our country and guide of our revolution swore to never allow his hands to be idle or his soul to rest until he had broken the shackles which bound us to the empire. Now is the time to not allow our hands to be idle or our souls to rest until we save humanity.

You know that my personal doctor had to stay in the plane. The chief of security had to be left in a locked plane. Neither of these gentlemen was allowed to arrive and attend the U.N. meeting. This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the Devil. It smells of sulphur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.

May God bless us all. Good day to you.

Chavez, the Devil, Chomsky, and Us - Michael Albert, 26 September 2006

What can leftists learn from Chavez's UN speech and its aftermath? That the U.S. is the world's most egregious rogue state. We already knew that and, in fact, so does most everyone else. That Bush and Co. engage in repeated acts of amoral, immoral, and antimoral behavior such as a devil would enact, if there was such a thing as a devil. We already knew that too. That the emperor has no morality, integrity, wisdom, or humanity. We knew that as well. So is there anything in the episode for us? I think there may be.

I suspect many leftists would have been happier had Chavez torn into Bush and U.S. institutions by offering more evidence while employing a less religious spin. Perhaps Chavez could have called Bush Mr. War, or Mr. Danger as he has in the past, and piled on evidence to show how U.S. policies in the world, and grotesque domestic imbalances as well, obstruct desirable income distribution, democratic decision making, and mutual interpersonal and intercommunity respect. Chavez might have given evidence how U.S. elites and key institutions impede living and loving and even survival, from Latin America to Asia and back. He might have said that George W. Bush, as the current master purveyor of the most recent violations by the U.S., is, in effect, doing the work of a devil - because he is the spawn of a devilish system. And I suspect many leftists would have probably been happier had Chavez added chapter and verse evidence for his assertions, though I suspect time limits precluded that.

But, hey, we can't always get exactly what we want. And more, the dramatic "smelling of sulfur formulation" that Chavez used may have been exactly what got the sentiment in any form at all in front of millions of readers and viewers. The pundits wanted to use Chavez's words to discredit him - but, in doing so, they put his claim before hundreds of millions of people. Perhaps without the dramatic formulation, we would have heard nearly nothing.

My guess is that Chavez treated the event as he does pretty much all his encounters. He said what he thought. He gave it a passionate, aesthetic, and humorous edge. He calculated that forthrightness would accomplish more than it cost. Content-wise, the speech was typical Chavez, even if most hadn't heard him saying such things before, due to having not heard him say anything before. Here is Chavez commenting on Bush last March, for example, in a televised Venezuelan address:

"You are an ignoramus, you are a burro, Mr. Danger ... or to say it to you in my bad English, you are a donkey, Mr. Danger. You are a donkey, Mr. George W. Bush. You are a coward, a killer, a genocider, an alcoholic, a drunk, a liar, an immoral person, Mr. Danger. You are the worst, Mr. Danger. The worst of this planet."

The cost of Chavez's more recent and far more global forthrightness about Bush is dismissal of Chavez as a crazy lunatic by many people who already felt that way but were restrained in saying so, and by some people swayed by media ridicule of him, who had had no prior opinion.

The gain of Chavez's more recent and far more global forthrightness about Bush is establishing that one can say the truth about the U.S. and less importantly about George Bush, and showing that doing so is in accord not only with truth but also with integrity. It is providing an example for others to be inspired by and act on. What is poison in elite eyes can be vitamins for us, and vice versa.

In that respect, what Chavez did reminds me a little of what Abbie Hoffman and some others did in the U.S. to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, known more familiarly as HUAC, decades ago. Abbie and some others aggressively and dismissively ridiculed HUAC as beneath contempt and unworthy of respect. They laughed at obeying it and via their dramatic stance they moved the prevalent attitude toward HUAC from being primarily fear and trembling to being primarily disdain and dissent. Chavez tried something similar, I think. He voiced what others, even others in the room at the UN, also knew but kept quiet about. He hoped, I assume, that others would take strength and begin to voice their needs and insights too.

Bush is a vengeful, greedy, violent, but even more so, obedient thug. Yes, obedient, as in Bush obeys the dictates of the system he has climbed and now administers for the rich and powerful. Bush perfectly exemplifies the adage that in capitalism "garbage rises." My guess is that Chavez felt that the benefits of standing up to the U.S. and its most elite garbage outweighs the costs of seeming to many people to be an extremist from Mars. So was Chavez right? Did the benefits outweigh the debits?

My country, the United States, exists beneath a blanket of disorienting and misleading media madness. It endures a climate of paralyzing and pervasive fear. It encompasses a deeply inculcated hopelessness born of educational and cultural institutions that snuff out communication of dissenting beliefs elevating instead pap and pablum. It suffers a life-draining anti-sociality produced by markets that reward callousness and punish solidarity. Garbage rises in the U.S. because nice guys finish last. And amidst all this, for anyone to tell the full truth, and even more so for anyone to display the appropriate levels of passionate anger that the full truth warrants, makes that person appear to be Martian, appear to be psychotic, appear to be irrelevant, and Chavez wants to reverse that context.

Did Chavez fall short of what could be accomplished on that score with one speech? I am not at all sure he did. But if he did, if the price of Chavez's speech in delegitimating his own credibility in certain circles was greater than the gain in delegitimating greed and violence and in freeing people in very different circles from blind and uncritical obedience and fear, whose fault would that be?

Should we blame the one messenger who spoke up? Or should we blame the millions of messengers who know the same substance as Chavez, but hold their tongues?

There is a world class bully, Bush. He represents a class of rich and powerful "masters of the universe." He administers their system of gross inequality. He expands the competitive market hostility they thrive on. He fosters the mental passivity they rely on. He abets the lifelong coercion they utilize. He epitomizes the ubiquitous crassness and commercialism they profit off. He lies to shield their true purposes. He throws bombs far and wide to defend and enlarge their empire. Of course irritating the bully and the system he shills for can unleash nasty behavior. Of course, for a time, in the ensuing onslaught, verbally assaulting the bully can diminish the dissident's credibility, at least in some circles. It might even boost the bully a bit, in some quarters.

Likewise, when there is a climate of subservient obedience to a bully, as we now endure in the U.S., when the bully's climate people feel that to tell the truth about him and his system is uncivil, and when the bully's climate overwhelmingly castigates honesty and ridicules passion, then of course being passionately honest will be castigated and ridiculed and at least in part make the truth teller look deviant.

So, if that's the risk, what is the solution? Should we forego truth telling? Or should we tell more truth? Should we coddle our likely enemies. Or should we organize and empower our likely friends?

Chavez needs allies, but not ones who say, hey, Chavez is an okay guy, even if a little over the top. Chavez needs allies who stand up to imperialism and injustice in all its forms be counted like him, even right up over the top, but allies who also bring to Chavez criticisms and ideas that run contrary to his own thinking and doing. Chavez embracing Admadinenjad was bad news. His suggestions, in other contexts, that the Venezuelan constitution be amended to allow him to rule longer are bad news. Truth to him, too. But at that UN Chavez wasn't talking mainly to the people sitting in front of him in the UN with his speech. He was talking to people throughout the U.S. and throughout the world, saying, in essence, it is okay to rebel. And it is okay. And we ought to do it.

So that was one lesson. When you revile elites your effectiveness depends less on your particular words than on how many other people are willing to do as much or more than you. Chavez thinks in terms of winning massive change. Most people on the left think in terms of holding off calamities. The contrast is stark and at the heart of the recent incidents. We can learn from his attitude, I think.

Chavez waved around Chomsky's book, Hegemony or Survival. I think there are lessons in that, too, even for us, even though we already know Chomsky's work. First off, a person, even one that has great social advantages, can humbly aid others. You can get up and say to others, hey, this book, video, set of ideas, or organization is worthy of your time. You can use whatever avenues exist for you, whether it be access to your family or friends, or to your schoolmates or workmates, or to your local media, or even to larger mass media, or even to the whole world, to reach out with advice and pointers that you think are worthy. And you should do that. We all should do that. But we generally don't. I suspect we are embarrassed to do it. Chavez probably wouldn't even comprehend that. Just as he had reviled Bush before, he had celebrated Chomsky before too, over and over, with little effect. This guy Chavez tries and tries again. He loses, he loses, he loses, he wins.

I would guess that Chavez didn't think to himself, they will revile me in their columns and commentaries, so I better not rip into Bush and celebrate Chomsky. The ensuing ridicule might reduce my stature, I better avoid it. To rip Bush and celebrate Chomsky will look strange, I better avoid it. If I do that I will be giving time to elevating someone else, and not myself, and I better avoid it. I will be displaying anger and passion, and that will brand me as uncivil and improper, it will label me as undignified and even juvenile, and I better avoid it. How many of us think like that, how often, is a question worth considering.

Instead, I suspect Chavez thought, Chomsky's work deserves and needs to be more widely addressed. It affected me. It needs to affect others. I will try to push it into people's awareness using all the means at my disposal to do so, which, indeed, he has been doing, though with much less success, for some time now. Of course, we can't all push an author, a book, an organization, or an idea, and have it jump into international, domestic, or local prominence, whether on our first, fifth, or tenth try. We are not all heads of a dynamic country. We don't all have a giant stage, or often even a large stage, or even any stage at all, from which to sing our songs. But we can still do our part, wherever we may be. And the fact is, we who know so much often don't do our part. We often don't point out sources of ideas and discuss them with our workmates, schoolmates, and families at every opportunity. If we have audiences for our work, again we don't use our writing, talks, and other products to promote valuable work by others beyond ourselves. Why is that? Sometimes we are afraid of reprisals. Sometimes we are afraid of looking silly. Sometimes we just don't want to do it because it isn't our thing. Cheerleading and recommending, that's not my thing. I doubt it will work. I won't bother trying. Then our foretelling of failure is fulfilled. Well, we need to get over all that.

Again, I think the difference between Chavez and most others even on the left is that Chavez is seeking to win, and we are instead seeking, as often as not, to avoid alienating pundits or to even appeal to them. We are seeking to avoid annoying anyone we like, or anyone we might like, or who might like us. We are seeking to avoid looking odd to anyone, or to avoid making a mistake, or to avoid seeming shrill and angry, or self serving, or passionate. And we need to transcend all that.

I think what made Chavez seem so peculiar to so many people is that what he did was, in fact, incredibly peculiar. To stand up to the classist, racist, sexist, authoritarian leader of the U.S. and to mince no words reviling his immorality, was indeed incredibly peculiar. So let's all stand up to power and privilege and take the stigma out of doing so. It is part of removing the smell of sulfur from the air.

And, at the opposite pole, Chavez celebrated and openly and aggressively aided an anti classist, anti racist, anti sexist, and anti authoritarian set of ideas and their author. And that too was peculiar. And we all ought to be doing that too, for lots of able authors and worthy ideas. Indeed, we should do it so much that solidaritous movement building behavior comes to be typical, rather than seeming Martian. We should do it so much and so openly that we move from telling the truth to feeling about the truth the way a caring and sentient soul ought to feel about it, and finally to acting on the truth and on our passionate feelings in accord with wide human interests and in pursuit of compelling and worthy aims. To hell with the dictates of markets and pundits alike.

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