The South American leader, long at odds with the federal government in Washington, D.C., appeared to be making one of his boldest moves yet to coalesce international opposition to the Bush administration. Chávez began Wednesday’s speech noting that Bush spoke from the same podium a day earlier.
“The devil came here,” Chávez said. “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.”
He then made the sign of the cross, brought his hands together as if praying and looked up to the ceiling.
Chávez's words drew tentative giggles at times from the audience, but also applause at the end of the speech and when he called Bush the devil.
He later spoke to hundreds of New Yorkers who filled a college hall Wednesday night, and drew a standing ovation when he said Bush committed genocide during the war in Iraq.
“The president of the United States should go before an international tribunal,” Chávez said as applause filled the hall at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He compared the Bush administration’s actions to those of the Nazis.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier that Chávez's remarks in the United Nations were “not becoming for a head of state.”
``I am not going to dignify a comment by the Venezuelan president to the president of the United States,'' Rice told reporters. The main U.S. seat in the United Nations was empty as Chávez spoke, though U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said a ``junior note-taker'' was present as is customary ``when governments like that speak.''
The Venezuelan has become Latin America's leading voice against the U.S. government, and his speeches were reminiscent of crusading addresses by his mentor Fidel Castro of Cuba and the late Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Chávez accused the U.S. of planning and financing a failed 2002 coup against him, a charge the U.S. denies. And he said the U.S. tries to impose its vision of democracy militarily in countries like Iran and Iraq.
He called U.S. consumerism “madness” at a marathon news conference, saying U.S.-Americans have wasteful habits in using oil and energy. He held up a satellite photo showing the world at night, with bright light emanating from the U.S. and other wealthy countries.
The United States continues to be the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, bringing the South American country billions of dollars in earnings that help fund Chávez’s popular social programs.
Accusing Bush of neglecting the poor, Chávez started a program last winter for Venezuela’s U.S.-based oil company Citgo to sell discounted heating oil to poor American families. It distributed more than 40 million gallons of oil last winter to low-income U.S.-Americans, and Chávez announced a doubling of that this winter.
``I'm not an enemy of the United States. I'm a friend of the United States... the people of the United States,'' Chávez said during his speech to the U.S.-Americans, who included union organizers, professors and others. ``They're two very different things—you the people of the United States, and the government that's installed there.''
He said he hopes U.S.-Americans choose an ``intelligent president'' in the future.
Singer and activist Harry Belafonte introduced Chávez at the event, while former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark also attended, among supporters who waved Venezuelan flags and chanted Chávez's name. The Venezuelan leader signed autographs as a crowd rushed to him after the speech.
He also referred to his past threats that he could cut off oil exports to the U.S. if it tries to oust him.
``Believe me, if I were to decide tomorrow to stop sending oil to the United States ... the price would go up to US$150, US$200 (euro120, euro160) a barrel. But we don't want to do it, and we aren't going to do it,'' Chávez said. ``We ask only for respect.''
Chávez lambasted the U.S. government for trying to block Venezuela's campaign for a seat in the U.N. Security Council. He said if chosen over U.S.-favorite Guatemala in a secret-ballot U.N. vote next month, Venezuela would be ``the voice of the Third World.'' The U.S. argues that Venezuela—closely allied with Iran, Syria and Cuba—would be a disruptive force.
He also said the U.N. in its current system ``doesn't work'' and is ``antidemocratic.'' He called for the world body to be overhauled, saying the U.S. government's ``immoral veto'' had allowed recent Israeli bombings of Lebanon to continue unabated for more than five weeks.