UNITED NATIONS — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received tremendous applause from world leaders at the United Nations World Summit Sept. 15 after a stirring speech assailing the Bush administration and world capitalism. He then toured New York City, greeted by enthusiastic crowds, and repeated his offer of oil and other assistance to low-income Americans.

In their speeches at the UN gathering, many world leaders indirectly criticized the Bush administration for causing wars and exacerbating poverty. Chavez openly voiced these criticisms — and condemned imperialism in general. He received the biggest ovation of any speaker, many observers noted.

“It is unpractical and unethical to sacrifice the human race by insanely invoking a socioeconomic model that has a galloping destructive capacity,” Chavez said, referring to the push by President Bush to impose unbridled “free market” neoliberal capitalism in Latin America and the Caribbean. Such policies have only generated “a high degree of misery, inequality and infinite tragedy for all the peoples on his continent,” Chavez said.

The world faces a dangerous energy crisis, the Venezuelan president said. Within the next 20 years the world will consume as much oil as in the previous history of all humanity, he said, pointing out that one result is catastrophic global warming. Hurricane Katrina “has been a painful example of the cost of ignoring” such environmental realities, he said.

At the UN, the most urgent matters — implementation of the Millennium Development Goals that aim to radically curb poverty and inequality — have been overshadowed by arguments over reform of the UN, Chavez said.

One of those goals is cutting in half the number of hungry worldwide by 2015, 10 years from now. At the current rate of progress, Chavez noted, this will not achieved for another 200 years. “Who in this audience will be there to celebrate it?” he asked.

Chavez slammed the U.S. for “repeated violations to the international rule of law,” highlighted by its invasion and occupation of Iraq. “There were never weapons of mass destruction, but despite that, and going over the head of the United Nations, Iraq was bombed, occupied and continues to be occupied.”

It is urgent to fight international terrorism, Chavez said, but it must not be used as an excuse for imperial wars. Only international cooperation can end terrorism, he said.

He endorsed calls to move the UN out of the United States, suggesting the creation of an “international city” for a new UN headquarters. “To balance five centuries of imbalance,” he said, it should be in the global South.

Chavez spoke for over 20 minutes. When the General Assembly president signaled the allotted five-minute time limit, Chavez refused to stop, saying that President Bush had spoken for 20 minutes the day before. Even so, while most leaders were applauded politely, Chavez’s speech received the kind of applause one would expect at a rock concert.

After the UN Summit, Chavez spoke alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He attracted thousands of supporters, filling the church to capacity, with hundreds left waiting outside.

Saying he did not want to spend all of his time in the U.S. surrounded by the glamour of Manhattan, Chavez made a point of visiting the impoverished South Bronx. Accompanied by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), he spoke with community organizations there, telling them there was more “heart and soul” in the South Bronx than in the entire World Summit. “This is my summit,” he said, referring to the community gathering.

During his U.S. visit, Chavez announced a program to sell reduced-rate oil to poor Americans, starting with a pilot program in a Chicago Mexican community and then expanding to New York and Boston. He also said he would set aside 10 percent of oil produced by Citgo (owned by Venezuela) to ship to U.S. schools and community organizations. He warned, however, that eventually, for the sake of all humanity, an alternative must be found to oil and other nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In a compelling Sept. 16 appearance on ABC’s “Nightline,” Chavez told interviewer Ted Koppel he has evidence of a United States plan to invade Venezuela. Pat Robertson, who has close links to Bush, recently called for the Venezuelan president’s assassination. But Chavez drew a sharp distinction between the American people and the Bush administration’s aggressive militarism. “We do love the people of the United States,” he told Koppel. “We want to be brothers and sisters of the people of the United States, independently of their government.”

dmargolis @pww.org