Venezuela’s Chavez applauds Obama UN speech, but says US not working for peace


NEW YORK (AP) — The last time he was here, Hugo Chavez called then U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil,” but on Wednesday Venezuela’s leader offered slightly more-positive sentiments for Barack Obama.

“The arrival of President Obama, who can deny it, generates, has generated and will continue to generate big expectations,” Chavez told a meeting of U.S. union leaders at the Venezuelan mission to the U.N.

In New York for his scheduled address before the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Chavez praised Obama’s Wednesday speech before the same body, noting that the U.S. president said Washington is ready to work to promote peace.

But Chavez also said the White House and the foreign policy it crafts is unlikely to live up to the president’s lofty words.

“Sometimes one gets the sensation that there are two Obamas. One, who gave the speech, is good. The other, really, makes decisions that are contradictory to his speech,” he said.

In his words to the General Assembly, Obama pleaded for “a new era of engagement” on global problems, telling assembled world leaders that the United States shouldn’t pursue a go-it-alone stance.

Chavez said that when Obama talks about peace, “you have to applaud that,” but added “if you are promoting peace, then why the seven military bases in Colombia?”

The U.S. has asked Colombia for greater access to that country’s military facilities, but says the proposal will not constitute a permanent presence there. Chavez isn’t buying that.

“More soldiers, more weapons, more war,” he said. “Don’t send more soldiers, nor more bombs because what you would be doing is, well, throwing gasoline on the fire. And that effects all of us in South America.”

“Obama, instead lets talk about peace. Let’s set up a peace dialogue,” Chavez said, later adding, “I say ‘Obama, let’s go Obama! Let’s work truly together to promote peace! But I hope, hope, hope to God … that Obama could become the instigator for a process of internal change.”

Chavez has a history of causing a stir at the General Assembly. In 2006, he used his speech there to infamously call Bush “the devil” no less than eight times.

Later Wednesday, the Venezuelan president headed with Oliver Stone, actor Danny Glover and Bolivian President Evo Morales to the U.S. debut of Stone’s documentary “South of the Border.”

The director said the movie is meant to illustrate the sweeping progressive changes in Venezuela and elsewhere in South America in recent years as a counterpoint to what he sees as Chavez’s depiction as a dictator by U.S. and European media.

“We’re hearing one side of the story in America and that’s all,” Stone said. “He’s an underdog and I want to give him the fair shake.”

Chavez softened his stance toward Obama a bit as the night wore on, saying “it’s important the American public learns the truth … we want peace, we are brothers and we want to be brothers.”

“We want good relations with Obama,” he said.

Chavez also provided some — but not all — of the details about ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s cloak-and-daggar return to his homeland, where he has been holed up for days in the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya was escorted from the country in his pajamas at gunpoint in a June military coup and the new government has remained in power despite not being recognized by any other nation.

“It’s not up to me reveal secrets and it was a secret operation,” Chavez said.

But he also said he called Zelaya and told him he would fly him to New York for the U.N. General Assembly aboard a Venezuelan plane, repeating the plans over and over by telephone because he was convinced agents of the new Honduran government had bugged his lines.

The plane took off as normal, but secretly landed in an undisclosed Central American location en route, Chavez said, and Zelaya rode in a series of car trunks and even aboard tractors to cross into Honduras by land.

“It was Zelaya who came up with the plan,” Chavez said. “He’s a cowboy like Pancho Villa. Brave and with lots of courage.” Pancho Villa was a famous Mexican outlaw and revolutionary.

“He told me, ‘Chavez, if I die, I die, but I am going to get to Tegucigalpa,” Chavez said, “and that’s where he is now.”

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