By Jens Erik Gould
Sept 1, 2005
This is part of a series of re-published articles I wrote in 2005 for the Daily Journal in Caracas
President Hugo Chavez appeared to lift a brief moratorium on harsh criticism of Washington late Wednesday as he said U.S. relief efforts responded "in slow motion" to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
The comments came only two days after he expressed a willingness to improve tense bilateral relations.
"The greatest power in the world--which is paying I don't know how much attention to Iraq, and I don't know how much to Venezuela-leaves its population drift in its own territory," Chavez said in a speech televised by state-run Venezolana de Television.
The president called Bush "the king of vacations," charging that "all he said over there at his ranch was 'you have to flee,' and didn't say how."
Chavez even recommended that the U.S. look to Cuba for an example of expert disaster response.
The president's words contrasted with his tone after meeting on Monday with U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who pressed for a cooling down of harsh rhetoric between Caracas and Washington. On that occasion, he didn't once mention "Mister Danger," his favored nickname for U.S. President George W. Bush.
Yet merely two days after Jackson's visit, Chavez attributed the hurricane's devastating force to rising ocean temperatures, which he at least partly blamed on "capitalist consumption" and Washington's decision not to sign the Kyoto environmental accord.
Despite the reproach, the foreign ministry offered gasoline and humanitarian aid to the U.S. on Wednesday to help buoy disaster areas.
"We express our solidarity, our pain," said Chavez, who assured he was ready to send airplanes with aid workers to the U.S.
U.S. Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday acknowledged Venezuela on a list of countries offering aid and said that Washington "will accept all offers of foreign assistance," the department's web site said.
The Venezuelan Consulate in New Orleans said that at least 70 percent of the 1,200 Venezuelans living in disaster states Louisiana, Mississippi y Alabama could be homeless, the state-run Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) reported.
Citgo, the US-based subsidiary of state-run PetrÛleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), was coordinating with the Venezuelan government to provide assistance to victims, giving special attention to Venezuelan citizens.
Chavez also continued assurances that the U.S. was planning military action against Venezuela in an interview with CNN.
"I pray to God that it never occurs to Mr. Bush and his hawks to try it," Chavez said. "Because they would sink in the waters of the Caribbean and would bite the dust of defeat."
The president said he knew how many ships and helicopters were involved in the "Balboa Plan," a U.S. initiative that he said aimed to capture Venezuela's petroleum.
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.