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Venezuela's Chavez blames capitalism for deluges

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez blamed “criminal” capitalism on Sunday for global climate phenomena including heavy rains that have killed scores and left tens of thousands homeless in Venezuela and Colombia.

In Venezuela, at least 32 people have died and 70,000 forced out of their homes in recent days, especially on the coast where mudslides have toppled houses in hillside slums.

In neighbouring Colombia, the toll is higher, though over a longer period, with 170 dead and 1.5 million homeless.

Venezuela’s socialist leader has taken personal charge of rescue operations, giving 25 families refuge in his presidential palace and ordering space made for others in ministries, army barracks and even a Caracas shopping mall.

“The calamities we are suffering with these cruel and prolonged rains are yet more evidence of the unfair and cruel paradox of our planet,” Chavez said.

“The developed nations irresponsibly shatter the environmental order, in their desire to maintain a criminal development model, while the immense majority of the earth’s people suffer the most terrible consequences.”

His comments came as climate negotiators meet in Mexico to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol for fighting global warming. Consensus is proving elusive.


Chavez is the most vocal leader of Latin America’s ALBA bloc of left-wing governments. They are urging radical change and far-reaching targets at the Mexico talks.

“The environmental imbalance capitalism has caused is without doubt the fundamental cause of the alarming atmospheric phenomena,” Chavez wrote in his weekly opinion column.

“The world’s powerful economies insist on a destructive way of life and then refuse to take any responsibility.”

Though such talk has won praise from some campaigners, Venezuela is an unlikely climate champion given it is a major global oil exporter and also a famously consumerist society.

The recent rains in Venezuela have stoked political passions in the nation of 27 million people. Critics say they show the Chavez government’s poor planning and the failure of its housing policy after 11 years in power.

Chavez says the government is still working to overturn the inequalities of past capitalist governments.

Speaking as he drove a jeep round flood zones, Chavez promised the highway separating Caracas from the nearby Avila mountain would be moved up the slope to allow new housing.

He also announced the seizure of privately used land near the airport, comforted crowds of homeless people with speeches by megaphone, and ordered authorities to take over unused hotel space and other tourist installations for temporary refuges.

“You, bourgeoisie, should offer your golf courses,” Chavez added in a familiar tirade against rich Venezuelans.

Around Venezuela, rivers have burst their banks, schools have closed, emergencies have been declared in various states, and some oil installations have been affected.

The rain levels, authorities say, have surpassed those of 1999 when a vast landslide killed more than 10,000 people.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said on Sunday the number of homeless from the rains there could reach 2 million.

“The tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history,” said Santos, after flying over the coastal region of Atlantico to see the situation first hand.

Additional reporting by Luis-Jaime Acosta and Nelson Bocanegra in Bogota; Editing by Eric Walsh and Christopher Wilson