September 24, 2009 / 8:57 PM / 10 years ago

Chavez now smells hope at U.N. after Bush sulphur

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The smell of hope has replaced George W. Bush’s “sulphur” at the United Nations, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday in his first U.N. speech since calling the past U.S. president a “devil.”

“The smell of sulphur is gone. It smells of hope,” Chavez, a fierce leftist critic of Washington, said to chuckles from the audience during a lengthy speech that touched on everything from Albert Einstein to Karl Marx.

Chavez, joining a long list of world leaders speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, encouraged President Barack Obama to alter to the course of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, where the left has regained strength this decade.

“Stop stepping on us,” he said.

Chavez praised Obama for denouncing a coup in June that overthrew leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and which critics said Washington would have encouraged in the past.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on the Honduran crisis on Friday as the international community calls for Zelaya, who took refuge in Brazil’s Embassy on Monday, to be reinstated.

But Chavez said Obama would anger the region if the United States fails to lift its longstanding embargo against communist Cuba or moves ahead with plans to increase its military role in Colombia for the war on drugs.

Chavez, who lambasted Bush during his 2006 address to the assembly, invited Obama to join the “axis of evil” — a joking reference to countries the previous U.S. president once called a threat to the world.

‘DON’T THROW SHOES’

Latin America’s resurgent left was feted on Wednesday by sympathetic Hollywood stars and Oliver Stone at the New York premiere of his new film “South of the Border.”

After interviews with leaders from Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Cuba, Stone concludes that some of them — especially Chavez — are demonized in the United States as unpredictable risks to regional stability.

While the presidents say they share political roots in socialism, they disagree on important issues.

Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the end of capitalism at the United Nations this week.

But others, such as Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, encourage more pragmatic approaches including free trade and promoting business.

Chavez said his strident views are often misunderstood.

“Don’t throw shoes at me,” a smiling Chavez told U.N. delegates, referring to the Iraqi reporter who hurled a shoe at Bush in December. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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