CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said he will travel to New York this week for his debut appearance as president at the United Nations General Assembly despite “racist” editorials against him in major U.S. newspapers.
The socialist-run country is poised to gain a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2015-16 thanks to unanimous backing around Latin America and the Caribbean.
The United States is unhappy with that but is not seeking to scupper it, diplomatic sources say.
At the weekend, though, both the New York Times and the Washington Post decried Venezuela’s probable place on the council, citing repression of opponents.
Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver who won an election to replace his mentor the late Hugo Chavez last year, blasted the newspapers and said he would hold his head high in representation of Chavez, Venezuela and the regional left-wing ALBA bloc.
“They treat me in a racist manner. The Washington Post and The New York Times treated me like a bus driver and an illiterate,” he said on Monday afternoon during the inauguration of a school.
“I’m proud that a bus driver can be president of the Republic ... Gentlemen at the Washington Post, this busman right here is going to the United States. Just you wait!” added Maduro, decked out in a jacket fashioned off Venezuela’s vibrant yellow, blue and red flag.
Venezuela famously made waves at the 2006 General Assembly when the pugnacious Chavez compared George W. Bush to the devil, saying he could still “smell sulfur” a day after the former U.S. President addressed member states.
Last year, Maduro sent his foreign minister instead.
Less flamboyant than his predecessor, Maduro nevertheless adheres to Chavez’s main foreign policies including constant condemnation of U.S. “imperialism” and support for nations like Russia and Syria.
This year, Chavez’s daughter Maria Gabriela, who was something of an unofficial First Lady during much of his presidency, has been named Venezuela’s alternate ambassador to the international body.
Maria Gabriela has not commented publicly on the likelihood of sitting with major players on the U.N. Security Council.
Domestic opponents, who mock her as a socialite and have dubbed her a “Chardashian” in a pun on U.S. TV star Kim Kardashian, say she is unqualified for such a role.
In its editorials, the Washington Post called Maduro “the economically illiterate former bus driver” while the New York Times said he was “even more dangerous and divisive” than Chavez.
Government supporters say the U.S. government, Venezuela’s wealthy elite and foreign media are in cahoots to blacken Maduro’s name and try to topple his government.
Additional reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay