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Sulphuric acid

india Updated: Sep 22, 2006 01:16 IST

One thing is for sure: Hugo Chavez, the proletariat’s pontiff, has a wicked sense of humour that his counterpart in Vatican City lacks. “The devil came here yesterday,” spoke Mr Chavez from the rostrum at the United Nations General Assembly, “He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world.” Dostoevsky would have approved — were it not for the fact that the Venezuelan President was not referring to the existentialist’s favourite metaphor but to George W Bush.

Mr Chavez continued his colourful rhetoric by mentioning how “it still smells of sulphur today”. This was the United Nations, not the sets of The Exorcist or the ninth circle of Hell. But the delegates got the point: Mr Bush won’t be invited to the Chavez family’s Christmas dinner in a hurry. This sort of high Manichaenism is an entertaining throwback to the days when Ronald Reagan was calling the Soviet Union ‘the Evil Empire’ and when ‘Great Satan’ (Shaytan Bozorg) was the Ayatollah Khomeini’s term of endearment for the United States. Mr Chavez hopes to use his clearly impressive stand-up skills to fill the vacuum if and when his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decides to vote Republican.

The United Nations may not be an anti-WTO or anti-US rally, but with Mr Chavez holding forth, it certainly seemed so. But to paraphrase a man with a keener sense of language: Hell is empty, and all the devils are in the UN.