Chavez: "Bush Has Called Me Worse Things"

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez caused a stir this week during his visit to New York City, denouncing President Bush as "the devil" in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly and, during a visit to Harlem the following day, calling him an "alcoholic." In an exclusive interview with TIME's Tim Padgett, Chavez defended his controversial rhetoric as a necessary part of his left-wing revolution's effort to counter what he calls Bush's "global imperalism."

"Bush has called me worse things — tyrant, populist dictator, drug trafficker, to name a few," Chavez said. "I'm not attacking Bush; I'm simply counterattacking. Bush has been attacking the world, and not just with words — with bombs. I think the bombs he's unleashed on Baghdad or Lebanon do a lot more harm than any words spoken in the United Nations."

On the growing support in Latin America for his brand of "21st-century socialism," Chavez said: "After seeing the failure of Washington-backed capitalist reforms in Latin America, I no longer think a third way between capitalism and socialism is possible. Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation. If you really want to look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ — who I think was the first socialist — only socialism can really create a genuine society."

Chavez expressed confidence that the U.N. will vote to give Venezuela a non-permanent seat in the Security Council next month. "It's because of the moment we're living right now, the need to block the cannons of the U.S. empire," he said. "The U.N.'s members believe we can have the most impact on that debate. The U.S. fears Venezuela's presence on the Council because it knows we'll be an independent vote for the Third World."

Chavez also had some pointed comments on his country's role as the hemisphere's largest oil producer. "Bush wanted Iraq's oil and I believe he wants Venezuela's oil," Chavez said. "But the blame for high oil prices lies in the consumer model of the U.S. Its reckless oil consumption is a form of suicide."

For more of TIME's interview with Chavez, see next week's magazine.