* Storms create chaos across Venezuela, Colombia
* Chavez blames rich countries for climate problems
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez blamed
"criminal" capitalism Sunday for global climate phenomena
including incessant rains that have brought chaos to Venezuela,
killing 32 people and leaving 70,000 homeless.
Worst hit is the coastal area of the South American OPEC
member nation where millions live in precarious hillside
shantytowns and mudslides have been toppling rickety houses.
The charismatic socialist leader has taken personal charge
of rescue operations, inviting 25 families to take 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 Sunday.
The death toll from similar rains in neighboring Colombia,
over a longer period, has reached 170, with another 19 people
missing and more than 1.5 million people affected.
"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," Chavez added.
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.
1999 DISASTER RECALLED
Taking up a familiar theme, Chavez, the most vocal leader
in Latin America's ALBA bloc of left-wing governments, lashed
the "arrogance" of rich nations. ALBA is 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," he 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 rains of recent weeks 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.
He says the government is still working to overturn the
inequalities of past capitalist governments, and called on
private sector builders "with a conscience" to help authorities
fix the national housing deficit.
"I have to mention the ethically repugnant behavior of
those who use the gutter press to make political advantage from
misery," he added in "The Lines of Chavez" column.
The rain levels, authorities say, have surpassed those of
1999 when a vast landslide killed more than 10,000 people.
Around the nation, rivers have burst their banks, schools
have closed, emergencies have been declared in various states,
and some oil installations have been affected.
(Additional reporting by Luis-Jaime Acosta in Bogota;
Editing by Eric Walsh)
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