Venezuela's Chavez blames capitalism for deluges
* Storms create chaos across Venezuela, Colombia
* Chavez blames rich countries for climate problems
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, Dec 5 (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez blamed "criminal" capitalism on 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 on 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. [ID:nLDE6B30CG]
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. [ID:nN08199777]
"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. [ID:nLDE6B30CG]
(Additional reporting by Luis-Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Eric Walsh)
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