Sunday, September 25, 2005

Chávez Gets A Cheer In The Bronx

No virus found in this outgoing message. Checked by AVG Anti-Virus. Version: 7.0.344 / Virus Database: 267.11.6/111 - Release Date: 9/23/2005

 Posted on Sun, Sep. 18, 2005

Chávez Gets A Cheer In The Bronx
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez brought his unique political talents, and views, to the South Bronx.

Clad in dark slacks and his signature red shirt representing his ''Bolivarian revolution,'' Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez took his magnetic charisma to a South Bronx community gathering Saturday -- and the people loved it.

He kissed, hugged and mixed it up with gusto with a Dominican music band, almost as if he were courting voters.

His audience included representatives of faith-based groups and charter schools. They came intrigued that a president from another country would trek uptown, away from the wealth and power in Manhattan. And they got a firsthand taste of Chávez's talent for mingling with ordinary people, a trait that has made him wildly popular among Venezuela's poor.

''You'd better put in there that I got a kiss from Chávez,'' said Catherine Scott, a 59-year-old black Spanish teacher as she wiped tears from her eyes. ''I never even got a kiss from [President] Clinton,'' she added, laughing at her joke.

Fifteen organizations had set up tables in The Point Community Development Corp. on Garrison Avenue, displaying their work much like in a fifth-graders' exhibition. The event had been arranged by Rep. José Serrano, a New York Democrat who, a decade earlier, brought Cuban leader Fidel Castro to the Bronx.


Castro, whom Chávez openly admires, spoke then for about 30 minutes, mostly about baseball. Chávez spent more than two hours at the center, in Hunt Point in the South Bronx, moving from table to table in a chaotic cluster of aides, journalists, bodyguards and beaming Bronx residents taking pictures.

He asked Heidi Hynes, the executive director of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center if her organization was headquartered nearby. He wanted to know what the kids did, and who Mary Mitchell was.

''And what is your budget?'' he asked.

Hynes replied that it was around $300,000 a year.

Chávez turned around and told an aide to take down the name. He instructed the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington to make a donation.

Hynes said her center had been visited by famous athletes but never by a top-level politician. The Bangladeshi ambassador to the United Nations came once. ''We're delighted to be able to host a foreign dignitary in the Bronx,'' she said.

Serrano said it was Chávez who had insisted on meeting with community leaders of the Bronx, a community of 1.7 million people, and, to many, still a symbol of America's urban underclass.

Speaking with about a dozen journalists, he said there was ''more soul and power'' in The Point than in the U.N. General Assembly. Chávez had spent the previous two days meeting with world leaders and made his mark by delivering a blistering attack on the United Nations and the Bush administration Thursday.

He then hoisted up 2-year-old Marquez Hunter. He kissed him and said in his elementary English, ''This is my boy!'' pointing to the startled child, then he added: ''This is my summit, this was his summit.'' The cameras flashed.


Chávez's arrival in New York was delayed by nearly two days, marred until the very end by his long feud with the Bush administration, which he accuses of plotting to overthrow him. His staff quarreled over visas for his security detail. Venezuelan officials complained that Chávez's security chief and his doctor were not let off the plane for lack of visas.

He met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no friend of the United States. But on Saturday, Chávez was focused on folks like Lucretia Jones, who heads Mothers on the Move, a group that seeks equal opportunities in education and housing. She had only a vague notion of Chávez before Saturday. She had first heard about him during the April 2002 coup. Chávez was briefly overthrown, but returned triumphantly two days later.

Jones heard about Chávez again last month, when Rev. Pat Robertson caused an uproar when he called on the United States to assassinate the Venezuelan leader.

The Palo Monte, a group of musicians from the Dominican Republic, were playing catchy, fast-paced tunes. Chávez mingled with them.

He played a güira, a sort of aluminum cylindrical percussion instrument, and then grabbed two maracas, essentially large rattlers. As Chávez swayed to the music, the band sang, ''¡Ooh, ah, Chávez no se va!'' (Chávez is not leaving).


But Chávez also showed his confrontational side.

The Venezuelan said the final U.N. declaration, which was worked out amid much diplomatic haggling, was ``very suspect.''

''They're trying to legalize the imperialist currents,'' he said.

And the Bronx cheered again.


Post a Comment

<< Home