Friday, September 23, 2005

The Bronx Loves Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chávez Gets a Cheer in the Bronx

BY PABLO BACHELET, Miami Herald, Sun., Sept. 18, 2005

NEW YORK - 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

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.


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