[R-G] African Americans and Venezuela
fentona at shaw.ca
Sun Jun 18 18:09:02 MDT 2006
African Americans and Venezuela
Tuesday, Jun 13, 2006
By: Jody Nesbitt – Venezuelanalysis.com
When tragedy struck New Orleans last year the Bush administration
neglected the largely Black victims of hurricane Katrina, while the
government in Caracas set to work providing much needed disaster
relief through Citgo, the State oil company’s local subsidiary. This
past winter the government of Venezuela sent millions of gallons of
discounted heating fuel to poor communities in the States, while
Congress repeatedly failed to come through with the full amount of
money it has promised for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance
Program (LIHEAP). The Bush administration’s disregard of the Black
community has not only sent Americans in search of foreign aid, it
has also provided a valuable opportunity for President Chavez to
secure allies where he needs them most.
Miraflores and the White House are at odds over US involvement in
Colombia, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Not to mention Chavez’s
objections to the FTAA, or increased royalty taxes levied on U.S. oil
companies in Venezuela. Washington has turned the dispute into a
public relations battle by comparing Chavez to Hitler, and portraying
his government as democratically challenged terrorist sympathizers.
Often major media outlets in the US have reflected this view.
However, the disparity between reality and rhetoric on the issue of
Venezuela, is as clear as black and white.
Venezuela remains a country firmly committed to democracy. Nine
internationally observed elections (including referendums) have been
held in eight years, and the opposition continues to dominate the
media. Moreover, since the election of President Chavez in 1998
poverty has been reduced, access to education and healthcare has
increased, and illiteracy has been eradicated. UNESCO recently
awarded President Chavez the International Jose Marti Award for
promoting Latin American heritage, liberty and values.
Which is why prominent African American leaders and politicians have
visited Caracas to pledge their support for the ‘Bolivarian
Revolution’. One such trip recently organized by TransAfrica included
Cornel West, Harry Belafonte, and Danny Glover. "Not hundreds, not
thousands, but millions of the American people . . . support your
revolution," Belafonte told Chavez "We respect you, admire you, and
we are expressing our full solidarity with the Venezuelan people and
your revolution," he added.
As previously mentioned, Chavez returned the favor by sending reduced
price home heating oil to low income communities in eight US states.
The clear target of the price breaks were African American and Latino
communities. Representative Kennedy of Massachusetts declared he had
written to every major US oil company -- an industry now enjoying
record profits -- and asked for discounted oil for the poor, but only
Citgo responded. Juan Gonzales of the New York Daily News quipped.
"Cutting oil prices must seem like the worst sort of radicalism to
the Big Oil companies and their buddies at the Bush-Cheney White
House." This winter the program will be expanded and over a million
American stand to benefit.
Around the diaspora, 13 Caribbean governments signed the PetroCaribe
accord, which supplies them with 185,700 barrels of Venezuelan oil
daily at reduced rates, on credit, or in exchange for agricultural
products. The first act of newly elected Haitian President Rene
Preval was to join the accord, and President Chavez has also offered
the islands a $50 million grant for social programs. In addition to
energy aid, ‘Operation Miracle’ now provides free eye care to
hundreds of thousands in 25 Latin American and Caribbean nations, and
Africa has benefited from the generosity of Venezuela in the form of
a recent malaria eradication drive.
This December polls show Chavez will triumph in another landslide
election victory on the strength of heavy social spending and the
fastest growing economy on the continent over the past three years.
Black Venezuelans and those of mixed decent who combine to makeup 77%
of the population will undoubtedly continue to be the President’s
base. But overwhelming support at home is often not enough in this
hemisphere. Recall President Aristide in Haiti, or Chavez himself in
2002 when US backed coup briefly removed him from office.
For leftist leaders, support of the African American community in the
States is just as important as the support of the masses at home --
specifically the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). It
was pressure from the CBC on President Clinton that forced the US
military to return democracy to Haiti. It was also the leadership of
the African American community that inspired the anti apartheid
movement and brought democracy to South Africa a decade earlier.
Similar pressure from Black America is now necessary to reverse
jingoistic perceptions in favor of support for Venezuelan sovereignty.
Handouts to Black communities aside, Venezuela is deserving of the
support of all US citizens for their commitment to democracy, and
success in reversing decades of economic decent. Yet, in the current
absence of that broad based support, African Americans must voice
their distinct alliance with the Venezuelan people. Fortunately, just
such an opportunity for Black Americans to express their concerns
will present itself in upcoming elections. With Bush’s approval
rating in free fall, conservatives will likely lose power to
progressives, thus increasing the African America influence in
Washington. Through education and organization relations with
Venezuela can be normalized for the benefit of all citizens committed
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