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Venezuela Review: One Less Worm in the Big Apple

by Alexandra Beech,

September 21, 2004 - President Chavez cancelled his trip to New York at the last minute on Monday morning, only hours before he was to appear at the 59th United Nations Annual Assembly to discuss poverty, the Council of the Americas, and political rallies in his favor.

The excuse that the Information Ministry provided was that the relatively new $65 million presidential Airbus 319CJ malfunctioned. This airplane, according to one aficionado, is “the most advanced sophisticated and luxurious full airline sized jet only rivaled by the Boeing BBJ...especially built and ordered with the head of state configuration and with one of the most advanced telecommunication systems on the planet.”

But this is a man who used to jump out of airplanes attached to a parachute. Wasn’t there another plane around? Yes, there was. Here are a few options, in case he really wanted to come... and

Who did Chavez stand up in the Big Apple? Protestors, of course. Almost 1,000 Venezuelan New Yorkers voted in favor of the recall last August, whereas less than 100 voted to keep him in office. But, alas, it wasn’t the protestors who mattered.

Chavez stood up important business leaders, politicians, analysts, economists, journalists, academics, students, activists, and yes, that venerable activist who takes time away from his millions to engage with peons: the actor.

I wasn’t surprised that Danny Glover was going to welcome Chavez at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Harlem. There are only so many Lethal Weapon movies Hollywood can make, and Mel Gibson has moved on to greener (and higher) pastures. Harry Belafonte was no great shock either. I can’t remember the last time he appeared in a movie. And Susan Sarandon will support anyone who calls Bush an asshole, in any language.

Chavez also stood the Brazilians up, who planned a discussion on poverty at the United Nations. Let me type that again. Chavez stood up a discussion on poverty. Isn’t Chavez the Champion of the Poor? Isn’t that what Glover and Sarandon were ready to celebrate in Harlem? Of course, to discuss the Bolivarian social programs, they would have had to bypass tiny details, such as the fact that poverty has increased under his mandate.

But the true heart-breaker in the planned event in Harlem was Toni Morrison, my favorite author and a Nobel Laureate for literature. With books like “The Bluest Eye”, “Song of Solomon”, “Beloved”, and “Tar Baby”, this master of language has tackled race conflict in rich and poignant ways, creating characters that continue to haunt the reader months after the book has been put away. Sadly, someone must have convinced Dr. Morrison that Chavez is a victim of a ruthless white oligarchy, as his international supporters often proclaim. They didn’t explain to her that 4.7 million Venezuelans had signed at least one petition for his removal, or that a general strike had managed to paralyze the entire country. Indeed, they didn’t explain that workers unions participated in this strike, and that when they became too offensive for Chavez, he replaced them with his own union, thus marrying the country’s biggest employer with the workers movement (workers paralyze a nation, not their bosses.) They didn’t explain that the opposition is a rainbow of black, brown, and white, reflecting the population of Venezuela, just like Chavez’ government is a rainbow of black, brown, and white...

Chavez did not come to New York because he has no answers for the private sector. Yes, he can buy back Brady's and issue debt til the cows come home, but how many investors are flocking to a country which is threatening to nationalize private industry, choking every engine of growth? Chavez didn’t come to New York because he has no answers regarding how he will sustain the social missions if oil prices drop. He didn’t come to New York because he cannot speak about poverty when it has only increased under his mandate. Feeding people funny stories on Sundays doesn’t alleviate poverty, nor does giving them cash, nor does giving them food, just like soup kitchens and shelters in New York don’t alleviate homelessness.

Cynics say Chavez didn’t come to New York because Bush wouldn’t meet with him. The Heritage Foundation’s Steve Johnson says that Bush doesn’t forget being called an asshole and a Nazi. But oil trickles louder than words. While the Bushes are a grudge-holding lot, (and hence Iraq), no one can deny that a more compelling reason for the cancellation is that a failed leader has no business coming to the financial capital of the United States.

The referendum, after all, only took place in Venezuela.

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