Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Venezuelan President Meets With New York Unionists
By Gavrielle Gemma
Published Oct 10, 2009 7:49 AM
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela took advantage of his recent visit to the United Nations to meet a group of workers in New York City on Sept. 23. A large group of labor unionists came, including a five-person delegation representing workers at the Stella D’Oro Co., who have been fighting for their jobs for more than a year.
After spending some time walking around the room and greeting everyone, Chávez made remarks to the group, which were broadcast to many countries via the network Telesur. What follows is an unofficial translation of some of his remarks, noted down at that meeting.
Chávez talked about the current “tumultuous developments in Latin America” as a “hurricane” into which he had been tossed and is trying to navigate.
Washington’s plans in South America have failed, said the Venezuelan president. He told the workers that capitalism has failed and that while the Soviet Union fell apart, it was never a threat. The U.S. and European powers were the threat. “They fought against socialism,” he said and pointed out that since its inception, the Soviet Union had gone through many wars and that “socialism got lost along the way.”
“Imperialism fought against the workers’ dream of building a new world,” he said,” but “the only way to save the world is socialism. Obama talks change, change, change. Tell me how, within the framework of capitalism?”
Once the Soviet Union was gone, Chávez said, “The neoliberals were able to impose themselves.” Neoliberal proposals became stronger and “the free market has messed everything up. What is labor flexibility for them becomes hungry children.”
Why are the imperialists fighting Honduras, Chávez asked. Because, “It was expanding the hurricane in Latin America to further north.” He noted that workers in the United States come from every part of the world. The bosses “want to stop it from coming all the way up here.” Referring to a demonstration that day near the United Nations supporting Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president of Honduras, he said, “I congratulate the protesters. I drove by them.” There was much applause from the assembled workers for this act of solidarity.
He called the U.S. “a great country—the people, not imperialism. We have great hope in the U.S. Latin American workers come here, make it their home. You, the workers here, can save the world. I have great faith.”
He referred to a discussion he had with Evo Morales, the embattled president of Bolivia. “We are not the enemies of the U.S., we are the enemies of imperialism, of starvation, exploitation. We are brothers of the people of this country. Their slogan is even more true now than in 1848, when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto: Workers of the world, unite!” And he added that today, “Imperialism subjects its own people, colonizes its own workers after it has colonized elsewhere.”
“Today is a great opportunity,” Chávez pointed out. “When Obama won it caused great expectations. Who can deny it? But there are two Obamas. One speaks and the other makes decisions that contradict his speeches. He gave a big speech about peace. But there are seven [U.S.] military bases in Colombia. The U.S. Fourth Fleet is in the Caribbean. This is not a fleet of peace. To create peace is to fight hunger.
“[In his U.N. speech] Obama didn’t mention Honduras. Despite this criticism I hope all this will enlighten him to fight for social justice. We want good relations. The extreme right attacks him. Why don’t all the unemployed, who need social security, the poor, make a call and challenge him? Help save the world.
“You fight in your factories, your labor struggles. But you cannot fight just there. It is also political. I believe a united world working class is possible. We must embrace this choice—for socialism, for life to save the world.”
In response to a question on the role of women from Estela Vasquez of 1199 United Healthcare Workers, Chávez said most members of the Venezuelan cabinet are women, as are the chief justice and the president of the assembly. “Women should step forward and take control and not wait,” he added, stressing the importance of making social changes that affect poor women.
Chávez also spoke of an initiative Venezuela was taking while in New York to host a meeting with African leaders.
Eddie Molina, an activist who has organized much labor solidarity with the Stella D’Oro workers, asked if the Venezuelan oil company Citgo could buy the plant and keep it in the Bronx. Chávez responded with great seriousness and very specific questions. He asked the leading representatives of Citgo, who were present, to meet the workers for a feasibility study.
The next day, in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Chávez took time to formally asked President Obama’s permission to buy the plant in order to keep it open in the Bronx.
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