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The Point receives Venezuelan foreign minister

Samali Bikangaga

Visitors at The Point for the unveiling of the President Chavez mural.

The foreign minister of Venezuela made a stop at The Point on Thursday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s visit inaugurating a mural of Chavez, and celebrate the connection between Venezuela and the South Bronx.

More than 30 people came to welcome Delmy Rodriguez, in town for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Members of the Venezuelan consulate and the Venezuelan mission to the UN, staff members of The Point, and activists from the Bronx came to The Point to welcome her and celebrate the mural. Andre Trenier, a Bronx artist, activist and painter of the Chavez mural, was also present, as was Omar Friella, a local activist who is depicted with Chavez in the mural.

“We hadn’t had a president of the United States who had come to the area in any of our history of organizing work,” said Freilla, referring to Chavez’s time spent in the Bronx. “It was a whole other level of commitment and support and really was amazing and incredible for us.”

Chavez originally came to The Point as part of a good-will mission after receiving an invitation from Rep. Jose D Serrano. On that visit, Chavez met with community leaders, and through Citgo, the American subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil company, helped fund many of their projects and supplied free or cheap heating oil. The visit made an impression that is remembered to this day.

The event, which was closed to the public, ran as a panel, with opening remarks by Maria Torres, director of The Point, who in her welcome noted the group’s diversity and reminded everyone of Chavez’s visit in 2006. Estela Vasquez, an executive vice president of the healthcare workers union 1199, spoke in both Spanish and English.

“It doesn’t matter what our present US government or past US governments try to do, our responsibility is workers,” said Vasquez. “Today we are continuing to write another chapter in the history that’s Viva Venezuela, viva Comandante Chavez, viva Maduro,” she said, referring to the current president of Venezuela, and receiving a round of applause and capturing the room’s admiration for the late leader.

The foreign minister, who spoke with the aid of a translator, also reflected on that visit of a decade ago.

“It’s more than an honor to be reconstructing the same path that Commander Chavez did,” she said, adding that it was “a source of happiness for us to engage with the people of the United States.”

Rodriguez noted Venezuela’s solidarity with the victims of the police shootings in North Carolina, referring to them as human rights violations. She also talked about the Venezuelan government’s housing policy, saying that this year the government plans to “hand 500,000 homes” to the poor. She said Venezuela is the victim of economic war and economic blockades, and accused the American media of lying about Venezuela. She invited everyone to visit Venezuela and was met with pro-Chavez chants.

Everyone then walked out to the corner of Barretto Street and Garrison Avenue, where the mural of Chavez covers the wall. The mural is painted in the colors of the Venezuelan flag. The Point reached out to the Rebel Diaz art collective to commission the work; Trenier was selected and given several images to work with.

“This image had the most life and vibrancy to it, and to me spoke to the neighborhood,” said Trenier. “Every chance I get to paint something out doors that belongs to the neighborhood is a great day.”

Danny Peralta, executive managing director of The Point, said that the planning for the commemoration of the anniversary had started about two years prior. “It wasn’t a surprise, we knew it would happen this time of the UN General Assembly.” Originally, The Point had hoped Nicolas Maduro, the current president of Venezuela, would visit; but the foreign minister’s attendance will help maintain the relationship between the neighborhood and the nation.

“I know the collaborations [with the Venezuelan government] will continue,” he said, adding that he hoped that the events will draw attention to the work they are doing at The Point, and create dialogues about “equity and racism and social justice.”

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