Politics

Vandals deface local mural…three times

Omar Freilla of Greenworker Cooperatives, Danny R. Peralta of The Point CDC and Wanda Salaman of Mothers on the Move stand in front of the vandalized mural.

Artwork honoring Venezuela’s late president vandalized by outsiders

A Hunts Point wall has become an unlikely flashpoint for political controversy in recent months.

Last summer, Bronx-based artist Andre Trenier painted a mural of Venezuela’s former president, the late Hugo Chavez, on a brick wall on the south side of The Point CDC on Barretto Street, to commemorate Chavez’s 2005 visit to the community center to announce his solidarity with South Bronx communities. The mural was commissioned by the Venezuelan consulate. 

Over the past 15 years, the community service arm of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, CITGO, has been the principal—-and sometimes, the only—-funder for South Bronx grassroots groups Green Worker Cooperatives, and advocacy group Mothers on the Move, among others. Additionally, CITGO has supplied free heating oil for tenants in housing complexes in low-income neighborhoods around the area.

But one late night last March, unknown vandals took exception and splattered white paint across Chavez’s image. In early May the mural was defaced a second time. This time, the vandals videotaped their escapade and posted it on a conservative Venezuelan news site, prompting a May 12 press conference in front of the wall to denounce the vandalism.

Omar Freilla, the founder of Hunts Point-based Green Worker Cooperatives, said that the vandalism reflects a political tilt toward the extreme right happening around the world.

“This was done by people not from the neighborhood, with the specific intention to show that people hate Chavez,” said Freilla, pointing out that the mural was painted, “in celebration of a moment when Chavez came to the South Bronx to express his solidarity.”

Freilla, who saw the paint splotched across the wall while on his way to work at the BankNote building the morning after it happened, pointed out the irony of community groups receiving financial support from a foreign government when precious little help was available from their own elected bodies.

“Money from Venezuela has been criticized, but if it weren’t for the fund that was set up after Chavez’s visit to the Bronx, our organization would not have survived the (economic) downturn,” he said. “They were the only ones” to offer financing to GreenWorker Cooperatives until the Bloomberg administration pledged some financing three years ago.

Wanda Salaman, executive director of Mothers on the Move, said she learned of the incident via Twitter, where the vandals boasted about the act on the Venezuelan news site the morning after it happened.

“They’re attacking the poor,” said Salaman. “I understand they have their issues with Chavez but they cannot erase our past.”

Two weeks later, the wall was vandalized again.

In a written statement, Danny R. Peralta, executive managing director at The Point CDC, said, “We are saddened that our mural commemorating an important date in our history has been vandalized. THE POINT has been known for having an open door policy, and has always made the time to speak to anyone who walks in expressing grievances and/or needing support.”

The statement continued that “For individuals to take time to deliberately tarnish our campus, without at least seeking a formal dialogue, is outright cowardly and counterproductive – especially if it’s about expressing a grievance – something we encourage anyone to do. What must be understood is that due to that visit, the South Bronx had been able to advance much needed revitalization and organizing efforts that few others were willing to fund.”

Freilla said that low-income Venezuelans are in a plight sadly familiar to South Bronxites stuck on the same economic rung.

“It’s critical to get the word out that Venezuela is not alone,” said Freilla. “The same social programs are under attack in Venezuela by the right wing. It’s critical for the poor working people of color to stand up against the right wing shift happening all over the world.”

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