Puerto Ricans in Bronx Cheer Venezuelan President

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at Hostos Community College September 23. (Photo by Gabriela Sierra Alonso for Voices of NY)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at Hostos Community College September 23. (Photo by Gabriela Sierra Alonso for Voices of NY)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stood in solidarity with the Puerto Rican community at the “Encounter with the President” event in the South Bronx on Tuesday night, September 23.

Coming straight from the U.N. Climate summit, Maduro was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of 1,000 at Hostos Community College, where Hugo Chavez and Simon Bolivar banners decorated the auditorium and salsa music played. Maduro charismatically made his way to the podium to defend his role as “the people’s president,” as the stage backdrop read.

He won the hearts of many in attendance by calling for the release of long-time U.S. political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, “whose only crime was to wish for an independent Puerto Rico,” Maduro said.

The statement was received with a standing ovation, and people raised “Freedom for Oscar López Rivera” flyers that had been distributed to attendees – peace as well as independence activists – while they waited in line to enter the event.

Named after Eugenio María de Hostos, late Puerto Rican educator, philosopher, and advocate for the independence of Puerto Rico, Hostos Community College has been an institution in the Puerto Rican community since its inception, as the event demonstrated.

“It means a lot to us to have Venezuela’s support, as organizers on behalf of the freedom of Oscar López Rivera, and as people for an independent Puerto Rico, because we are a colony of the U.S. and its been challenging to build relationships with other countries, especially in Latin America…and Venezuela is a pillar,” said Melissa Montero Padilla, event attendee and co-lead organizer of 33 Women for Oscar López Rivera, an advocacy group.

Later in the evening, Maduro kept the crowd going by noting that there are more political prisoners in the U.S. than in Venezuela.

He extended an invitation for Puerto Rico to be a part of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an intergovernmental organization founded by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004 that aims to unite Latin America and the Caribbean politically and economically.

Before he took to the stage, Wanda Salaman, Puerto Rican community activist, welcomed Maduro by expressing her gratitude for investments in several Bronx collectives and social and cultural initiatives made by the Simón Bolivar Foundation and Citgo – the Venezuelan oil company and organizer of the event.

Maduro addresses the wider audience

Maduro commenced by inviting the UpBeat NYC youth orchestra, who opened the event, to come and study music with the national symphony in Venezuela.

He set a casual tone for his speech by telling the audience that on his journey from the U.N. Climate summit to Hostos, “we had to pull off of Park Avenue for 25 minutes to let Obama’s motorcade pass,” he said.

He proceeded to comment on editorials published by The New York Times and The Washington Post earlier in the week. He noted that The Washington Post labeled him an “illiterate former bus driver,” to which he responded by saying “I am proud to have been a worker”– a statement that prompted chanting, stomping, and cheering.

Touching on a range of topics, he stressed his belief in education and healthcare as human rights.

He also spoke to climate change.

“In order for climate change issues to be solved, we need the system to change,” Maduro said.

Other guest speakers included David Gómez, president of Hostos Community College, and Dominican reverend Danilo Lachapelle, who offered a prayer and thanked the Venezuelan government for the aid they provided to Haiti, especially after the 2010 earthquake.

Joseph P. Kennedy II, son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, gave an opening statement and focused on how Maduro and Citgo helped to bring heating oil to poor families in the Bronx last winter. He avoided any talk of current U.S.-Venezuela relations on a bigger scale.

While Maduro’s delivery fell short of Chavez’s famed hard-hitting style, he still managed to make an impact with his statements, especially with those related to Puerto Rico.

2 Comments

  1. Great article, great writing. Just one correction: “The Bronx”, not Bronx.
    Please correct. 🙂

  2. WILLIE COLON says:

    How sad to see my brother and sisters, Bronxites and Boricuas, used by this puppet president who has plunged Venezuela in to dismal poverty. Maduro had destroyed any semblance of normality in the once most prosperous country of the Americas. He is manipulated by his mentors the Castros from Cuba who covet Venezuelan oil and are sucking Venezuela dry. Shame on Hostos for allowing this face saving propaganda event. Maduro has imprisoned and tortured Venezuelan students and BURNED down several universities because of their opposition.

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