A Tribute to Hugo Chávez Frias

On April 12, beside a portrait of Hugo Chávez Frías at the Bolivarian Hall in Washington, D.C, Dr. Adina Bastidas presented a moving discussion on Chávez’s life, celebrating the victory of democracy and the continuing movement to build socialism in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Dr. Bastidas is the former vice president of Venezuela and currently represents the country at the Inter-American Development Bank.

The meeting was conducted in Spanish and English and was co-sponsored by the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly; the All Peoples Congress; Casa de Maryland; the Answer Coalition; FMLN committees of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.; and the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Gustavo Torres of Casa de Maryland moderated the meeting and delivered an introduction. He stated that “we are here to celebrate the victory of democracy then and now by Hugo Chávez, who led the heroic movement of the Venezuelan people in the streets, and that advances with every electoral struggle.”

Torres emphasized that “this Sunday will be no different,” referring to the vote on April 14 to elect Nicolás Maduro, of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, as president of the country. “This demonstrates how democracy can invigorate the masses. Despite the tragedy of losing our liberator, the very people will give a voice to the march of liberation.”

Torres explained that Chávez and the Venezuelan people were responsible for overhauling the corrupt electoral system of the past, and that Chávez was not afraid of real political power that would liberate people from misery and social oppression. This vision was consistent with the great Liberator of Latin America, Simón Bolívar.

Dr. Bastidas welcomed the participants as “compañeros” and said that “that is the way we greet each other in Venezuela, in accordance with President Chávez’s wishes.” She went on to say that “the support you have given us by coming here tonight gives me the opportunity to share the suffering we feel.”

Bastidas marked April 11 as the anniversary of the 2002 coup “that attempted to overthrow the legally elected Venezuelan government, imprison Chávez and destroy the will of the combative Venezuelan people.” She addressed the role that the media played as well as “the ancien régime, its politicians and generals, along with foreign support, in attempting to take away our president and our freedom.”

“But what they forgot,” Bastidas asserted, “was our people’s solidarity and love for our president, and their tenacious will to rescue him. The people, organized, militant and with resolve, freed our president.”

‘We freed our president’

Compañero Bastidas then electrified the audience by detailing how Chávez was rescued in 2002. He was isolated on a remote island garrison off the coast of Venezuela. Two young janitorial employees came across Chávez in his cell and asked him if he had resigned, as the media and the coup plotters stated. Chávez replied, “Of course not!”

The two workers then asked Chávez to write a statement on a piece of paper and sign his name to it. They took the note and hid it in a basket with the trash, then asked the garrison commander if they could leave the island because their car needed fuel. Once on the mainland, the note was given to a general who was supportive of Chávez, and the statement was broadcast throughout the whole nation.

Bastidas stated: “Three helicopters as well as military units loyal to Chávez then rescued our president from the island. The masses of Venezuelans also surrounded other military garrisons and would not leave, for 12 hours, until Hugo Chávez Frías came to the Presidential Palace at midnight. That is how we freed our president.”

It was explained that the name “Bolivarian Republic” was adopted after the attempted coup: “This name is significant in order to build upon the ideas of our Liberator, Simón Bolívar. The new constitution that was enacted at this time mandated that the people be intimately involved in building the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

“His commitment to social and economic justice has spread to all of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Bastidas described. “When poor people in some U.S. cities could not afford to heat their homes, Venezuela provided the oil free of charge. When the giant oil monopolies manipulated prices on the world market, Chávez created Petrocaribe to offset the rising price of oil and distribute to the peoples of the Caribbean. There was no greater testament from the Venezuelan people than when they waited, standing in line for up to three days, to view his body.”

Bastidas concluded by saying: “Chávez is more alive than ever. He lives in our hearts and in our minds, in the poor children that were cured of diseases both in Venezuela and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and his vision will be affirmed on April 14.”

The audience of more than 65 people responded in unison: “Hugo Chávez, !Presente!”