U.N. Secretary-General Leads Tributes to Hugo Chavez

Diplomats observed a moment of silence at a U.N. General Assembly meeting before the tributes by Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic, representatives of regional groups, and Venezuela’s foreign minister

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Story Transcript

GREGORY WILPERT, ADJ. PROF. POLITICAL SCIENCE, BROOKLYN COLLEGE: A little over one week after Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez passed away, his life and accomplishments were celebrated in two memorial events, one in the General Assembly of the United Nations, and the other at a local New York City church. Representatives from nearly all the member countries attended the UN tribute to the memory of Chavez, which General Secretary Ban Ki-moon presided and introduced.

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UNIDENTIFIED: I now give the floor to the secretary-general of the United Nations, His Excellency Ban Ki-moon.

BAN KI-MOON, UN SECRETARY-GENERAL: It is an honor to join with all of you in paying tribute to the work and memory of His Excellency President Hugo Chavez Frias. President Chavez was one of those leaders who made a difference in his country, the region, and the world. His sense of solidarity with the most vulnerable and his commitment to improve the life of the most underprivileged resulted in a fierce attachment to the Millenium Development Goals.

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WILPERT: Among the more powerful tributes was the one from the group of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

MENISSA RAMBALLY, THE GROUP OF LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES: It is an honor to address the General Assembly on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean group.

Today we pay our deepest respects to the memory and contribution of the late president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias. Our region and the entire world have lost a man of enormous character and of brave courage and vision. He was bold and fearless, never hesitant to express his deep convictions, and not afraid to champion the cause of the weak and the dispossessed. We honor President Chavez as a brave and distinguished leader who was firmly committed to the cause of integration of our Latin American and Caribbean region, which he regarded as the Patria Grande. He reinforced this commitment in words and fulfilled this commitment in deeds.

WILPERT: Representatives from all regional groups addressed the General Assembly, as well as UN ambassadors from various countries, who praised President Chavez’s concern for the poor, his ability to connect with the disenfranchised of Venezuela, his government’s social policies, and his dedication to the causes of the Global South and to Latin American integration. The sheer number of moving and heartfelt tributes that Chavez received was rather surprising considering how negatively the Western media have presented him both before and after his death. The public opinion of the world’s leaders and of the Western media appear to be out of sync, as it is in so many issues.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, traveled to New York specifically to attend the UN tribute to Chavez, which he followed up with his participation in another tribute later that evening, which took place in New York City’s Church of St. Paul the Apostle.

In addition to Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, several prominent guests attended as well, such as former congressman and current president of the NGO Citizens Energy, Joe Kennedy, with whom Venezuela coordinates its low-cost heating oil program for low-income families in the United States.

JOSEPH P. KENNEDY II, FOUNDER, CITIZENS ENERGY CORP.: Things changed when President Chavez came along and said, listen, this is the people’s oil. It’s not PDVSA’s oil. It’s the people of Venezuela’s oil. He built a peaceful revolution that began to pull down the walls of oppression and, as the Bible says, to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like the mighty stream. So please keep your revolution going. Keep your faith in Hugo Chavez.

WILPERT: Other speakers included Gail Walker of the Interrelegious Foundation for Community Organization and Steven Kramer, a longtime civil rights activist and executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1199. The event concluded with a speech by Minister Elias Jaua, who emphasized that Chavez’s project is incomplete and that Venezuelans and all supporters should work to complete it. Throughout, activists in the audience often interjected with chants such as “Chavez present! Maduro presidente!” in reference to Chavez’s designated successor.

Greg Wilpert reporting for The Real News Network.

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