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Jesse Jackson: Venezuela “Invests in Its People…U.S. Invests In Tax Cuts for the Wealthy and a War that does not Make Sense in Iraq”

StorySeptember 19, 2005
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The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke Saturday night in New York City at an event with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Jackson said, “[The Venezuelan] government’s priorities are to invest in its people. They subsidize oil, gas, health care and education and that’s civil. We cannot subsidize our oil and education because we are investing in tax cuts for the wealthy and a war that does not make sense in Iraq. We need new values, we need to go another way.” [includes rush transcript]

During his three-day tour of New York City, President Chavez visited the South Bronx. At night, he addressed a packed audience at the Saint Paul and Saint Andrew Methodist Church on the Upper West Side.

Also speaking were New York Congressmember Jose Serrano and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson traveled to Caracas in August to offer support to Chavez just days after tele-evangelist Pat Robertson called for his assassination.

  • Jesse Jackson, longtime civil rights leader and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


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AMY GOODMAN: This is Reverend Jackson.

JESSE JACKSON: President Chavez, we met just a few weeks ago in Caracas and there we met with African-Venezuelans and African-Cubans, and African-Colombians and Peruvians and African-Mexicans. Between Mexico down to Brazil, one hundred and eighty million African people, more than in North America who got there first. All the missions of President Chavez to pull together the great African Diaspora in South, Central and Latin America that we met. While we’re meeting and I was able to speak to the Parliament, the governing body of that country, I was struck by the impact of hurricane Katrina.

What did Katrina do? There was devastation and homelessness. We saw an infrastructure collapse. Levees that we refused to invest in the last twenty-five years. And when the hurricane struck and the waters rose because of global warming, which is no longer academic and in the margins, as we unleash carcinogens in the atmosphere and burn off the ozone layer, as we melt the glaciers and the waters rise and become hotter, we’ll have more hurricanes in the four, five and six level. As we attack the earth, the earth fights back to protect its own integrity. And so we saw this massive storm on the way. And while it in many ways damaged the city and killed some people, it also washed away the facade. It washed away the cover, the dirty little secret of race and poverty and class.

President Bush said that many Americans saw for the first time on television the dreadful intractable impact of race and poverty and class. When the storm did come, there was warning but there was no preparation. We looked for helicopters and national guardsmen, and they were in Iraq trying to fortify Baghdad and leaving New Orleans exposed. There are so many ways, like putting an inner tube in a bucket of water. You see the bubbles come up. You see where there are holes in the inner tube, the impact of tax cuts for the wealthy, going offshore, avoiding paying taxes and getting no-bid contracts, the impact of ignoring our own infrastructure, the impact of a war of choice in Iraq, spending $5 billion a month, losing lives and money and honor. We found ourselves trapped in our own foolishness as the hurricane came. We were warned, but had no defense.

I urged President Chavez to come to America at this season because we believe in the politics of civility and dialogue, not assassination. So come on to America. When Katrina struck, while Mr. Bush was somewhere between riding motorcycles and dodging Cindy Sheehan in his front yard, the Secretary of State shopping for Ferragamo shoes, the waters were rising. As he delayed within two days — we got food and water to Indonesia but not to New Orleans. And two days after 9/11 President Bush came to ground zero, held the arms of policemen and firemen and the mayor in that city as he should have done. He never went to ground zero in New Orleans. No member of his Cabinet went to ground zero in New Orleans. The Red Cross did not go to ground zero in New Orleans.

Now we saw this mass of humanity, even as they suffered, removing the facade that now can no longer be avoided. There was no mass preparation for rescue so people suffered before the eyes of the world. During the demonstrations, you might recall, Sister Belafonte, in Chicago in 1968, police were beating demonstrators. Somewhere out of the crowd emerged a saying, a phrase. “The whole world is watching.” The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching. As people swam and died in New Orleans. The whole world was watching. Still without food and water, the whole world was watching. As the president failed to exercise his obligations to American citizens and the media called citizens refugees, the whole world was watching.

So while that was happening, President Chavez made an offer to America. He offered to send two planes, eighteen power generators for the dark of New Orleans. The police had no light, no communications. I went down there on ten different missions. They had no lights. He offered eighteen water purifiers. He offered $1 million in money for down payment. He offered two mobile hospital units. As people lay dying on the streets and babies dying in mother’s arms from dehydration and starvation, he offered 20 tons of water and 50 tons of food! The planes are still on the runway in Caracas. It was turned away, and people suffered and died. Even tonight, one hundred and fifty thousand citizens are in rescue camps, two thousand children separated from their families, the dead yet uncounted. No plan for massive rescue. No plan for acceptance or relief. No plan for relocation. Why couldn’t tax-paying citizens in Louisiana go North in their own state for housing? And use unused military bases and state parks? Why were they turned away and left to suffer in the South of their own state? So tonight, my brothers and my sisters, we meet the cause. We seek friends. We seek to be friendly. No master plan for rescue. No relief, no relocation, no family reunification.

Then came finally “reconstruction.” Whenever the President sticks his hand out, there’s always something up his sleeve. Now he said, I will give $50 billion, but I want to suspend David Bacon I want to suspend prevailing wages. So people can come in and work beneath fair wages without health insurance. I want to suspend minority businesses and small businesses, and so Halliburton got the first contract and Bechtel and Fluor Daniels. First $100 million no-bid contracts while corruption expanded and exploded. Somebody said “I’ll offer you water. I’ll offer you food. I’ll offer you medicine. A friendly hand is extended by this president.

There’s a scripture that says, Reverend and Sister Collins, “How will we get peace?” On face value it seems to be a rather simplistic solution in a sense it’s biblical. What is the message behind the language? The Bible says, “There will be peace in the valley, and lion lie down with the lamb. In other words, when extremes — ferocious lions meet lambs, the big, the little, the white, the black, the brown, the well, the sick find common ground. Who will get peace in the valley? Well, what would make a lion cut a deal with a lamb? Lion’s strong and powerful and self-sufficient. Who will make a lamb trust a lion? Who will make lions and lambs lie together? Well, you lie together when you find that you have something in common. What do lions and lambs have in common? Neither wants the forest to catch on fire. Neither wants acid rain on their backs. Neither wants a flood in the forest. Surely, if lions and lambs can lie together, so can America and Venezuela. After all, why should we not lie together? We’re neighbors. We’re in the same hemisphere. Venezuela is not back door, Venezuela is next door. There was a Caracas before there was New York. It’s not backdoor, it’s next door.

How must we get along because we need each other. Venezuela needs America’s market. America needs Venezuela’s product. How must we get along because Venezuela sends to America a million and a half barrels of oil every day. The largest reserve of crude oil in Venezuela and in the world. How must we get along? A shipment of oil comes from Venezuela to America in four days, from Saudi Arabia in four weeks. How must we get along, because we’re neighbors. How must we get along because Venezuela shares 13,000 miles of border with Colombia, without Venezuela we cannot fight the drug war, cause we fight the drug war, the energy war. We also can learn something from each other, why is it you are paying $5 for a gallon of gas, in Venezuela they are paying $.15 cents a gallon. Because the government’s priority is to invest in the people. They subsidize oil, gas, health care and education, and that’s civil. We cannot subsidize our oil and education because we’re investing in tax cuts for the wealthy and a war that does not make sense in Iraq. We need new values, we need to go another way.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson speaking along with Hugo Chavez this weekend in New York.

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