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Hugo Chávez Funeral: Derided by US Media, Venezuelan Leader Uplifted Poor from Caracas to the Bronx

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Millions are gathering in Caracas to mourn the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on the day of his funeral. More than 30 world leaders are expected to attend today’s ceremony as Venezuelans brave long lines to see Chávez lying in state. We go to Caracas to speak with Carol Delgado, Venezuelan consul general in New York, who has returned home for the funeral. Delgado responds to the torrent of U.S. corporate media criticism that has followed Chávez to the grave, arguing that Chávez has been attacked in spite of — and perhaps because of — his social programs benefiting Venezuela’s poor majority, and a global reach that extended to impoverished neighborhoods of the United States. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Venezuela, where millions are gathering to mourn the late President Hugo Chávez on the day of the funeral. Chávez, who led the country for 14 years, died Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer. The head of Venezuela’s presidential guard told the Associated Press Chávez died of a massive heart attack triggered by his advanced stage of cancer. More than two million people have already come to pay their respects, standing in lines miles long for hours to see him lying in state.

Speaking Thursday, acting President Nicolás Maduro announced a seven-day extension in the mourning period and said Chávez’s body would be embalmed and put on display in a military museum following today’s funeral.

ACTING PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] I want to tell the people and the world it has been decided that the body of the comandante will be embalmed so that it remains eternally on view for the people at the museum, as Ho Chi Minh is, as Lenin is, as Mao Zedong is. The body of our comandante-in-chief, embalmed in the Museum of the Revolution, in a special way, so he can be in a glass case, and our people can have him there present always and always with the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Acting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaking on Thursday.

More than 30 world leaders, mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean, are expected to attend the funeral, including Cuban President Raúl Castro, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We go now to Caracas to speak with Carol Delgado, the Venezuelan consul general in New York. She has returned to her home city to pay her respects to President Chávez and attend the funeral.

Carol Delgado, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain what’s happening in the streets of Caracas right now?

CAROL DELGADO: Yeah, thanks for having me, Amy, and thanks for the wonderful, the outstanding job that you are doing by telling the truth to the Americans.

What is happening here in Caracas is that it’s—there is like a mix between a huge international summit with 50 heads of state from all over the world coming in [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Carol, if you could speak as loud as you possibly can, because it’s a little difficult to hear you. If you could speak as loud as you can—there’s a loud generator sound in the background.

CAROL DELGADO: Yeah, Amy. Here in Venezuela, over two million people have gone to the streets with all their love. I think it’s important to highlight that for Venezuelans this is not the death of the president; this is the death of a family person, of our father. And that’s what Venezuelans feel. And they have gone to the streets to accompany, to say their last goodbye to President Chávez. But something outstanding that I got to see yesterday night is that there was a long line of over 30,000 people awaiting to give their last word to a coffin where President Chávez is. And you could see, you know, his face, and also the coffin has a Venezuelan flag. And it’s a very touching thing. People are going there. They are giving President Chávez the honors.

But it’s very important to highlight that this is like a sort of popular mass, where the people feel that they are going to go to mourn a father or go to mourn a preacher, basically somebody who is very important to them. And also you see that the people—most of the people who are there are the disenfranchised, the poor people of Venezuela, and that felt—feel that they have come to existence after Chávez came into the Venezuelan society in 1992, after the coup. So, for these people, it’s like Chávez—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know him personally?

CAROL DELGADO: Yeah, yeah, I had the privilege of knowing him personally, yeah. Yeah, I had an opportunity to talk to him about the popular power. And as you know, President Chávez has been fostering a new—a new way of democracy, the participatory democracy, giving directly a participatory body, so that people can cope with the problems they have in their communities. And in the month of International Women’s Day, I think it’s important to highlight that 60 percent of women are the ones leading this participatory democracy in Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Delgado, I was wondering your response to the criticism. I wanted to play a clip for you from Michael Shifter. We spoke to him on Wednesday. He’s president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C. He criticized Chávez on a number of issues, including his handling of Venezuelans’ economy. Listen to what Michael Shifter says and then respond.

MICHAEL SHIFTER: He really had an opportunity to reshape in a significant way and put the country on a sustainable path of development. I’m not sure that if one looks at Venezuela today that it’s on that path. And I think you have enormous problems that are there. There are shortages of basic goods. There is the highest inflation rate in Latin America. Crime is off the charts. If you look at the crime rate when he came in versus the crime rate today, there’s tremendous insecurity. Caracas is one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world today. So, this is not a government that I think has been very competent and very effective.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to Michael Shifter, Carol Delgado, consul general of Venezuela in New York, though today in her home city of Caracas for the funeral?

CAROL DELGADO: I believe that for Americans it’s very difficult to understand what’s happening here, because they don’t understand what culture is going on here. When we talk about violence, I think it’s important to highlight that there are systemic reasons why the violence is a problem in Venezuela. And poverty took a very important toll on Venezuela. And many of the people who are now criminals were kids that didn’t have to eat, that were fed with bottles with water and the powder and sugar. So, that’s not happening. Venezuela has reduced poverty dramatically, particularly extreme poverty. Venezuelans right now have education, free up to the university level. We have free, universal health for everyone. And those kind of achievements are fantastic.

I think it’s very difficult for Michael Shifter and for many Americans to understand Venezuelans, because they don’t understand about the religiosity, about the connection that President Chávez has been able to engage with the people of Venezuela. And I think this is a process that will continue. We’ll continue building socialism. We don’t have all the answers. There are many things to be done, and done better, but we’re on a path. We didn’t have a plan to develop the country, and now we do. So I think President Chávez has left this process with a path, a path. We’re working on industrialization of the country. We’re working on food sovereignty. And those are achievements that are undeniable.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Delgado, if—

CAROL DELGADO: I think also I should highlight that when I see—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

CAROL DELGADO: Yeah, when you see the people that were yesterday trying to say, “President, te amo. President, I love you. President, I will continue fighting. President, I will devote my life to the ideas to the development of Venezuela,” when you can see that force, because the people in America cannot see the power of love, the genuine love that people feel.

And also, the Venezuelan people have coming of age, have becoming adults. We are not children anymore. We understand about politics. We understand about the economy. We understand about how our country is ruled. Now we have control over—have control on our oil resources, which we didn’t have in the past. Eighty-four percent of our oil resources went to corporations, went basically abroad of the country; it wouldn’t—that money wouldn’t stay here. So we have recovered our independence and recovered our oil.

And we are determined to continue building and consolidating the process that President Chávez and Simón Bolívar and many other leaders started. But not only in Venezuela, also seeing—you know, following his teachings on solidarity, which is building something—building a better world, but together with the peoples of Latin America. And I think it’s very important to highlight that many countries of Latin America and of the world, like Nigeria and many countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, have declared this official mourning from one day to—until up to seven days of official mourning. So, I think it’s despite of the media lies and the lies of—that this is the truth of democracy, the truth of—the truth of the lies of media conglomerates all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Delgado, I wanted to read a quote of an AP reporter. This was highlighted by the media group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, which was criticizing the extremely anti-Chávez coverage in the United States. And they said, “One of the more bizarre takes on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s death comes from Associated Press business reporter Pamela Sampson.”

This is what Pamela Sampson wrote on March 5th. She said, “Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.”

Again, that’s the AP business reporter Pamela Sampson offering her criticism of Chávez’s choice of investing Venezuela’s oil wealth into free health clinics and education instead of the world’s tallest building. Carol Delgado?

CAROL DELGADO: We cannot—Venezuela cannot afford to have a new generation of people who will continue enlarging this criminal thing. We have to feed our people, because these people are going hungry every night. The people cannot wait until people think it’s right. I think President Chávez has done the moral choice by understanding that his people need to be nourished, his people need to be fed, his people need to have access to health, have access to education. And I just don’t understand, I don’t agree with, you know, this neoliberal party that says that the state cannot invest on social programs.

That’s something that we have decided and we will continue doing, because we believe that it’s paramount and also that we have to show the people of the world that you can do many things with not so much money, because when you give people the self—sense of self-esteem—many people have said that President Chávez is a populist. When I had the opportunity to speak yesterday to the people who were mourning President Chávez outside of the military academy where his body is resting, you get to see—they told me, “They underestimate us. They think that we are just ignorant people because we are poor people. We know what things are about, because President Chávez was able to teach the people, the poor people, the disenfranchised, about becoming powerful and becoming—daring to become leaders in their communities, to make decisions.” So that’s something that’s difficult for people in the North to understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Delgado, can you talk about what happens to Venezuela now? After the funeral, Vice President—Vice President Maduro will be sworn in as the president. He’s been acting president since Tuesday of Venezuela. Then talk about what is the next course of action, when will elections be held, and what direction you see Venezuela going. And what about the fierce opposition to Chávez? How will that, do you think, express itself?

CAROL DELGADO: Well, according the Supreme Court, Chávez didn’t have to swear in, because he was already a president. So, because of that, President Maduro will be sworn in today as acting president, and a new election has to be called, according to what the constitution, the Venezuelan constitution, says. But it’s important also to highlight that for President Chávez, Maduro was the best political leader, the person that, in his judgment, in his opinion, was the best person to lead the continuity of the revolutionary process in Venezuela, and also was the person able to accompany all this international movement of progressive governments that are working together to achieve better standards of living for our people and to the socialism.

AMY GOODMAN: And the elections, when will they be held? Nicolás Maduro, we assume, will run for president. What do you expect to play out there? This will happen in April?

CAROL DELGADO: There is no date defined yet, at least not known to the public. But the constitution says that a new election has to be called within 30 days. So, I think that’s something that’s going to be happening probably in the next hours, in the next days. But already the several serious polls in Venezuela say that Nicolás Maduro, as a candidate, will have the lead against any opposition candidate that the opposition will want to put to run against the candidate of the Socialist Party, the Venezuelan Socialist Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, President Chávez gave cheap oil to countries throughout Latin America and to people in the United States, as well, through Citgo, the Venezuelan oil company. I have seen many ads of Joe Kennedy, the former congressmember, the son of Robert Kennedy, the former attorney general, congratulating President Chávez for what he has done in this country. There was a mourning—a vigil in the South Bronx, people who got heating oil from the Venezuelan government, from President Chávez. Will that program continue in the United States?

CAROL DELGADO: Yeah, I think it’s very important to highlight the vision that President Chávez had. We cannot solve all the problems that the poor in the U.S. have, but we can share what we have. No matter if it’s too much, it’s too little, we can share what we have. Despite of the economic crisis, the world economic crisis, that has hit Venezuela, as well, President Chávez was determined to keep the program of heating oil, because it’s a way of giving something from the Venezuelan hearts to the hearts of the people of the U.S., which he always highlight that it was different, the people of the U.S., than the positions of the U.S. government. That was something very differentiated.

But I think the vision of solidarity is something that is important to highlight. It’s different of charity. Charity is perhaps knowing that somebody is hungry and giving a quarter and thinking that the world is OK. So that’s not the vision of solidarity. Solidarity is that you have to share what you have. No matter how much you have, no matter how little you have, you always have to share. And that’s something that President Chávez was very clear about.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Carol Delgado, your thoughts today on International Women’s Day, which is also the funeral of President Chávez, where he put women, what value he placed on women participating in the Venezuelan governance, in Venezuelan government?

CAROL DELGADO: President Chávez always supported women and—in Venezuela during most of his presidency. In Venezuela we have five branches of power. And in most of his presidency, four branches of power were presided, were led by women. Today, we still have some powers led by women, and also we have many women ministers. I think at least half of the executive of President Chávez are women. But, of course, we also have the 30,000 communal council who are 60, 65 percent led by women. So I think the revolution rests a great deal on the work, on the consciousness, on the determination of women of Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Delgado, we want to thank you for joining us. Carol Delgado is the Venezuelan consul general here in New York City, but she is joining us from her home city of Caracas, where President Chávez’s funeral is taking place in just a few hours today. His body will lay in state for seven days. The period has been extended because millions have come to pay their respects from around Venezuela. His body will be embalmed in a military museum.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. As we continue International Women’s Day with the voices of women, we go to Washington. It’s just hours after President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act, and we’re going to talk about what it means. Stay with us.

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