American People Must Free Their Country:  Hugo Chavez  

Jenna Orkin    

Five months after Mike Ruppert declared in what would become his farewell speech to America that the 'paradigm is the enemy, '  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, speaking from the same stage at Cooper Union, proclaimed that the planet cannot endure any more consumerism.   

"Capitalism destroys ecological balance," the President declared, "and not just because of bombs....  The U.S. spends approximately $600 million p.a. on the military, five times Venezuela's Gross Domestic Product."   

Careening from sublime heights of oratory to ridiculous references to the smell of sulphur when Bush was nearby, the President held a roaring, U.S. and Venezuela flag-waving crowd rapt til past eleven o'clock.  (The event was late getting started because of no-nonsense security measures including detailed inspection with a flashlight of a visitor's keys.)  

"I don't prepare speeches," he explained unnecessarily as he engaged audience member Roger Toussaint, President of the Transport Workers' Union, in impromptu dialogue about how New York City's bus system worked:  Were the busses owned by the Mayor?  The question manifested more than idle curiosity; recently Venezuela struck an oil-for-expertise deal with London Mayor Ken Livingstone.  "But I'm very disciplined," Chavez added, another attribute he shares with his country's new guest, Ruppert.  Also acknowledged in the audience were Ramsay Clarke, four Hassidic rabbis and the lawyer and investigative journalist Eva Golinger.   

"Capitalism is the road to hell" for education, the President continued, a field for which the U.N. recommends that 7% of GDP be used.  Venezuela uses close to 10%.  Some of their schools are in old buildings whose structures are still good.  The day before, Chavez was at a school that had been built for 2000 but because of privatization, the population had fallen to 200.  The day Chavez visited, the school re-opened for 1200.  

Students in Venezuela are given paper, pencils and wherever feasible, computer labs.  In primary schools the students get breakfast, lunch and a snack.  To get children used to going to school, there are "Simon sitos" (sp?  not on google) such as the one attended by Chavez' 2-year-old grandchild.   Venezuela also has almost a million adults of all ages finishing high school and college who hadn't been able to in their youth because of the need to work.  They study from videos in their own communities.   

The President reminisced about Laurenzo Perez, his friend in fourth grade, who had to leave school to sell tripe.  Now the father of twelve children, he is still poor.  Had he had enough money, he could have been an engineer.  To prevent more such cases, Venezuela offers scholarships to needy students of 100$ a month.   In all, more than 60% of the Venezuelan population is in school, including from the indigenous populations to whom supplies are brought via donkey.     

It occurred to this reporter that Chavez is living out an idealistic child's fantasies of "what I would do if I was President."  When he likes a book, as he did Don Quixote, he distributes thousands of copies to the population.  (Don Quixote is often in his thoughts; Castro is the Don, he said, though a skinny one these days.)  

Indeed, children are an abiding theme of the President's reforms.  Last month Venezuela opened the largest pediatric cardiac facility in the world where needy children from all over South America can be treated for free.  Soon their mothers will also be able to be housed for free in a nearby hotel.  The hospital is equipped to perform four thousand surgeries a year, more than double the number of the previous largest facility.  

The theme then turned to a less happy subject:  the recent activities of the United States. Referring as he did often in his speech, to illustrious predecessors on the stage of Cooper Union, the President quoted Mark Twain who in 1901 said the imperial eagle should not dig its claws into foreign countries.   What the U.S. is doing in Iraq and what Israel did in Lebanon, Chavez said, was terrorism.  In the interest of fairness he also mentioned Caracazonas, (caracazanos?  neither is on google) asking rhetorically, "How could we do that?"  The U.S. used biological and chemical weapons in Fallujah, he said; even rats and cockroaches died.  "This is genocide."   (At another speech the following morning Chavez reported that it hadn't been easy for him to come to New York; some of his assistants hadn't been allowed in.  These were efforts to dissuade him from coming, he alleged, going on to threaten that If the United States attempts a coup as they did in 2002, Venezuela would stop providing the 1 1/2 million b.p.d. of oil that they currently sell here; oil would shoot up to $150-200 p.b.)   He did respect President Jimmy Carter who gave back the Panama Canal although as a consequence, his life was threatened.  Chavez also pointed out that Kennedy had proposed an alliance with Cuba to help the poor and look what happened to him.   The speech was laced with fond references to Castro who had lost forty pounds from an intestinal hemorrhage whereas Chavez himself, he said, looks like a fatted ox.  He spoke of visiting Castro and telling him he couldn't die.  "Who said I'm dying?" Castro responded.   Current policy makes the United States the biggest threat to world peace according to world opinion, Chavez asserted, while also calling for substantive debate among presidents.  The present norm of giving speeches, he said, amounts to 'a dialogue of the deaf.'     But he ended on an optimistic note:  Eight years ago, the world was asleep.  It is now waking up.     The following morning the President spoke at Mt. Olivet Church in Harlem about the Citgo program to distribute heating oil to low-income communities.  Last winter Citgo gave out 40 million gallons of oil to 180,000 households.  This year that amount will be multiplied by two and a half to 100 million gallons of oil going to 459,000 households, including indigenous peoples.  After the President's speech several of these, from the Unangax tribe in Alaska, performed traditional dances wearing beaded headdresses and facial designs representing family lineage across the cheeks and 'puberty lines' on the chin.  These are painted on boys at the age of seven and on girls at menarche.   Although 10% of U.S. oil comes from Alaska, gas there is more than 8$ p.g.  Some people go without food in order to heat their houses said Jolene Petticrew, teacher of the dancers, in an interview.  Others who lack gas to run their boats and 'four-wheelers' must forego hunting.     Chavez explained that the distribution system in Alaska eliminates the middleman, a bane of capitalism.   He also explained his program for distributing oil among his own neighbors:  In exchange, Cuba sends Venezuela doctors and medicine; Uruguay sends prefabricated houses; Argentina sends incubators, nuclear energy for medicine and agricultural machines as well as pregnant cows that have been bred to produce 20 liters of milk p.d. as well as to give birth only to females.    He also touched on the theme of coca which he said is used for making non-fattening bread, tea and toothpaste.    Quoting Martin Luther King:  "I have a dream," Chavez ended with a reference to the Noam Chomsky book Hegemony or Survival, that he had mentioned at the U.N. on Wednesday.  He said that there are two superpowers today:  1) the United States and 2) the rest of the world.  For the sake of the rest of the world, the people of the United States must bring down the current administration and free this country.