Editors note: The corporate media here has much to say about the government of Venezuela, almost all of it negative. Rarely are members of that government allowed their own voice. Here, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza speaks for himself.

Jorge Arreaza, Foreign Minister of Venezuela

On Sept. 21, a crowd gathered in New York City to hear Jorge Arreaza, Foreign Minister of Venezuela. Flanked by two huge portraits of Venezuelan leaders El Comandante Hugo Chávez and El Libertador Simón Bolívar, Jorge Arreaza began with the words, “We must create a movement against imperialism. Not against a single administration, but against imperialism itself.”

Arreaza reviewed the history of U.S. aggression against Venezuela. He spoke in support of immigrants here, and denounced Donald Trump’s recent comments at the UN as “genocidal.” The Venezuelan diplomat hailed the courage of the 8 million people in Venezuela who recently voted for the Constituent Assembly there despite right-wing threats.

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister was in town for the opening of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. He spoke at La Iglesia Santa Cruz/Holyrood Episcopal Church, a multinational bilingual church in Washington Heights, the heart of New York’s Dominican community. Other presentations included a song performed by Arelis Figueroa and an impassioned poem from Dominican National Poet Dagoberto Lopez-Coño. Berta Joubert-Ceci shared her experience on her recent return from Venezuela.

Arreaza was introduced by Father Luis Barrios, a long-time progressive and professor at John Jay College. “Venezuela represents the struggle of all people,” Barrios said. “It is essential for people within the United States to unite with people all over the world, including Venezuela.”

Barrios pointed to the “irony in the fact that the United States is targeting Venezuela on alleged human rights violations when inside the United States more than 80 million people are functionally illiterate,
where more than 90 million have no health coverage, where unemployment is built into the system, and where more than 2 million people languish within the mass incarceration system.”

Why Washington targeted Chávez

Father Luis Barrios

“In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center,” Arreaza said, “the United States began a brutal bombing campaign against Afghanistan.” Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela at that time, “publicly denounced the invasions, and presented photographs of the aftermath of the U.S. bombing campaign on television. Because Chávez questioned imperialism,” Arreaza explained, “the State Department began attacking him and never stopped.”

“The U.S. embassy was involved in the coup attempt of 2002 where Chávez was kidnapped and his government replaced with oligarchs. But the coup leaders didn’t consider the most important factor — the Venezuelan people themselves.” Mass demonstrations supporting Chávez erupted in the streets. “The coup did not succeed. Forty-seven hours later and Chávez was restored to the presidency.”

The Venezuelan leader continued: “Two years later on February 29, 2004, amid daily attacks by the United States and Venezuela’s capitalist media, Chávez declared the Bolivarian Revolution to be anti-imperialist. This is the Mission of the Righteous.”

Chávez policies continued by Maduro

Arreaza emphasized the connection between Chávez, who died while in office in 2013, and the current President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. “Before a major operation abroad to treat his aggressive cancer, Chávez returned to Venezuela against the advice of his doctors to deliver a message to the Venezuelan people: ‘I am certain as the moon is full: you must support Nicolás Maduro.’”

“Maduro was Chávez’s personal driver, a working-class man, and he became the first Chavista to be openly elected. Vultures immediately surrounded Maduro upon his election, pressuring him to enact neoliberal reforms. Maduro chased them all out.”

“Since then, an economic war has been waged against Venezuela with the [currency] exchange rate set so wildly as to induce inflation. Despite all these obstacles, Maduro has not sacrificed an iota of social rights of the people.”

He commented on Donald Trump’s Sept. 20 speech before the UN General Assembly where the U.S. President singled out the governments of Iran, Syria and Venezuela for rebuke and threatened the “total destruction” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Arreaza said, “Based on the charter of the United Nations, Trump should have been expelled from the UN for his genocidal remarks. If instead of the UN delegates, there had been a Congress of the People, the people would have refused to listen to such monstrosities and walked out.”

Immigrants ‘treated as criminals’ in U.S.

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister connected the struggle against imperialism in Venezuela to the struggle for immigrant rights in the United States. “To be an immigrant is not a crime, yet from the moment you arrive in the United States you are treated as a criminal. A recent bill before the U.S. Congress calls for stealing 7 percent of remittances from the people of Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Mexico, to pay for the criminal wall” that Trump has proposed between the U.S. and Mexico. Arreaza called this “shameless,” adding, “In Venezuela, we support people regardless of origin. In Bolivia and other countries, they are developing concepts of ‘global citizenship’ to extend to all humans.”

Arreaza explained that the migration of refugees into Europe shows another example of the inhumanity of the imperialists. “In Europe, the Mediterranean Sea can unite you with North Africa, or it can separate and divide. The Sea today has become a cemetery. Some countries would rather have the boats sink than take the refugees in — refugees, people, who are fleeing climate change and imperialism.”

‘If we are divided, we will be conquered’

He explained, “It’s not just important to defend Venezuela, we need organization and coordination of our program. We need to join our efforts to stop what is happening. The whole world is our motherland. If Venezuela were to fall, what will happen to the other countries in Latin America? In the world?”

“If we are divided, we will be conquered, so coordinating our struggle is important,” Arreaza said. “As Cuban revolutionary José Martí explained: ‘We have to do this today because it will only be more difficult tomorrow.’”

The imperialists, he said, “want to dictate [to] humanity, but this is a world of the people. We are ready. We must raise our voices on behalf of peace, against war, and on behalf of life for all countries subjected to unfair wars.”

Courage of the 8 million

Arreaza hailed the courage of the more than 8 million Venezuelans who recently turned out to vote for the Constituent Assembly. “They waited in line despite the threats from the far right opposition who were sponsored by the U.S. and who said that not even 6 million people would show up. The photos of the 8 million Venezuelans voting were never showed on CNN or FOX.”

The crowd at the church enthusiastically responded to Arreaza’s talk with chants of “Chávez presente, Maduro presidente,” “Viva el pueblo!,” and “Viva Venezuela!”

Father Barrios closed the evening with an affirmation: “That which shines by its own light, nobody can extinguish. To the people of the United States: we are in an essential role here in between the jaws of the monster. We have an obligation to Venezuela, to the people of the world.”

In reference to the recent natural disasters and a common struggle against imperialism, Barrios continued: “Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela: we will not leave you on your own. We are you.”