Around 1,000 people attended the event, which was organized by Citgo, and many arrived early to wait outside for good seats and to hold signs welcoming Maduro as “president of the people.”
The Bronx community
The atmosphere was festive, Gabriela Sierra Alonso, a journalism student in attendance, told venezuelanalysis.com. “People were carrying messages of solidarity, chanting, and handing out fliers. Because it was at Hostos, a big part of the Puerto Rican community was there, particularly those fighting for the release of political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera."
As Maduro made his entrance in the auditorium, shaking hands and greeting people warmly, “he chose a seat somewhere in the middle of the crowd,” Sierra Alonso noted, “as opposed to in a VIP section up front.”
Danilo Lachapelle, a Dominican reverend, gave a welcoming prayer to Maduro, in which he called upon Latin America to extend its solidarity to undocumented immigrants in the United States who “suffer many human rights violations and whose dignity is trampled.”
The reverend thanked Venezuela for its constant support of those struggling around the world, especially, he noted, the significant aid given to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
“One day the Haitian people will emerge from the difficult situation they are in," he preached. "It becomes ever more likely with the appearance of leaders of the Great Homeland such as Hugo Chavez, and President Maduro, and the other progressive leaders of Latin America.”
Community activist Wanda Salaman followed the reverend with a short speech recalling the impact Hugo Chavez made on the working class and immigrant district that is the Bronx.
“With the Simon Bolivar Foundation and Citgo we have been able to continue the work that we started ...in a range of collectives and projects for homeless people, racial struggles, cultural groups and more," she said.
The Simon Bolivar Foundation, a 501(c)(3) of Citgo, has funded nearly $1.25 million in grants for 32 South Bronx programs in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment and health, according to official data.
Next to take the stage was the UpBeat NYC Youth Orchestra, which has modeled its non-profit and community based initiative off of Venezuela’s hugely successful El Sistema youth orchestra program.
The following speaker, Joseph Kennedy III, recalled how a 2005 partnership with Hugo Chavez gave him the honor of helping to provide “almost a million families within the heating program that Venezuela has been giving to poor of this country for almost ten years.”
Maduro takes the stage
“The first thing he did was invite the children's orchestra to Venezuela,” Sierra Alonso told venezuelanalysis.com. “He seemed truly delighted by their performance.”
The Venezuelan leader told the crowd how he was detained by airport security for around 45 minutes, and was almost made late to the event after being forced to pull over for 25 minutes to let Barack Obama’s motorcade pass by on Park Ave.
But the government official really won the crowd over as he recalled recent criticisms published in editorials by the Washington Post and the New York Times, the first of which referred to him as an “economically illiterate former bus driver”.
“I am proud,” Maduro said emphatically to great applause, “to have been a worker of the Caracas metro, to have been a day-laborer and now be president; I’ll let everyone at the Washington Post know!”
“How many [false] things are said daily of Venezuela among mass Western media?” he continued. “How many lies are fabricated in relation to the lives of the noble people of Venezuela, whose only sin was to aspire and dream of a new society, by constructing new socio-economic and political models which surpass capitalism?”
“To the Department of State, the Pentagon, the National Communication Association (NCA), to the White House, I ask you now to rectify the erratic political abuse of Venezuela and our revolution, because our revolution will not fall – on the contrary, it is rooted in popular, democratic constitutionality…and we have the reason and the right to continue it.”
Other key moments were Maduro’s calls for Puerto Rico to join the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our Americas (ALBA), and his plea for the United States to free political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera, whose “only crime was to wish for an independent Puerto Rico.”
“We should recognize how we are one people,” Maduro implored, “We cannot allow ourselves to be poisoned with hate…to justify wars that divide us when in the end, the same owners of capital who have looted this world for the past 100 years are the ones to rule.”
“It’s inevitable that everyone there, myself included, was comparing his presence to Chavez,” Sierra Alonso concluded. “And while he lacked the punch that made Chavez what he was, you felt as if he [Maduro] was alongside you, not above you, and that is significantly refreshing.”