Venezuelan Funds Dry Up For Hugo Chávez Supporters In New York
July 18, 2011 By Juan Victor Fajardo
NEW YORK— The South Bronx’s unlikely romance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had a memorable foundational moment. It was in 2005, when Chávez traveled to New York to speak at the United Nations. Mimicking the 1960 visit of his political mentor, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Chávez made a point of spending most of his time in the city away from the General Assembly. He toured low-income neighborhoods, spoke at a Harlem community church, and spent an unforgettable September day with the people of the poorest congressional district in the United States of America, the South Bronx. That’s where their story began.
“We were like, ‘oh, snap!’” said Wanda Salaman, who met president Chávez that day. “We had never even met the president of the United States. Why the heck are we meeting the president of another country? Why does he care?”
The South Bronx residents who met Chavez in 2005 remember, above all, the close human contact they had with one of South America’s most controversial political leaders. By the time Chávez left the South Bronx that day, he had sung, hugged, or danced his way into the hearts of everyone he encountered. And then he made a promise much like the promises that get him elected over and over again in Venezuela. He pledged to give $1 million dollars a year in grants to local non-profits in order to help them address some of the South Bronx’s intractable issues.
In the midst of it all was filmmaker Felix Leo Campos, who has the footage to prove it. Campos will tell you that that’s where it all began, and since then this transatlantic affair has been going strong for five years.
But lately things have taken a turn for the worse. So much so, in fact, that Campos, who made a documentary film about Chavez’s relationship with the South Bronx, went back to his editing suite earlier this year to change the end of his movie.
The film originally ended with a scene of Venezuelan authorities handing a $100,000 grant check to Lucia Solano, who heads a non-profit in the South Bronx. The goal was to give documentary proof that the Venezuelan government was using its oil profits to help fund community organizations in the South Bronx, just like Chavez had promised.
But now, the film fades to black and a few lines of white text pop onto the screen, explaining that some organizations that received grant money from Venezuela have been abruptly cut off from Chávez’s funding program, leaving them no other option but to close their doors to the South Bronx community — and people want to know why.
“I find no rational explanation for this adjustment…I have spoken with Venezuelan authorities and they have not offered any explanations,” said Marino Mejía, who heads one of the non-profits, an association of accomplished professionals from the Dominican Republic, that has lost funding. “We just want to know why,” he repeated.
The irony is that the non-profits that have been excluded from the Venezuelan grant program are those that most militantly support Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, and they do not understand how their unflinching support for Venezuela’s socialist revolution got them rejected from a much-needed source of funding.