Dispatches, Venezuela

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.


[…] Pro-Chávez community organizations in New York’s South Bronx that once received generous grants from the Venezuelan government have seen their funding dry up — and they want to know why. Juan Fajardo reports. […]

Gracias, Juan Victor, for your article. As the producer of the documentary I want to let your readers know that the film is making its rounds in festivals. It has been screened in the South Bronx on three different occasions and as is the trend, those who have claimed that PetroBRONX had been “hyjacked” chose not to attend as they have chosen not to be a part of the process. These public & community screening have provided us with feedback, comments, & suggestions that we’ve taken into account in our documentary. It also gave the PetroBRONX Collective the chance to pursue its goals and form a support base.

I was there throughout the initial three years (& the two prior years), recording. In our recording, Domingo de la Cruz invites President Chavez to create a reciprocal network & support a collective of organizers & activists working in the South Bronx to address chronic social & environmental problems.

Those accused of having hyjacked the collective were those most involved. They took on the tasks, duties, and above all the responsibilities necessary and made the process transparent. At any point in time, anyone so interested could have attended & observed what was going on, how, by whom, & why.

The ties with Chavez & Venezuela were ties made with the thought in mind of being reciprocal with the people & their president who offered much needed support to those on the ground working to resolve chronic issues in the South Bronx. Movements & revolutions have their epi-center, as do earthquakes, Cuba, not Venezuela, is the epi-center for the model that took shape in Venezuela as the Bolviarian Movement. Its goal, as it is for PetroBRONX, is to reach out across borders and PetroBRONX is well aware of that. To add, the collective was taking steps towards those goals. That current was opposed by those whose own goals were self-centered and parochial.

Therefore political education became an integrated part of PetroBRONX’ mission. The objective is to demonstrate gratitude, second pledge mutual support, & third in spread the principles of the social movement by serving as a living example. By incorporating those aims in their respective programs & projects, service, improvement, and development was being undertaken at the local level and expanding outward. Attending forums, summits, conferences, and creating encounters in the South Bronx & other places (all of which PetroBRONX has done in the absence of those who would criticize or condemn the collective), screening the video and being present to answer questions, distribute information, etc the goal was being accomplished.

There are several things here that are ironic. First the claim of not being or supporting “sectarian” or politicized” groups. The choices made in year four (2011) along those very lines. If you are going to claim to be involved call it a movement or a revolution for the purpose of creating change, you can’t be neutral. Every funding entity has its goals, missions, focus, & prerequisites. If you don’t meet the above you are not eligible for funding. They are called criteria.

One criteria was that you had under a $300K annual budget. Second is that your central offices and target are of service is the South Bronx. Another is whether you have other funding resources. Most of those groups, projects, & programs not receiving funds in 2011 are groups who don’t have other funding resources. The PetroBRONX source was a prime source of revenue and an means or generating the momentum to become self sufficient. Take a tour of the areas where the current recipients are located and you will find that of four groups receiving funding under the Bolivar Foundation whose doors are locked.

Having been present and involved in the grant cycle, I know that among those who are receiving funding in 2011 whether or not they, in fact, met the criteria. From first hand experience, I know of the allowances & concessions made to permit those who don’t have the language skills to follow fill out an application let alone write a proposal. Those allowances have bitten PetroBRONX in the ‘you know where’.

While PetroBRONX may not be receiving funding from neither the Bolivar Foundation or CITGO (and they may never from this point on), the collective has managed to continue. It has taken steps to incorporate, pool their resources and merge out of necessity. AfterDark CATV PRO is continuing its documentation of the collective for a sequel documentary.

Gracias, de nuevo, Juan Victor por su periodismo. LKet me know if you want a Spanish language version.

Felix Leo Campos

Gracias a ti, Felix, por haberle echado un vistazo y por aclarar algunas cosas.

I will be in back in Brooklyn Sept. 1st. Te llamo al llegar para que charlemos.

¡Saludos desde Bolivia!

Juan Víctor Fajardo

Lucia Solano says:

Hola Víctor Fajardo.
Gracias por publicar el documento, es lo primero que se publica de forma abierta al publico, me gustaría que el presidente Hugo Chávez Frías pudiera leer esto en un momento de reposo en su Twitter.
No me arrepiento de haber actuado como lo hice, es mi conciencia la que habla, es mi sentir por un mundo mejor, ya que con dinero o sin el seguiré apoyando la justicia mundial y los nuevos cambios que se están produciendo en nuestra América, es momento de terminar con el hambre, la falta de medicina, las paupérrimas viviendas, la falta de educación liberadora, la justicia Social, entre otras. Eso mencionado anteriormente es lo que promueve el presidente Bolivariano y son las cosas que hay que darle soporte.

Saludo especial

Gracias por tu comentario, Lucia. Un saludo solidario desde La Paz.

[…] us on Flickr   Latest CommentsJuan Víctor Fajardo on Venezuelan Funds Dry Up For Hugo Chávez Supporters In New YorkLucia Solano on Venezuelan Funds Dry Up For Hugo Chávez Supporters In New YorkJuan Víctor Fajardo […]

RB says:

Mr. Farjardo, the Funds have NOT DRIED UP. For FY11, CITGO and the Simon Bolivar Foundation still continues its fundamental commitment of distributing over $1.2 million to South Bronx organizations. Yes, it is disappointing and the film fades to black when nonprofits organizations that do great community work do not receive funds. However, the dependency on ONE source of funding has to stop. Nonprofits (small, midsize and large) MUST diversity its resources (via Board Development and Individual Giving Strategies) and NOT depend on foundations and corporations to fill the gaps to accomplish its goals and objectives. According to US Giving Foundation statistics, over 70% of funds come from individual donors. This is the time for organizations to starting focusing on capacity building.

[…] To Find Work After CollegeAutopsy Reveals Chile’s Salvador Allende Committed Suicide on Venezuelan Funds Dry Up For Hugo Chávez Supporters In New YorkJuan Víctor Fajardo on Venezuelan Funds Dry Up For Hugo Chávez Supporters In New YorkLucia Solano […]

While we want to avoid any bochinche, we also want to express our gratitude to all the initial constructive Petro Bronx members, Citgo and the Simon Bolivar Foundation for the support they have committed to over the years and into the future for a variety of South Bronx organizations. As the Director of Friends of Brook Park, we did not receive funding when this initiative kicked off, but we were glad to see fellow organizations engaged in good work get this vital support, even as we hustled for other sources of funding and resources. I wonder how best to be helpful and constructive when engaged with a diverse array of energies, some not familiar with non-violent communication techniques or holistic health practices, and I like to refrain from hating on my fellow Bronxites. In any case, thanks to current support from the Simon Bolivar Foundation we are able to provide free outdoor educational activities and on-water canoe experiences to South Bronx youth and adults. If you are an organization and want to arrange a free trip thanks to their support, please contact us through http://www.friendsofbrookpark.org. There is a great deal for all of us to learn here and beyond. P’alante, nunca patra!

[…] She answered that the organization “continues to struggle on,” but that it hit a roadblock this year, when the pro-Chavez grassroots organizations in the South Bronx were defunded. […]

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