Venezuela’s Parliament Honors Martin Luther King with Jesse Jackson as Featured Speaker

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Venezuelan indigenous National Assembly Deputy Nohelí Pocaterra, and President Chavez honored Dr. King's "I have a Dream speech" in Caracas.

Caracas, Aug 29, 2005 ( Venezuela’s National Assembly held yesterday a special session to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, with Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former aide of Dr. King, as a featured speaker.

Jackson is on a three-day visit to Venezuela, to honor Dr. King, meet with local religious leaders, Afro-Venezuelan groups, President Hugo Chavez, and to visit some poor-neighborhoods to see Venezuela’s social programs at work.

Venezuelan indigenous National Assembly Deputy Nohelí Pocaterra addressed the Parliament in her native Wayuú tongue and later in Spanish, highlighting relevant aspects of Dr. King’s speech.

Pocaterra compared Dr. King’s struggle for peace and equality, with that being carried through by Venezuelan President Chavez for the equality of all Venezuelans.

Later, Rev Jackson addressed the Assembly thanking President Chavez for his commitment to the poor. "Let me express my sincere thanks to President Hugo Chavez, democratically elected leader of Venezuela, whose vision of inclusion and commitment to lifting the poor addresses the moral imperative of our time," Jackson said.

The Reverend the led a prayer for Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow who is currently hospitalized after suffering a stroke.

Jackson went on to praise Simón Bolívar, the South American independence hero, who was born in Venezuela. "It is good to be in the land of Simon Bolivar, one of the great liberators of this hemisphere. The roots of the revolution, led by Bolivar, were rooted hunger and poverty. The great battleground for the defense and expansion of freedom today, in the whole southern half of the globe, is that of the rising peoples’ seeking an end to tyranny and justice, exploitation, more than an end they seek a new beginning," he said.

For the Reverend, this is a critical moment in the history of the Western Hemisphere, "North America and its relationship with its neighbors, nations emerging from the shackles of centuries of exploitation and tyranny."

Jackson praised Venezuela’s Commission on the Prevention and Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In spite of the fact that most Venezuelans are a mix of Spaniard, African, and Indigenous, prejudices and discrimination persists, as evidenced by the fact that Venezuelan soap operas mostly featured dark skin Venezuelans as servants or criminals. "All of these efforts, facing the pain of racial and religious scars, seeking reconciliation, have value," Jackson said.

The Reverend praised the Venezuelan government "focus on foreign debt, debt relief, free-trade and fair trade to overcome years of structural disorder, unnecessary military spending, land reform…these are some of the great themes of our time. They can change our world condition."

Jackson said Venezuela can find inspiration and learn from Dr. King’s world view as Venezuela "assume its position in the world’s leadership and its rightful place in the family of nations."

The U.S. religious leader also took the opportunity to honor the memory of Emmett Till, an African American boy who was lynched in the U.S. state of Mississippi after he was accused of having whistled at a white woman. "He was one in the long legacy of 5000 lynchings, most of which were faith based lynchings, conducted after church on Sundays with some twisted theological notion that God had blessed this demonic action. It was religion at its worst that conformed to the worst in the culture," Jackson said.

The Reverend went on to mention Rosa Parks legacy in the struggle of African Americans. Parks refused to obey U.S. apartheid laws that forced African Americans to sit at the back of buses. "Her act of civil disobedience, for which she was willing to pay the price to end the rein of terror, got her arrested."

Jackson went on to describe relevant aspects of Dr. King’s struggle, such as boycotts, mass mobilizations, legal action, litigation, massive non-violent direct action, that led to the enactment of the 1964 law to apartheid in public accommodations and the right to vote in 1965.

"He was killed on that journey as he sought to help garbage workers in their quest for their right to organize and have livable wages and job security," he added.

The U.S. civil rights leader highlighted the fact that Venezuela made slavery illegal before the U.S. did. "You in Venezuela ended the system of slavery in 1854".

Our message is clear, Jackson continued, "Dr. King’s message is clear today as it was 40 years ago, embrace democracy, Human Rights measured by one yard stick, end poverty, a good neighbor policy. We are inextricably bound, and a fairer distribution of wealth makes all of us more secure."

Jackson said the right to democratize and vote is a critical first step. "We must democratize access to health care, education, and housing. Without an agenda of economic security, democracy is just recycling poverty."

Jackson describe Dr. King, as a "liberation theologian" whose dream included challenging the U.S. to honor the broken promises of the past, a new paradigm of relations, of renewed hope, and a new vision of a new world order, for the poor to be exalted and unshackled, where racism, sexism, excessive militarism, colonialism, apartheid, would give way to the affirmation of all of humanity.

"Today, the radical polarization between the very wealthy that lives in the surplus, and the very poor that live in the deficit and abounding poverty, is an unnatural gap. The rich are not getting richer because they are working harder. The poor are not poor because they are working less. Thus Dr. King’s last mission was to organize a Poor People’s Campaign," he added.

Jackson said King’s struggle continues today. "Since 1963, much has changed in America and the world. And much remains the same. The struggle for fairness, equal protection, equal opportunity, self-determination, the struggle to defend the poor and the needy, a fairer distribution of wealth and resources, continues in the face of the hostility of the vested interests, power and domination of the few."

The war in Iraq makes the world less secure, according to Jackson. He argued that the war does not address U.S. national security.

The Reverend condemned calls by U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson to assassinate President Chavez. "It was such a repugnant, immoral, illegal statement," he said, demanding the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate.

He also linked Robertson’ statements to U.S. recent efforts to isolate the Chavez government. "Secretary Rumsfeld was in the region saying Venezuela is a menace, a threat to regional stability. Rev. Pat Robertson said that is true, therefore, rather than pay the price of war, let us assassinate him."

"All of those ideas, the politics of isolation and assassination, must give way to reconciliation and reconstruction… we must pursue good neighbor policies," Jackson added.

The Reverend hailed Nelson Mandela’s struggle for equality. "He turned pain into liberation for all, not retribution for the former oppressed."

He later urged President Chavez to make good use of his leadership and the abundant resources at his disposal. "In this great nation, President Chavez has the mandate and opportunity to create a new paradigm. A nation of Latinos, Africans, Jews, Indians, light skinned, dark skinned, poor and rich. There are abundant resources here to create a one big tent, shared security Democracy," he said.

Chavez praises Dr. King

During his speech before the Organization of American States (OAS) representatives in Caracas, Chavez highlighted Dr. King’s "I have a Dream" speech.

"To remember Martin Luther King means that his memory, the spirit and dreams are alive more than ever among us… remembering Martin Luther King illuminate us with hope and it illuminates this meeting, this dialog, because of his dream of a world of equals, his dream of a just world," Chavez said during his speech at the OAS ministerial meeting to discuss Venezuela’s proposal for a Social Charter of the Americas.

Chavez then cited Christ’s words with regard to a "kingdom of equality, freedom and peace being based on justice."

"Dr. King spoke about about the road towards the palace of justice, and that made me remember of Bolivar, who said that justice must be the queen of all virtues," Chavez added.

"[Dr. King] spoke of the luminous day of brotherhood and fraternity. Bolivar also spoke of a future luminous day, that of America, where there is the greatest sum of happiness possible," he said, comparing Dr. King’s aspirations to those of South American independence hero Simón Bolívar.

Chavez said that the best way to honor Dr. King’s memory is to continue to fight for his dreams to realize the U.S. aspiration of "all men being created equal."

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