Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – and the U.S. oil company that pumps his nation’s oil – got a big "Gracias!" this week from the South Bronx.
The thanks was for $3 million in donations to various nonprofit borough groups.
Hundreds gathered at the Hunts Point Riverside Park Monday to welcome and thank the ambassador from the U.S.’s fourth-largest oil-providing nation, and executives from Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-run oil company.
"For all intents and purposes, this is an American company. Ninety percent of its employees are here, they pay taxes here, they are held accountable here," said Rep. Jose Serrano, who worked with Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez to provide the grants.
"The only difference is they’re putting money back into the communities they get their money from," he said.
The three-year grants will go to nine community-based organizations devoted to social justice and environmental change in the Bronx.
The idea is one of many by Venezuela’s firebrand president, Hugo Chavez, and part of his "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas."
But his largesse also is easily seen as a dig at President Bush, whom Chavez famously called "the devil" in a speech at the UN.
Serrano (D-South Bronx), who hosted Fidel Castro on a Bronx visit more than a decade ago, struck up a relationship with Chavez after he visited the borough two years ago and earmarked 25 million gallons of Citgo’s home heating oil to be sold at a 40% discounted rate to poor Americans. Three Bronx non-profits helped distribute it to 8,000 impoverished residents.
Serrano defended the political implication of the new funding from Citgo.
The grant recipients are Casa Atabex Ache, GreenWorker Cooperatives, Mount Hope Housing, Servicios de Educación Básica, Sistas on the Rise and the new South Bronx Food Coop, as well as environmental organizations Rocking the Boat, The Point and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.
They did not seem to mind the political implications.
"This is allowing us to do more demonstration projects than we were able to before, and community projects," said Alexie Torres-Fleming, executive director for Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, which educates communities about the damage of pollution.