Venezuela exports solidarity: Citgo sponsors Puerto Rican festival

CHICAGO — Fiesta Boricua, the annual Puerto Rican community festival in Humboldt Park here, got a lifeline from an unusual source. Venezuelan-owned Citgo donated $100,000, half of the festival’s cost, so the show could go forward on Labor Day weekend.

In what could be called a skillful move by Venezuelan officials, the sponsorship comes at a time when the Bush administration has increased its attacks on Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, and the country’s Bolivarian Revolution. In response, Venezuela has initiated people-to-people, grassroots diplomacy and solidarity to counter the Bush administration assault.

“By showing that we are exporting solidarity and not bombs, we hope it will inspire people in the United States to say, ‘Hey, that country and President Chavez are not what the media says they are, because we’ve been helped,’” Martin Sanchez, the Venezuelan consul general in Chicago, said.

Venezuela has offered to create a way to export affordable heating oil for poor people in the United States, millions in aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and free eye surgery for citizens in the Americas.

Sponsorship of Fiesta Boricua also provides a chance to publicize “Venezuela Matters,” Sanchez said. “Venezuela Matters,” a multimedia cultural exhibit, will go on a six-city tour that starts here Oct. 13 (see PWW 9/3-9).

Although some residents may be upset by Citgo’s sponsorship, most will probably appreciate the solidarity. Chicago Alderman Billy Ocasio drew loud cheers when he singled out Venezuela for its help “when it looked like this festival wasn’t going to happen” at a Sept. 1 event.

Reporting by Oscar Avila of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this story.