Ambassador meets with homeless advocates

04/23/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, the ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United States, will speak tonight at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. This morning Ambassador Álvarez met with homeless advocates in South St. Petersburg.

This week, the so-called “Bishop of the Poor,” Fernando Lugo, was elected President of Paraguay. Ambassador Álvarez said Lugo’s victory proves there is an “irreversible trend” in Latin America toward “much more responsible, socially oriented” governments with “strong participation of popular movements.”

“People thought that President Chavez was an accident and everything was okay in Latin American with the old neoliberal model and then there was, you know, this accident of Venezuela and President Chavez. And Lugo tells you that that is not an accident. This is a whole new trend in Latin America of the way that people are looking at politics, the way that people are taking responsibility over their own lives and a revolution of participation.”

In March, the Colombian military crossed its border with Ecuador and attacked the leftist rebel group FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. A FARC commander and about 20 others were killed. Following the incident, Ecuador and Venezuela rushed troops to their borders with Colombia. Ambassador Álvarez called rejecting preventive attacks “the only way to preserve peace.”

“Of course it was a violation of the sovereignty of Ecuador by Colombia, we understand … with the help and support from the U.S. -- they have military agreements. But the good thing is, in a meeting in the Dominican Republic of the so called 'Rio Summit,' and then in the Organization of American States where we were dealing with this very complex issue, it was clear that in the Hemisphere we will not accept the doctrine of preventive war and it was clear in the two meetings that under any circumstances we will accept that the sovereignty of one county is violated. I think this is huge and is very important, particularly in these years of preventive war.”

After the price of oil began its unprecedented inflation earlier this decade, the government of Venezuela, a major oil producing country, began a program in which it would provide low-cost heating oil to some Americans who were having difficulty affording it, Álvarez said.

“What we do is through nonprofit organizations, we give them [heating oil] directly the heating oil and it results in a savings for people between 40 and 45 percent. In real terms it means they can basically buy what they were buying before [2005’s Hurricane] Katrina and the energy prices, when the whole thing of the prices of oil started. We started with three [or] four states. Last year we had 19 states and we impacted almost 500,000 families, a lot of homeless shelters, where we give no discount, but the full donation, and 250 Indian tribes, Native American tribes.”

WMNF asked Álvarez why, despite his country’s oil wealth, there was still poverty in Venezuela. He said that poverty has been reduced during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, but it has been done in an unorthodox way, including through Communal Councils.

“The only way of really solving the problem of poverty is if you give power to people, if you let them organize and if you transfer to them the political decisions. And this is the whole concept of participatory democracy. And now for example, there is a revolution of participation in Venezuela through particularly a new institution that we have created, they are called Communal Councils. They have been receiving funding directly from the state, the local and regional government to enhance participation.”

Álvarez met Wednesday morning in South St. Petersburg with homeless advocates at a new transitional house for homeless adults hosted by Living Water Community Ministries.

“While people are talking about the political differences we have, in the end you come here and sit with people facing the same kind of problem that we face in Venezuela, in Latin America. And there is a much more clear dialog – cooperation comes immediately, and there is a willingness to cooperate, to understand best practices and to share experiences and to work together.”

WMNF spoke with residents of the transitional housing, who cooked breakfast for Ambassador Álvarez and the local advocates for the homeless. Cory Ferranti has been in the house for about three weeks, just after it opened.

Living Water Community Ministries owns two adjacent houses on 22nd Avenue South; one is transitional housing for men and the other is for women.

Penny Lampley is from North Carolina, but came to Florida about a month ago and was homeless until she moved into the transitional housing on Monday. She said living there is more than just a place to sleep.

To learn more about the Living Water Community Ministries’ transitional housing for homeless adults, call (727) 851-5131. The Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United States, Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, will speak tonight at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg at 7:30 p.m. in Fox Hall. For more information, call (727) 864-7979.

Learn more:

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United States of America

Ambassador Álvarez

Hear the full WMNF interview with Ambassador Álvarez

Venezuela Information Office

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