UN lauds Chavez, Palestine mourns a friend

Palestinians hold a vigil outside the Venezuelan consulate in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 6.

The United Nations General Assembly paid tribute to late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez during a special ceremony on March 13, Venezuela Analysis said the next day. The ceremony hailed Chavez's “commitment to social justice and advocacy for society’s most vulnerable groups”, the article said.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said Hugo Chavez was “one of those leaders that really made a difference in his country, his region, and in the world”. The UN leader said Chavez would be remembered for giving a voice to the most vulnerable, promoting Latin American integration, and improving the lives of the poor, Venezuela Analysis said.

“Let’s honor the legacy that the President of Venezuela leaves us by renewing our commitment to keep working for the noble goals of peace, democracy, and development,” said Ban.

Venezuela Analysis said the ceremony opened with a minute of silence on the floor of the General Assembly for Chavez, who died on March 5. UN ambassadors from Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, Santa Lucia, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and El Salvador also spoke at the event, lauding Chavez’s work in uniting Latin American nations.

Palestinians have also mourned Chavez. “The Palestinians loved Hugo Chavez because he loved them,” Hazem Balousha said in an Al-Monitor.com article on March 11. “They loved him for providing them with political support and for outwardly opposing US and Israeli policy.”

Balousha said that despite their internal differences, “Palestinians of all backgrounds were united in their sorrow over the Venezuelan leader's death. They considered his passing a great loss for the Palestinian cause, which has never had a supporter that matched Chavez.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from Fatah, said in a statement: “With the passing of our friend Chavez, the Palestinian people and their national movement lost a mainstay of support in the struggle for justice, freedom and independence ...

“The Palestinian people will be forever grateful to Chavez. His courageous support for our right to establish our own independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital will always remain etched in our people’s collective memory.”

Hamas also sent its condolences to Venezuela, Balousha said, “whose government it described as a friend to Gaza and its people”.

Hamas praised Chavez’s support for Palestine, saying: “During his life he was a freedom fighter and supporter of the Palestinian cause, a defender of the Palestinian people and their freedom, standing up to Israeli aggression toward the Gaza Strip.”

The left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine expressed its sorrow over his death and the loss of a global leader who upheld “truth and good” in the face of “oppression and darkness”.

Nafez Azzam, a member of Islamic Jihad’s political bureau, expressed his group’s extreme sadness over Chavez’s death and its gratitude for his courageous support for the Palestinian cause.

In response to Israel's brutal 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead bombardment of Gaza, Chavez expelled Israel's ambassador from Venezuela and withdrew Venezuela's ambassador from Tel Aviv. Balousha recalled Chavez said at the time: “There is no point in dealing with Israel.”

Belousha reported that in private gatherings, Palestinians exchange stories extolling the late president and expressed their admiration for him and their grief over the loss.

Dozens of activists organised a moment of silence in front of the Venezuelan consulate in Ramallah and downtown in Manara Square, holding images of Chavez and Venezuelan flags and taking part in marches and vigils.

Balousha pointed out that Venezuela was the first country in the world to allow Palestinians to enter without obtaining a visa beforehand. Venezuelan universities also grant Palestinian students scholarships that allow them to study free of charge to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation.

Balousha recalled Chavez's statement: “If this world had any conscience, the Israeli president would be dragged to an international court and with him the US president.”