By Owei Lakemfa
ARISTOBULO Isturiz Almedia. He looked every inch a Nigerian. His stocky frame and face bone structure suggest he is from the South-South or South East of Nigeria. He had a striking resemblance to one of my late uncles. In the streets of Abuja, Lagos, Yenagoa or Onitsha, he would have melted perfectly into the population. Perhaps what would have stood him out is that he speaks Spanish. Who knows, his ancestors might have been taken from Nigeria to the Caribbean and Latin America.
But he is Venezuelan. In fact, His Excellency Almedia is the Vice President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The country’s ambassador, David Nieves Velasquez Caraballo, had notified me that Almedia would be in Nigeria as guest at the Nigeria Democracy Day celebrations and wanted me to be part of the activities planned for him on June 13.
I met him along with some labour leaders at the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, offices. This seemed quite appropriate because Almeida, a teacher by profession, was leader of the Venezuelan Teachers Association. He was in Nigeria to represent President Nicholas Maduro, a former bus driver and trade unionist who was a leader of the Venezuelan Transport Workers. Coincidentally, the acting president of the NLC who received Almeida, was Najeem Yasin, the president of the Nigerian National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW.
So it was like a meeting of Nigerian and Venezuelan trade unionists. We then moved with him to a meeting with ambassadors of various countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Namibia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Palestine, Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq, Mexico and the Philippines. Almedia briefed them about the situation in his country and why the United States prefers a coup rather than democracy in Venezuela.
Then we all moved to the NLC conference hall where hundreds of people, including school pupils, pro-people civil society organisations, social activists, trade unionists and journalists had gathered. It was a forum on the “Impact of the United States blockade on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”.
Pupils of the Hugo Chavez Primary School in Karu Local Government, Nasarawa State, opened the forum with a Gbyagi dance drama, after which the head teacher, Mrs. Saratu Gimba, told Vice President Almedia: “We don’t have the power, but we will fight through prayers for you.”
Hugo Chavez, the immediate past president of Venezuela had offered 29 young Nigerians scholarship to study in his country. Twenty four graduated as medical doctors and five as engineers. This group was at the forum to express solidarity with the Venezuelan people and government. Their spokesperson, Dr. Baboshiya Peter-Sheyin said the Nigerians were part of citizens from 36 countries who benefited from the Chavez programme. Eliciting applause from the audience she said: “We are back to our country; to give back to our country, Nigeria.”
Dr. Peter-Sheyin who spoke in English and Spanish, declared: “I stand here to say I am against the United States and Trump’s attacks against Venezuela.”
Mr. Oladimeji Macaulay, coordinator of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in Nigeria told the forum: “The United States is becoming a legal terrorist organisation fighting people everywhere around the world.” He asked people not to believe the American propaganda against Venezuela as they mask the fact that Venezuelans have a right to the basic needs of life, including having free education and healthcare. You will hear Maduro is a dictator, but not that the Venezuelan government feeds the people.”
Amidst anti-American chants like “Trump unblock Venezuela!” and “Yankees, go away!” Macaulay said: “The crisis in Venezuela is not from God, but one generated by the United States…It is not the failure of socialism, it is the US interest in Venezuelan oil and gold.”
The Amilcar Cabral Ideological School, ACIS, argued that every country, including Venezuela, has a right to decide its future. Mr. Gado Hussein Titus who spoke on behalf of ACIS added: “When you have oil, America comes after you. America is a country that gives you a cap, and then demands your head.”
Cuban ambassador in Nigeria, Carlos Trejo, said the US has spent the last sixty years blockading his country and imposing sanctions like they are now doing to Venezuela but added that the American state will never succeed. He told the forum: “Venezuela is fighting for all of us in Latin America and Africa. Venezuelans have decided to die on their feet rather than live on their knees…The defence of Venezuela is a priority for all revolutionaries in the world. Venezuela is a bad example for the United States because it is a threat to the survival of imperialism, but not to the American people.”
Vice President Almeida told the forum the genesis of Venezuela’s differences with America and its allies: “Venezuela used to be in the orbit of the United States; our duty was to provide cheap resources to the Americans and provide them market for their goods. They never allowed us to use our resources for ourselves. That was the case until Hugo came and we took control of our oil, gas, coal tar, diamond and gold.”
Almeida who said the Venezuelan government caters for the basic needs of the citizens said the government delivered 2,600,000 houses to its 30 million population and met the millennium goals far ahead of the United Nations’ timeframe.
Almeida informed that when President Hugo Chavez lay dying, he told Venezuelans that the US will strike against them and that it was, therefore, necessary for them to elect Maduro in order to continue the defence of the country. He said the Americans, as they did in Chile and overthrew the elected government of President Salvador Allende, had vowed: “We are going to make your economy scream”. He said that is exactly what the US is doing: using its control of the international financial system, the dollar and international economy to cripple Venezuela. Almeida claimed the US administration is punishing banks and shipping companies doing business with Venezuela. He said Venezuelan gold reserves and finances are being illegally seized and the country is not allowed to pay for food and medicines.
Ambassador Caraballo provided documents to back up the vice president’s claims. They showed that as at April 30, 2019, 50 international banks and financial institutions in 22 countries have withheld, frozen or confiscated $5,470,030,645.30 belonging to Venezuela. The figures showed that the Novo Banco in Portugal is sitting on $1,547,322,175.89 Venezuelan money while the Bank of England is holding on to $1,323,228,162.57 worth of gold. Three banks in US: Sumitomo, Union Bank and Citibank, are holding on to $1,195,946,494 Venezuelan cash.
When Vice President Almeida told the forum in Abuja that these were “illegal and criminal sanctions”, the audience clapped continuously in agreement. I agree, so would conscientious humanity.