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Chavez supporters call on Victoria council to undo some of the damage done by PM

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez want Victoria city council to issue an official statement of condolences to the controversial leader’s family and country.

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez want Victoria city council to issue an official statement of condolences to the controversial leader’s family and country.

They are unhappy with the Canadian government’s official response to his death, says Carlos Flores, who organized a memorial for Chavez that was held in the Fernwood Community Association building Sunday night.

Last Tuesday, the day Chavez lost his two-year battle with cancer at age 58, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he hopes the death will bring a more promising future for the Venezuelan people.

His statement offered “condolences to the people of Venezuela,” but not to Chavez’s family.

Flores called Harper’s words “offensive.”

“Mr. Harper doesn’t speak for all Canadians,” said Flores, a member of the Central America Support Committee.

“We want our council to be our voice.”

While Victoria council members won’t make an immediate motion, they will likely consider one next week, following protocol, said acting mayor Chris Coleman.

Municipal representatives from across the country also discussed Harper’s statement during meetings of the national board for the federation of Canadian municipalities and its international relations standing committee, Coleman said.

“It was noted in a number of places that the prime minister’s comments were not as supportive of the trauma of the moment as they might have been,” he said.

While responding to international events is unusual for city council, it’s not unheard of, he said.

“We’re always dealing with a range of things going on [that’s] not specific to the mandate of a municipality,” he said. “We also have a role in Victoria as a capital city, which gives us both the opportunity and responsibility to cast our minds to a more global circle.”

Venezuela sent a formal protest to the federal government last Wednesday after Harper issued his statement.

Flores said at Sunday’s meeting that Harper’s “disrespectful and unwarranted declaration … is not something we endorse or want to let go just like that without a challenge.”

He wants civic authorities to declare their respect for the national sovereignty of other nations as well as for democracy.

During his 14 years in office, Chavez led a leftist revival across Latin America and was a strong voice against free-market economies. Some called him a hero for championing the poor, while opponents criticized his economic policies and complained that he had muzzled the Venezuelan press.

Gisela Lara Toro, who represents Venezuela’s consulate general in Vancouver, called him a hero.

“I’m from what you could call the ‘Chavez generation,’ ” she said.

“I spent a big part of my adolescence listening to his speeches, to his thoughts, to everything he had to teach us.”

As the daughter of the late Willian Lara, the former president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Lara Toro knew Chavez personally.

“It feels like a great loss of a wonderful human being,” she said.

About 30 people arrived at the memorial, some wearing track suits inspired by the Venezuelan flag and T-shirts bearing the late president’s face. The majority of attendees were not Venezuelan but identified with Chavez.

“I came here because I follow the politics of Latin America very closely. I’m from Africa myself, but I believe that Chavez stands for very cardinal principles that are close to ours,” said social worker Alfredo Okot Amuka.

Others were there to learn.

“I had a bad taste in my mouth when I heard the message [the prime minister] sent the Venezuelan people and I didn’t want to be a part of it,” said letter carrier Joann Cook. “And I wanted to learn more.”

asmart@timescolonist.comm