CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez told a packed crowd at the Poliedro Stadium here, “The people of the United States are indispensable to saving to world, united with the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.” He said capitalism is destroying the world, and that unless the planet goes socialist, “I’m afraid it may not see the 22nd century.” His remarks, which evoked thunderous applause, were part of a long-awaited speech to the participants of the sixth World Social Forum on the evening of Jan. 27.

Chávez attended the public gathering after spending an afternoon giving out certificates to graduates of an experimental literacy project, Robinson Mission II, which not only teaches adults to read and write, but also brings them up to a sixth-grade education level.

The event at the stadium, billed as a “Mass action against imperialism,” was opened by the Rev. Marcelo Barros, a Brazilian Benedictine monk. Barros said that before he entered the stadium he was asked by a young man if he was there to “bless” the Bolivarian Revolution. He replied, “Your Revolution, our Revolution, needs no blessing. It is She who blesses us.” Barros said a revolution is an act of love, echoing Ché Guevara’s famous words that “revolutionaries must be guided by great feelings of love” toward other human beings.

Chávez said he saw the process in his country as a continuation of the struggles of Tupac Amaru, the indigenous leader who fought the Spanish conquerors, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in Mexico, the Nicaraguan Augusto Sandino and the Brazilian communist Luis Carlos Prestes. He lastly gave a tribute to the Salvadoran communist and leader of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, Schafik Handal, who died of a heart attack in San Salvador two days before. Handal was stricken at the airport as he was returning from the inauguration of the new progressive Bolivian president, Evo Morales.

Chávez said that the elections in Latin America of progressive regimes are also part of this forward process. “We are going to give the right on this continent the biggest defeat in 500 years,” he declared.

He noted how in the pro-Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) summit held in Quebec City in 2001, “Venezuela stood alone against the FTAA because Cuba was excluded.” Today the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay have joined Venezuela and Cuba in opposition to the FTAA, which would, if implemented, give total control of the hemisphere’s economy to mostly U.S. transnational corporations.

“Venezuela will never again be a U.S. colony,” he declared to a standing ovation. “Oil will be for the poor, the people, not controlled by foreigners.”

While blasting the policies of U.S. corporations and the Bush administration, the Venezuelan president lauded the people of the United States, noting that Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte had recently visited the country. While there, Belafonte called Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world.” He reiterated those words when he returned to the U.S.

Chávez called attention to the presence of Cindy Sheehan on the speakers platform, sitting together with Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s parliament; Aleida Guevara, Ché Guevara’s daughter; and others from the Americas. He called Sheehan, in English, “Mrs. Hope.” Afterwards, he led the crowd in chanting, “Long live the people of the United States — we are counting on you.”

He said that the Bush administration’s pre-emptive war policies were “killing U.S. youth and Iraqis.” He asked people to imagine the U.S. with a government that would “declare peace on the world” and retire all military bases and soldiers from the planet.

“Imagine that the $400 billion used for aggression were being used for education, health” and other human needs, Chávez said. He said that if Cuba and Venezuela can, with limited means, do so much to combat social ills, imagine what could be done “if the governments of the world, starting with the U.S., worked against sickness and poverty.” He added the U.S. working class was a “giant” that needed to be awakened to “join the struggle for justice.”

Chávez also called on the World Social Forum movement to develop a united plan of work and action, and not just talk about the issues. At the same time he hailed the Forum’s interest in the Bolivarian Revolution and its activities against neoliberal policies around the world. Such activities, he said, give hope to the Venezuelan people.

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