NEW YORK — Reinaldo Bolivar, Venezuela’s deputy prime minister of foreign affairs, told an audience here that the government of Hugo Chavez has made a historic turn toward Africa.

Speaking at an April 5 forum at the City College of New York, Bolivar said that for 200 years prior to the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela had diplomatic relations with only seven of 54 African nations. Today the government has relations with 42 and is pursuing diplomatic relations with the remaining 12.

As one facet of these newfound ties, he said, Venezuela is providing medicine, food and construction materials to several African nations, and giving assistance to campaigns aimed at eradicating illiteracy.

Bolivar noted that the majority of Venezuela’s population has African origins, but prior to the Bolivarian Revolution the country’s elite thought little was to be gained from having diplomatic and economic ties with the continent. Many diplomats, for example, disdained what they called “the dark continent.”

Today, he said, the Venezuelan people and government place great emphasis on building stronger ties with Africa, Asia and Latin America. He said Venezuela seeks to build a powerful economic bloc of these nations with the aim of “combating the pain of poverty in the world.”

The event’s sponsors included the Black Radical Congress.