Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor. He was committed to empowering the powerless.R.I.P. Mr. President.
- Jose E. Serrano (@RepJoseSerrano) March 5, 2013
Serrano, whose New York district covers part of the Bronx, also released a lengthy written statement praising Chavez and recounting an invited visit to his district in 2005.
"I met President Chavez in 2005 when he came to my district at my invitation," Serrano wrote. "His focus on the issues faced by the poor and disenfranchised in his country made him a truly revolutionary leader in the history of Latin America. He understood that after 400 years on the outside of the established power structure looking in, it was time that the poor had a chance at seeing their problems and issues addressed. His core belief was in the dignity and common humanity of all people in Venezuela and in the world."
Serrano recounted that Chavez offered discounted home heating oil to struggling residents in his district. He acknowledged that Chavez was a controversial figure, while noting that "it is important to remember that he was democratically-elected many times in elections that were declared free and fair by international monitors."
Serrano wrote, "At his core he was a man who came from very little and used his unique talents and gifts to try to lift up the people and the communities that reflected his impoverished roots. He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden."
The Republican National Committee pounced on Serrano's comments Tuesday evening.
"It's simply insulting that a Democrat Congressman would praise the authoritarian ruler Hugo Chavez," RNC spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi wrote in a statement emailed to reporters. "Chavez systematically cracked down on the basic freedom and liberties of Venezuelans, nationalized private industries, and befriended anti-American dictators like Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Assad. Americans should stand together with the freedom loving people of Venezuela as they hope for a peaceful transition to a democracy, instead of praising the former dictator."