Jesse Jackson (shown), Sean Penn, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined dozens of world leaders to mourn the passing of Hugo Chávez at the former Venezuelan dictator’s funeral in Caracas on March 8. The Reverend Jackson, a longtime friend and defender of the virulently anti-United States, Marxist Chávez, delivered a prayer/eulogy (video available at link below) praising Chávez as a “great leader” and “mourning” his passing.
Jackson’s prayer was simultaneously translated into Spanish for the assembled dignitaries and the millions who watched worldwide via television. Although Jackson’s participation in the funeral ceremonies did not receive major U.S. coverage, the full prayer was broadcast over many international news channels, including Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite TV channel.
In his eulogy, Rev. Jackson said:
Life is uncertain. A life of service is what matters.... We measure a great leader by how he treats the least of these. Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams. And so, today we do mourn because we lost a life....
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed Jackson by satellite while he was still in Caracas. The CNN host asked Jackson how he would respond to critics who would fault him for his participation in the funeral of a dictator. Jackson responded by taking a sharp jab at the United States’ first presidents for owning slaves.
“Well you know, democracies mature ... our first 15 presidents owned people, they owned slaves,” Jackson said. Blitzer seemed surprised. “Are you really comparing Hugo Chávez to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or James Madison?” he asked. “That’s what I was hearing. But I want you to explain.”
Jackson not only didn’t back off his remark, he repeated it. “Well, democracies evolve,” he said. “My point is that our first 15 presidents owned slaves and called it democracy for [about 200] years. We’ve come a mighty long way.”
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Photo of Jesse Jackson waving after attending Chávez funeral ceremony: AP Images