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Harvard professor Charles Ogletree, a mentor to both Barack and Michelle Obama, praised the "generosity" of Hugo Chavez, mourning the late Venezuelan leader as a man who provided the needy with "warmth."
"So, as much as there's going to be a lot said about Chavez going forward, I think it's worth noting that even though he had a lot of American enemies, including the government, the reality is that a lot of people saw his generosity in helping people who are suffering from not having warmth in the winter is something very important," Ogletree said.
He told Sharpton that "what people may not know is that as much as people see his (Chavez's) sort of anti-American point of view, one of our former members of Congress has had a good relationship with him, and I think that makes a big difference."
"When you think about Venezuela as the fourth largest provider of oil and other assets to the United States," Ogletree said, "I think it's worth noting that, in fact, one of his great friends and great supporters here in the United States whose been talking about him for a long time because of giving fuel to freezing families during the winter is the son of our great congressman, Joe Kennedy, and I think that makes an enormous amount of difference in terms of thinking what he means and what he meant to that country."
Upon Chavez's death, however, it was reported the late leader's family amassed a $2 billion fortune, largely by stealing money from his own people.
Jerry Brewer, president of Criminal Justice International Associates, noted the personal fortune of the Castro brothers has been estimated at a combined value of around $2 billion.
"The Chávez Frías family in Venezuela has amassed a fortune of a similar scale since the arrival of Chávez to the presidency in 1999," Brewer said. "We believe that organized Bolivarian criminal groups within the Chávez administration have subtracted around $100 billion out of the nearly $1 trillion in oil income made by PDVSA since 1999.”
Ogletree was in the news in 2009 when he served as the lawyer for Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who found himself at the center of a race controversy when he was detained by police on his property after a complaint about a possible break-in.
The arrest attracted national attention after Obama declared Harvard police "acted stupidly."
WND reported Ogletree was a mentor for both Barack and Michelle Obama and served on the president's black advisory council.
"I met Barack when he arrived at Harvard Law School in fall of 1988. He was quiet and unassuming, but had an incredibly sharp mind and a thirst for knowledge," Ogletree said in an interview in 2008 with Essence Magazine.
"Even then saw his ability to quickly grasp the most complicated legal issues and sort them out in a clear, concise fashion," said Ogletree.
Ogletree explained Obama was a regular participant in an after-class activity the Harvard professor created called the Saturday School Program – a series of workshops and meetings held Saturday mornings designed to expose minority students to issues in the study of law.
Ogletree also told Essence that he mentored Michelle Obama when she enrolled at Harvard three years before her future husband. Ogletree said he gave Michelle career advice.
"I met Michelle when she started her legal career here at Harvard in the fall of 1985, and I was able to watch her develop into a very strong and powerful student leader. She was an active member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where she served as a student attorney for indigent clients who had civil cases and needed legal help," Ogletree said.
"I routinely gave career advice, and often personal advice, to students who would come in with questions about where they should work, how they should use their legal skills and talent, and was it possible to do well and do good," Ogletree said.
"My advice to people like Barack and Michelle was that they could easily navigate the challenges of a corporate career and find a variety of ways to serve their community," he said.
When Obama was in the Senate, Ogletree advised him on reforming the criminal-justice system as well as on constitutional issues. Ogletree served on the black advisory panel of Obama's presidential campaign.
Since becoming a politician, Obama has vacationed several times with Ogletree. The Boston Globe reported in 2009 that Ogletree has hosted Obama in Martha's Vineyard on several occasions. The first time was in August 2004, after the then–Illinois senator's speech at the Democratic National Convention that shot him to national fame.
Black radical politics
Ogletree is closely linked to radical black activism. As a student in 1970 at Stanford University near San Francisco, a center of black radicalism at the time, Ogletree organized an Afrocentric dormitory. He edited a campus Black Panther newspaper called The Real News and traveled to Africa and Cuba as part of student activist groups. Ogletree attended nearly every day of the trial of Black Power activist and communist Angela Davis.
Ogletree moved on to Harvard Law School, where he continued his political activism, becoming national president of the Black Law Students Association.
Ogletree gained national prominence in 1991 when he represented Anita Hill in the controversial Senate confirmation hearings at which she accused Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
In 2000, Ogletree joined the Reparations Coordinating Committee, serving as the group's co-chair. The committee pursued a lawsuit to win reparations for descendants of African slaves. The committee was convened by the TransAfrica Forum, a partner organization of the leftist Institute for Policy Studies.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.