Hugo Chávez, Soldier of the People Forever

chavez-kirchner

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina

Argentine President Cristina Fernández visits Montaña Garrison

I awoke on a cloudy day and am leaving in the sun. I have just visited the Montaña Garrison. It is surrounded by working class neighborhoods. You can see Miraflores in the distance. The head of the guard told me that Hugo always looked this way from his office there. How could he not! This is where he planned the insurrection against Andrés Pérez. The 4th Republic, the tragic epilogue to the Punto Fijo agreement, when the Caracazo broke out – or as Hugo liked to say, the Venezolazo – the final crisis of neoliberal policies.

Repression and death to the people. Coincidences in our history are no accident. Hugo rose up against this from the Montaña Garrison. He failed, “for now,” as he announced upon surrendering.

They showed me a fully restored colonial era cannon. Every day at 4:25 pm the old cannon fires a salute to mark the time of his departure. 4:25? Eva died at 8:25. What capricious times! Don’t you think? When I returned to the broad, bright, outdoor patio, I could not avoid the infinite sadness. There were television cameras, reporters, commentators. Cilia, married to Nicolás, accompanied me. I politely asked all of them to withdraw. I wanted to be alone. Thank you, thank you very much. I hope you understand. I hope so.

The patio was left empty. I was accompanied only by the four hussars of Carbobo on duty, providing the permanent Honor Guard. From somewhere else, the sound of Hugo singing softly could be heard, as if it were floating. How he loved to sing! The sound of the water which surrounds his space could also be heard. But, for a moment, there was complete silence. Or at least, that is what I felt. I could only hear that some of the guards were crying with me. It is strange. Until today, I had not shed a single tear. Not on March 5, when I was informed. Not on March 6, when I attended the wake along with so many others. Florencia, on the other hand, cried so much, she had to leave, she couldn’t breathe. Me, nothing. It was as if I did not want to admit or accept it. I don’t know, some day, if I decide to, I’ll explain it to a psychologist.

Chavez funeral: A young man adjusts a banner before the start Hugo Chavez funeral

I stayed there a while. I walked around the marble coffin, again and again. I see the carving of a phrase from one of Hugo’s speeches in which he mentions Alí Primera. Who is Alí Primera? A popular Venezuelan singer-songwriter, a member of the Communist Party, who died February 16, 1985. February 16, the day my son was born. Hugo departed the day my sister was born. Strange, when you get old, you start in with this business of dates.

The last gift Hugo gave me, was the complete collection of Alí Primera on CD.

His daughter, María brought it to me in Olivos, November 8, and she told me the story. As a young officer, her father would secretly listen to the songs, because they were prohibited in the military.

I read the speech excerpt and the date on which it was delivered. June 12, 2012. June 12, the date of Peron’s last speech. What is this with dates? I was in the Plaza de Mayo that day. 21 years old. The year, 1974. My mother! (She was there, too). So many things. So much history. Strange, the dates, the events. The visible connections. And the invisible ones, as well.

When I went down to see the portraits of Hugo in the galleries which surround the patio, Nicolás entered with those who were waiting outside and accompanied me around the area.

We entered a small, but precious, chapel. Two Virgins. One from the Valley and the other… Rosa Mística! The Virgin venerated in La Plata. I couldn’t believe it.

I told Nicolás that I was going to send an image of the Virgin of Luján to be placed in the chapel and I told them the story, of the Virgin, of course.

It was May, 1630. She was traveling on a wagon toward Brazil, carrying among other things, two boxes with contained images of Virgins. Attempting to cross the Luján River, in Buenos Aires, the wagon was stuck. They added more oxen, but no good. Finally, they removed of the boxes with the Virgins from the wagon, to no avail. They removed the second box and the wagon took off, with no difficulty at all. They loaded the box once more, and once again the wagon wouldn’t budge. The drivers were confounded and the Virgin stubborn. When they opened the box, the image of the dark skinned Virgin appeared. The wagon took off, but the Virgin stayed in Luján. She is now in the Basilica, where she is venerated as Argentina’s patron saint. They were fascinated by the story.

The restoration of the Basilica, was Nestor’s first act. I didn’t tell them that, but it’s true, too.

We continued touring the site. There are two halls with photographs which depict Hugo’s life. What most moved me was an immense mural. Hugo, from the back, walking in the rain, on October 4, his last and most glorious event, which was not, as some believe, the closure of his campaign. It was his last act of love. I understood that later, when I learned of his terrible, unbearable pain. Of his beyond-human sacrifice. My God!

I said to Nicolás, “This is the place. Don’t even think about taking him anywhere else, as magnificent as it might seem. This is where he began and this is where he must stay. In HIS place. In his garrison, in the humble neighborhood. Soldier of the people. Definitively and for ever.”

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