Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Colombia: “Funeral” Honors Life and Legacy of Mandela (Updated)

A countless number of tributes in honor of ex-South African president Nelson Mandela have come from around the world since he passed away last Thursday.  Latin American leaders and Nobel Laureates such as Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Oscar Arias praised the iconic anti-apartheid campaigner who died at the age of 95.   Meanwhile, one of the most unique celebrations of Mandela’s life and legacy took place in a Colombian neighborhood named after him.

Last weekend, dozens of residents of the Nelson Mandela neighborhood of Cartagena held a vigil and “symbolic funeral” in his name. 

Religious leaders, community activists and admirers of the late leader took part in the activities that included an honorary mass and a funeral march with a coffin representing Mandela.  They chanted “Freedom, freedom, Nelson Mandela you are freedom” as they walked to a local soccer field.

“We wanted to do this symbolic funeral in order to remember with each step the achievements of our South Africa leader,” said Abad Berrio, one of the attendees.

“We’re getting together to remember him and teach the children what he represented as well as the peace we hope to achieve,” Berrio added.

The neighborhood was founded on the day Mandela was elected as president of South Africa in December 1994.  Most of the 40,000 residents are Afro-Colombians and had been displaced from other parts of the country mired in a decades-long armed conflict.  Yet the Barrio Nelson Mandela is one of the most impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods in Cartagena with residents suffer from poor social services and in absence of urgent medical care.

The problems of the Mandela neighborhood have not gone unnoticed by local civic leaders like Wailer Herrón who hope to draw encouragement from the legacy of the late activist:

“The struggle against apartheid helped Tata Madiba (as Mandela was known) go very far and we strive to fight and lift this neighborhood out of extreme poverty,” said Herrón.
The community leader insisted that even though the neighborhood is “stigmatized” and among the most violent in Cartagena, the violence “comes from outside (of the barrio) by “illegal groups”.
Just like Madiba fought to halt racial segregation “we here must battle to provide the residents with appropriate housing,” said the community’s cultural director, John Jairo Rojas.
Earlier today a memorial service was held in honor of Mandela at a soccer stadium in Johannesburg.  Among the Latin American leaders who spoke at the service was Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff who praised Mandela as “a source of inspiration for similar struggles in Brazil and across South America.” Cuban President Raul Castro who called Mandela the “ultimate symbol of dignity and the revolutionary struggle” and later shook hands with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Update: The "historic" handshake between Castro and Obama has led to the latest political controversy in the U.S.  But perhaps the more significant gesture was the warm reception between Obama and Rousseff, which occurred amid a rocky last few months for U.S.-Brazil relationships.

Video Source– YouTube user Canal Cartagena (An exhibition this year at the Cartagena Art Museum featured photos taken of residents of the city’s Nelson Mandela neighborhood).

Online Sources including Update – BBC News; Democracy Now; El Imparcial; Teletica; Semana.com; Caracol Radio; The Latin Americanist; Christian Science Monitor

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