Néstor Kirchner's deathFriday, October 29, 2010
Latin American leaders throng to bid last farewell
By Belén Arce
Regional leaders arrived on Thursday to the country to express their condolences to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and pay their respects to former president Néstor Kirchner, who also had a prominent regional role as secretary-general of the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). The UNASUR meanwhile declared three days of “South American grief” for Kirchner’s death, official sources reported.
The presidents of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay arrived in Buenos Aires for the day. They planned to stay only a few hours, exclusively to attend the wake held at Government House. The heads of state remembered Kirchner and praised his performance as president, as well as his regional leadership.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was the last to arrive at 9pm, after bringing forward his trip, originally scheduled for Friday. Da Silva travelled in spite of being in the last hours of the campaign before the runoff vote in which his candidate, front-runner Dilma Rouseff, will seek the presidency. He was joined by international affairs expert Marco Aurélio García, and ruling party Senator Aloizio Mercadante, Upper House speaker and head of the Parlasur.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a close friend of the Kirchners, minutes before 6pm arrived at the Ezeiza airport, where he was greeted by Rafael Folonier, head of Argentina’s presidential unit.
“We come to Buenos Aires with the tears of the Caribbean and the Orinoco, to join the sorrow and the pain of the Argentine people and of its president, sister Cristina,” said Chávez, who travelled with Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro.
He praised the UNASUR head saying: “before Kirchner, there was night. Kirchner arrived and the day arrived.” Minutes before 9pm, he attended the wake and embraced the President in Government House.
Bolivian President Evo Morales was the first leader to arrive to the country to pay his respects, and visited Government House at half past noon.
Morales highlighted Kirchner’s role in the region as “a defender of dignity,” and thanked the support offered when he “went through hard times in Bolivia.”
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa arrived minutes later and greeted the President with a hug.
Correa said he was “hugely sad” over the death of the former president, whom he described as “a very dear friend” and “an extraordinary president, a great patriot and an immense Latin American.”
Briefly after, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera joined Morales and Correa in the presidential palace. He was accompanied by his wife Cecilia Morel Montes, Foreign Minister Afredo Moreno, Lower House President Alejandra Sepúlveda and Senate President Jorge Pizarro.
“It’s not only a loss for Argentina, it’s a loss for all America,” said Piñera, who also reflected on the President’s personal loss and expressed his “full solidarity” with her.
Uruguayan President José Mujica travelled from Montevideo to give his condolences to Fernández de Kirchner.
“We want to tell the Argentine people that all Uruguayans are sympathetic in this moment,” said Mujica, who was joined by his wife, Senator Lucía Topolansky, Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, Presidential Secretary Alberto Breccia, Ambassador Guillermo Pomi and the leaders of the four main Uruguayan political parties.
Morales, Correa, Piñera and Mujica left the country in the afternoon. Chilean Senate President Pizarro meanwhile stayed and will attend Kirchner’s burial; and Chilean Senator Isabel Allende, from the Socialist party, will travel from the neighbouring country today, official sources reported.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos touched down in the country in the afternoon, joined by Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín. At 8pm, he arrived at Government house and greeted the President and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman.
“Kirchner had a key role in the reestablishing ties with Venezuela,” said Santos at the airport, adding that the Unasur head was the only person who was invited to the meeting he held with Chávez in the Colombian city of Santa Marta in August, in which the leaders decided to restore bilateral relations.
The neighbouring countries had severed ties in July, during the presidency of Santos’ predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.
Moments later, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo arrived to “pay homage to the political leader of a sister nation, and greet” Fernández de Kirchner. He was joined by Foreign Minister Héctor Lacognata, Education Minister Luis Alberto Riart Montaner and senators from the neighbouring country. Former Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte Frutos also visited Government house.
Though Peruvian President Alan García had confirmed his attendance, he cancelled the trip due to a storm that hindered him from travelling to Buenos Aires. Foreign Minister José García Belaúnde attended the wake on his behalf.
Cuban President Raúl Castro meanwhile sent his condolences to Fernández de Kirchner on Wednesday night, sources reported. Reports said a Cuban delegation was expected to arrive Thursday night.
Spain’s new Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez and former prime minister Felipe González, named ambassador for the Bicentenary celebrations, arrive in the country on Friday for Kirchner’s burial in Santa Cruz province.
Pope sends condolences
Pope Benedict XVI sent his condolences to the President through Monsignor Adriano Bernardini. “Due to your husband’s death,” said the letter addressed to Fernández de Kirchner and dated October 27, “ I raise fervent prayers to God for his eternal rest and express deep feelings of sorrow for you, your children and other members of the family of the late leader, as well as to the government and people of the beloved Argentine nation.”