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Panama: Saying Goodbye to Guillermo Ford

With all the honors of a State funeral, on March 22, Panamanians said goodbye [es] to Guillermo “Billy” Ford, former vice-president and Minister of Planning and Economic Policy (1989-1994).

It was a moving service, when Panama remembered the life of this politician and businessman, who was popularly known as “Hoarse Rooster” [es] because of his strong voice and for being one of the founders of the Molirena party (whose symbol is a rooster).

Most of the people remember him as a defender of democracy and for his strong opposition against the military dictatorship of Manuel Antonio Noriega; a role that has been engraved for history with an iconic photograph, taken when he was being beaten by defenders of the military regimen.

Condolences have been expressed in newspapers and social media outlets; at the same time, his death has opened once more the opportunity to reflect about the value of democracy, the legacies we leave behind and the current values of Panamanian society.

Guillermo "Billy" Ford. Image by Alberto Quiros Bonett. Used with photographer's permission.

Without going too deep into the history of those days, Yohel Amat in his blog Así es mi País [es], remembers the political situation and the state of democracy at the end of the eighties:

“Billy” Ford, junto a Guillermo Endara y a Ricardo Arias Calderón, tuvo la osadía de ser una de las caras de la parte política de un gran movimiento nacional de panameños, hartos de la dictadura de Noriega, de la falta de libertad y de ver como diariamente se pisoteaban todos nuestros derechos

El movimiento se conoció como la Cruzada Civilista.

“Billy” Ford, side to side with Guillermo Endara and Ricardo Arias Calderón, had the audacity to be one of the political faces of a great national movement of Panamanians, tired of Noriega's dictatorship, the lack of freedom and of witnessing daily how our rights were being trampled.

The movement was known as the Civilian Crusade.

Yohel also stresses that Ford's role against the dictatorship:

le ganó un puesto en la historia, el cual debe ser resaltado no sólo ahora sino siempre, y no solo a él, sino a toda esa masa anónima de panameños que se atrevieron a desafiar a los rifles y a los garrotes, armados solo con pañuelos blancos y del sonido de las pailas.

Gained him a place in history, which must be highlighted not only now but always, and not only him, but all the anonymous Panamanians that were brave to challenge the rifles and the sticks, only armed with white handkerchiefs and the sound of the pans.

In Contrapunto, in a post titled “De la Muerte, el Kid y Guillermo Ford” [es] (“On Death, el Kid and Guillermo Ford”), Global Voices author Ariel Moreno reflects about the society's reactions to the public personalities that Panama lost during these days (Ford, the politician and Leonardo Alvarado [es] -the Kid [es]- the reggae musician):

¡a muerte es lo único que llega con certeza. Sin embargo la forma en que se afronta, la conclusión final que se saca de una vida puede variar por mucho.

Death is the only thing that comes with certainty.  However the way it is faced, the final outcome from one life to another can vary a lot.

Because of Billy Ford's death, the Panamanian Government decreed March 22 as a National Mourning Day. Both, Ariel in Contrapunto [es] and Yohel in Así es mi País [es], shared that this Mourning Day should not be simply taken as a day off, but an opportunity to meditate about the legacy left by a man that defended democracy.

In the blog mariaemma [es], the author also remembered Billy Ford's legacy with respect and she explains that this is a part of Panamanian History that she did not experience. For her, that was a period,

donde todavía habían lugar para héroes, personas que tenían los pies en la tierra y luchaban por cosas justas. Una época donde el pueblo estaba unido por un bien común y estaba informado de las realidades que nos sucedían, un pueblo con conocimiento, un pueblo preocupado.

when still, there was a place for heroes, people with grounded feet and who fought for just causes. A time when the citizens were united by a common belief and informed about our realities, citizens with knowledge, citizens that were concerned.

The author asks:

donde está este pueblo ahora? Solo veo ciertas banderas verbales levantarse, “Prohibido Olvidar” gritan algunos; pero, prohibido olvidar que? La opresión? La situación? La lucha de poder? La libertad? que es lo que está prohibido olvidar? más bien me parece que la gente grita en silencio, prohibido perdonar.

where are these people now? I just see some verbal flags being raised, “Prohibited to Forget” some shout; but, prohibited to forget what? The oppression? The situation? The fight for power? The freedom? What are we prohibited to forget? It looks to me that people are really silently shouting “prohibited to forgive.”

Mariaemma highlights that if there is no learning, there is no point in remembering:

“Gente que murió, héroes olvidados en tumbas vacías, cuerpos desaparecidos, personas torturadas, una época de terror, dicen todos. Pero, que aprendimos de esto?”

Some people died, heroes in empty graves, missing corpses, tortured people, an age of terror, all say. But, what did we learn?

When reading these three authors, there is a common point of view: they all clearly explain that Billy Ford was neither a saint nor perfect, but he was somebody who knew how to defend his ideals when he had too. In one way or another, they all remember the recent Panamanian History and the importance of the legacy left for those who do not rest when faced by the present circumstances.

In Contrapunto [es], Ariel concludes:

La muerte de cualquier persona es igual. El corazón deja de latir. La vida por otro lado es lo que cuenta, en lo que se invierte el tiempo en lo que se ponen las ganas en lo que se canta tanto con los labios como con las acciones. Cuenta aquellas cosas que hicimos mientras respiramos no las que se nos quiera atribuir una vez nos llegue el fatal encuentro. He allí la diferencia.

Death is the same for every person. The heart stops beating. Life is what really counts, in what we invest our time and put all our efforts, in what is sung not only by our lips but with our actions. What counts are those things that we did while we breathe and not those that are attributed to us after the fatal encounter. That's what makes the difference.

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