Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Murder of Facundo Cabral

Armed conflicts and violence in Central America has shown that it has no boundaries, and civilians are usually the ones most affected. In this latest case of senseless brutality, the victim was famed singer and songwriter Facundo Cabral, a designated United Nations Messenger of Peace. He was shot and killed on Saturday, July 9, 2011 during an early-morning ride back to La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. He was 74 years of age.

In a planned series of concerts of Central America that began just the week before, Cabral performed in Guatemala City on Tuesday and in the nearby city of Quetzaltenango on Thursday. In what would be one of the last concerts of his life, he humbly told his capacity audience, “I have given you my thanks. I will thank them in Quetzaltenango. And after that, whatever God wishes, because he knows what he does.”
Just four days later, the white Range Rover that carried Cabral was ambushed in what authorities suspect was a planned attack intended for Nicaraguan promoter Henry Fariña. In what would become a fatal mistake, Cabral turned down the hotel’s airport shuttle and accepted a ride with his agent David Llanos and Fariña. As the attack occurred, the accompanying SUV with bodyguards could not protect the singer’s vehicle from the hail of gunfire. Llanos and Fariña were wounded but Cabral was not so lucky.

Cabral was the eighth child born into a poor family in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1937. After moving to the province of Tierra del Fuego near the southern tip of Argentina, he left home with the sole intent of finding work to support his mother and six siblings. Before he departed, his mother's last words to him were, "This is the second and last gift I can give you. The first was to give you life, and the second one, the liberty to live it." Sad but inspired, he was away from home for four months.

In 1970 at the age of 33, his singing career took off with the song, No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá, (“I am Not from Here, and Not from There”). It would become his greatest hit, which was recorded more than 700 times in 27 different languages. From 1976 to 1983, Cabral went into exile in Mexico during Argentina’s military dictatorship. During that time of uncertainty, his wife and one-year-old daughter were unfortunately killed in a plane crash in 1978. Afterwards, his song-writing had become much more spiritual in overall tone and message. In 1996, he was designated by the United Nations as a Worldwide Messenger of Peace and he continued to inspire millions by performing in more than 160 countries and by publishing 66 books of poems and other writings.

Photo by the Telegraph
On July 12, 2011, police in Guatemala arrested two men in connection with the attack. Security cameras had recorded the two men at Cabral’s hotel and on the highway toward the airport. At the time of the arrest, Cabral’s body arrived on a Mexican Air Force jet in Argentina accompanied with just two items: his guitar and a small bag, which he was known for traveling with throughout his career. As stated in an article in the “Los Angeles Times” on July 12, 2011, “Mourning and a sense of national shame have taken hold among many in the troubled Central American nation where the beloved folk singer died. His killing was seen as yet another senseless death in a country with one of the worst crises of violence and impunity in the region.” 
The closed coffin was draped in an Argentine flag with flowers from devoted fans scattered all around it. It was displayed to the public in the Ateneo Theater, which was the venue where he last performed in Buenos Aires. Based on the wishes of Cabral, no wake was scheduled and his body was cremated on July 12 in Buenos Aires. He is survived by his long-time partner (and wife of only seven months) Silvia Pousa.

Photo by the Herald Sun
Cabral’s fans (dressed in black) gathered in droves at the Palacio Nacional in Guatemala City on Saturday, expressing everything from shock and sadness to anger. One sign in particular seemed to state the overall feeling perfectly, “Sorry to the World for the Assassination of Facundo!” Even other international performers such as Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona stated: “As a Guatemalan, I deeply regret the impact this news will generate among international opinion. As a friend and colleague, I will lament the absence of Facundo forever.”

The Singer at the Hotel Barceló in Managua
on July, 2, 2011 (photo by Luis Moreno)
Perhaps it was best said in the statement released by the United Nations: 

The United Nations System in Guatemala strongly condemns the assassination of Argentine singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral and adds to the feeling of dismay and frustration of a Guatemalan society that looks beset by intolerable acts of violence. It is painfully ironic that the one who toured Latin America with a message of justice, peace, and fraternity lost his life in the hands of a group of assassins. The UN expresses its solidarity with the families and loved ones of the troubadour, as well as the people of Argentina and Latin American that had Facundo as a reference for inspiration.

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