Monday, October 30, 2006

Sylvia Herrera

I am, by my own definition, the antithesis of diplomacy. This is to say that I am the opposite of Ron’s approach to people. I am not in the legal profession, and have not known Ron as a student, colleague, judge, consultant, or a world-known authority on human rights. However, through Donat Pharand, I met Ron in 1993, and it took me a while to realize the beautiful human being he was. I came to admire his sharp intelligence, his big soul and his incredible human condition.

Thinking back, perhaps what most impressed me was his deep interest in poetry and how he linked it to his genuine concern for human rights. This was obvious in his deep admiration for the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was seen as an enemy by the right-wing forces in the Spanish civil war and was executed without trial by forces loyal to Francisco Franco, in August 1936. Ron was also a great admirer of Pablo Neruda, Chilean Nobel Prize winner in 1971 and one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century. When Neruda died in 1973, the new President Augusto Pinochet, who led a coup d’état to displace Salvador Allende, denied permission for a public funeral because of Neruda’s collaboration with the socialist Allende. Nevertheless, thousands of Chileans flooded the streets in tribute to Neruda and his funeral became the first public protest against Pinochet’s dictatorship. Discussing this event with Ron obviously heightened his admiration for Neruda and I was very pleased to give him a bilingual version of “Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair”. He thoroughly enjoyed and was quite moved by Poem No. 20, which I recited for him on one of his last visits.

Ron was universal in his knowledge and interests. He had an extraordinary sensitivity which allowed him to understand the lives of the elite as well as those of the common people. This became evident to me when speaking with the driver who took him to the hospital for his treatments over the years and from the numerous testimonies of his friends and colleagues.

Thank you Ron for all you have given throughout your life to so many people. You have touched us deeply by your kindness and understanding. Your memory will always be with us and will encourage us to continue living and struggling in this crazy world we live in.


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