Thursday, April 12, 2012

Of Great Men and Mausoleums

A new space ship on the block? An illustration of what Simon Bolivar's new tomb is to look like. 
More than likely, a few of the presidents and prime ministers in Cartagena this weekend for the Summit of the Americas secretly believe themselves to be Great Leaders.

Bolivar's current burial place isn't too bad. 
None, however, are likely to match the stature of Simon Bolivar, el Libertador, who led the armies which freed much of South America from Spanish colonial rule.

Bolivar was born in Caracas, Venezuela, became the Gran Colombia's first president, and died in Santa Marta, Colombia in 1830.

Unquestionably a great war leader, altho his performance in peacetime was more questionable (he ultimately wanted to be made president for life).

And he's been well memorialized for his accomplishments: innumerable parks, plazas, cities and avenues are named for him, as is the nation of Bolivia and Venezuela's currency. Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez even added 'Bolivarian' to the name of his country.

But just in case the world forgets Bolivar's greatness, Chavez is building him a towering mausoleum.

Bolivar ally-turned-rival Santander got this modest
tomb in Bogotá's Central Cemetery, altho he's
since been reburied in his hometown of Cucuta.
The mausoleum looks a bit like a humongous skateboard ramp - (and perhaps one day after our civilization has crumbled, the structure will be used that way). It will cost some $80 million, soar 170 feet high and be voluminous enough for 1,000 people to attend events inside - presumably in the otherworldy presence of Bolivar himself.

Argentine ex-Pres. Nestor Kirchner's mausoleum. 
And those building Bolivar's new mausoleum, which looks like it might launch into space at any moment, might want to be cautious. Venezuelan pundits have observed that several of the people involved in Bolivar's disenterment and reburial a few years ago died soon after.

On the other hand, Pres. Chavez, who sometimes seems to believe himself to be the New Bolivar, is apparently gravely ill with cancer. Perhaps he'll soon lie alongside his idol, ready to join him in space, or under skateboarders' wheels.

But not all leaders have felt the need of glorious tombs (and who knows whether Bolivar did), and some very humble tombs have nevertheless become places of veneration.

Bolivar's mausoleum would tower over the still-impressive one built last year for Argentine Pres. Nestor Kirchner, who will be remembered by history for, well...just give me time and I'll think of something. This page compare's Kirchner's tomb to the very modest burial sites of historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King - who will be remembered for something.

All of which may contain a lesson: It's not about the size, guys.

Colombian Pres. Alfonso Lopez Michelsen (in office 1974-8) got only this weedy patch of grass in Bogotá's Central Cemetery. 

This communist leader in Bogotá's Central Cemetery got this expensive tomb made from imported marble. Does ideological consistency end at the grave?

This 'Founder of the fatherland' apparently died poor and got only this headstone. 

Astronomer Julio Garavito made it onto Colombia's 20,000 peso bill, and his tomb in the cemetery attracts believers who expect him to help them get rich. 

Believers ask Bavaria brewery founder Leo Kopp for favors by whispering in the ear of the sculpture on his tomb. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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