opinion

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Bernal, The day someone assassinated President Remón

Left Wing Publications Right Wing Publications

That January 2nd

by Miguel Antonio Bernal


To one side of the Palacio de las Garzas, also known as the old colonial era Customs building, which has served since the beginning of the Republic as the presidential palace, and where today one finds a heliport and offices of the security services there existed, until 1970, a small building belonging to the Social Security Fund which housed, in part contiguous to the presidential palace, six apartments and a pair of lawyers’ offices, as well as three other dwelling spaces at sea level.

Don Ascanio Mulford and licenciados Ricardo Vallarino Chiari and Carlos Pérez Castrellón had their offices on the ground floor, while Don Miguel Angel Ordóñez and Miss Ana María Jaén and her sisters occupied the ground floor apartments, just above the workshop of my good friend the painter Bartley. The Aragón Moscoso family and another office were on the second floor, on which one also encountered the building’s flat roof, from which --- with the help of a powerful reflector --- the Presidential Police of that time kept watch during the night over the waters of the bay.

With the family of Doña Mélida Márquez as neighbors my mother, my sister and I inhabited a little apartment whose balcony overlooked the Presidency. From the Mariner’s House, as it was known, we were thus neighbors of the different presidents that, beginning in 1950 through 1968, occupied the presidential chair. In those years, it’s not superfluous to point out that the presidential palace was not subject to the good-for-nothing “security measures” that prevail today. The San Felipe kids, especially the “pelaos” from Calles Tercera, Cuarta and Quinta, had their run of the place and we shared, at all hours, all kinds of games in front of the Presidencia itself without any great concern. The chain of anecdotes from those days is, I believe, endless. Militarism and its coup d’etat cut it short, as it cut short lives, hopes and so many other things.

Major Huff was at that time the commander of the little police detachment that guarded the Presidencia, accompanies by Captains Metzner and Salazar and a couple of lieutenants who rotated every so often. At six in the morning and six at night, a small drum and bugle “band” would arrive punctually in front of the palace in a police bus, to intone the martial notes with which the national ensign was raised and lowered. We called it “la minta.”

Daily visits to the palace were almost a habit for me. The young age and small size that came with it permitted me to slip through the security bars. I knew --- like the palm of my hand --- each and every nook and cranny of the three floors and circulated without any great problem. My first movies, haircuts and Christmas parties for kids came to life for me in those spacious salons and interior patios.

In this way I was able to personally know all the residents of the Palacio de las Garzas until 1968. I perfectly recall President José Remón Cantera and his wife Cecilia Pinel de Remón. In addition to her many greetings, with the characteristic smile under her dark sunglasses, it was from her hands that I received in December of 1954 --- as a Christmas gift --- my first water pistol.

President Remón Cantera, like his successors, took me to accompany him on more than one occasion, with Captain Salazar, to the residential part of the palace, where his boxer dogs couldn’t contain their joy at his approach. In my childhood memories I preserve the memory of a chubby man, jovial, always smiling with we and interested in knowing how I was doing at school. I never imagined then that my first questions about death and the thousands of “whys” that they always carry with them would arise from the tragedy that --- in the most intensive way --- left the nation baffled as the afternoon ended at the old Juan Franco racetrack (now the Obarrio residential development) while the kids were still roller skating and playing with their Spalding ball and we kept our Mongol pencils and Eagle erasers ready for the new year.

I even remember, as if it happened yesterday, the interminable howling of the boxers, who instinctively knew that they had been left without their master, the headlong dash of the armed police through the neighborhood, the comings and goings of functionaries a disorderly bustle. I subjected the two cops who were posted on the balcony of our apartment all night to a true interrogation. Even today I have many questions about the strange assassination of President Remón --- that January 2nd.




Also in this section:
Jackson, The Day of the Martyrs
Dean, Restoring the American community
Fisher, Panama's election campaign begins in earnest
Gush Shalom, Sharon's plan a recipe for annexation and war
Human Rights Watch, Don't sweep Bolivian massacre under the rug
A year's collection of thoughts to bear in mind
Bernal, The day someone assassinated President Remón



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