The One about Chávez's Hearse

Carolina Acosta-Alzuru has a good riff about the need to wait until a country is ready to tell its stories. Venezuela isn’t ready to start telling its story yet, but one day, when the dust has settled and the country begins to find its voice, it’s going to be incredibly spoilt for choice: the one item where production has not lagged in the Chávez era is the scarcely-believable story.

Take the one about Chávez’s hearse.

CNN en Español has the simply bizarre tale of how the Venezuelan government only realized at the very last minute that there weren’t any glass-sided hearses available for a state funeral anywhere in Venezuela. They had to scramble at the last minute to locate a funeral home in Colombia able to supply one, and had to send an Air Force cargo transporter to pick it up with the clock ticking to the start of Chávez’s Funeral.

Given that Chávez had been very publicly dying for months, that funeral plans weren’t worked out in detail until the day before the event is insane – though, at the same time, how much more in character could you get?

But the really jaw dropping bit comes next, as you read about the kafkaesque nightmare with which this Colombian funeral home’s friendly gesture was reciprocated. Since the 1998 model Lincoln had been shipped into the country in a mad last minute rush, none of the usual paperwork needed to move a car into the country had been followed. But of course that meant that after the funeral was finished, there was no straightforward legal way to get the hearse back to its rightful owners in Medellín. And of course once the funeral was finished and the pressure was off, nobody on the Venezuelan side lifted a damn finger to help them figure out how to undo the mess.

The car ended up stranded for months on end in a depot on the Venezuelan side of the border as the owners tried to figure out some way – any way – to get it back across the border to Medellín. Finally, the owners brought the car into Colombia. They didn’t have a problem at the border, but later, since the paperwork was screwed up, the Colombian government ended up seizing it as illegal property. In the end, the original owners had to buy back their own hearse at auction from the government, for $45,000!

The whole crazy story is worth a read.