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By Orville Williams

Despite the restrictions posed by mandatory Covid-19 protocols, Venezuelan Ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, Carmen Velásquez de Visbal, is expressing gratitude to the colleagues of the late Eduardo De La Plaza for his beautiful funeral ceremony on Tuesday.

The 58-year-old De La Plaza died in Antigua last Friday from a cardiac arrest, after testing positive for Covid-19.  The engineer – who had been visiting Antigua for work for over 20 years – was on another working trip, doing maintenance with the Antigua Power Company (APC).

He arrived on the island on November 6 with a negative Covid-19 PCR test – based on word from the APC – and was said to have completed his work on November 10, ahead of his scheduled departure on November 11.

However, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health last week, he was immediately isolated after a swab – taken on November 11 – returned positive for the virus that causes Covid-19. Contact tracing was also reportedly initiated.

Speaking exclusively to Observer, the ambassador shared details of the timeline surrounding his passing.

She says they received an initial call at approximately 12 p.m. last Friday from De La Plaza’s boss, indicating that the man – who was residing in El Salvador – travelled to Antigua via Miami and fell ill after testing positive for Covid-19. After that call, the embassy contacted both the Foreign Affairs and Health Ministries, as well as the Antigua Power Company (APC) for more information on the situation.

While waiting for the information, the news came just a few hours later that De La Plaza had died at the Mount St John’s Medical Center, from a cardiopulmonary arrest caused by the virus.

The ambassador says they immediately shared the information received with the family, who understandably reacted with shock.

“[Yes] they were shocked. The main contact that we had was with the daughter, because she’s already at legal age [and] she was shocked by the news. Imagine your dad died in another country far away from you, especially in this Covid-19 situation,” she said.

In what she describes as a praiseworthy reaction to De La Plaza’s passing, the ambassador commended his colleagues – particularly those at APC – for banding together and ensuring a beautiful send-off for a man well-deserving.

“We think APC did a great job. [Both] APC and the company that he worked with in Panama, worked in solidarity. He was away from his family and he got a last goodbye with a touch of humanity, even with this Covid-19 pandemic.

“We [hear] what the treatment is like right now with people who die from the virus, but for him it wasn’t like that. We were present on Tuesday at the funeral, along with representatives from APC, APUA and the government.”

According to the ambassador, De La Plaza’s colleagues all spoke glowingly of his work and his personality. He was widely respected – not only in Antigua, but across the Caribbean – he possessed a wealth of experience in his field and he was truly selfless, not hesitating to share his knowledge with anyone who asked. This connection to him, she added, was visible throughout the ceremony.

“[With the] APC people, everything we hear about him [suggests] he was a very knowledgeable guy, he knew [his work] and he didn’t have a problem to share what he knew.

“Through the years, he did a good job and you see – in that last goodbye – that it was a thankful message. They were [obviously] trying to thank him for what he did in the past years,” the ambassador explained

Similarly, she noted that his colleagues abroad shared nothing but kind words.

“That’s also the feedback that we got from his boss in Panama, that actually was his friend. They worked together within the Caribbean region and in Central America [and] he told us that he was always smiling, he had a positive spirit and he was very professional.” 

She added that the condolence book from the ceremony is still at the APC, as several of his colleagues requested that they be given a chance to etch kind words in his memory. The book, she said, will be sent to his family upon completion.

The ceremony itself was also very beautiful. De La Plaza was Catholic, so those appropriate arrangements were made, and images shared with Observer showed several colorful bouquets, coupled with a lovely picture of a smiling De La Plaza during a prior birthday celebration. 

They also went the extra mile to ensure his family –  scattered across the globe – could share in his send-off. The ambassador even reserved special commendation for one of his colleagues, whom she said, “stood holding the device being used for the duration of the ceremony.”

“There was a Zoom video call so that all the family around the world could watch, from the beginning of the funeral to the end. I mean, that is not going to make everything easier for them – because it’s hard to process, it’s a lot of emotions involved – but at least they saw what was going on.”

The ambassador – and other staff at the embassy – added that while they did not know De La Plaza personally, the event was very touching for them as countryfolk.

“For us as Venezuelans, it was very emotional, and personally, I felt very proud. To hear such positive words about a Venezuelan that you had never seen or known, is a [humbling] feeling.”

The ambassador also confirmed that the family did make a request for his body to be repatriated prior to the ceremony, as well as for an autopsy to be done and the results shared with them.

Both requests were forwarded to the government on the family’s behalf, but they were told they could not be granted, due to the circumstances.

The Ambassador explained that the family was understandably distraught with both decisions, but were moved emotionally with the execution of the funeral ceremony.

“Emotions change when something like this happens, but the daughter sent a voice message to the embassy [after the ceremony], saying thanks on behalf of her father and the rest of the family.” Similar expressions of gratitude also came in from De La Plaza’s wife and other members of his family. 

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