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Remembering Those Lost to COVID-19: Arquímedes Pérez

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Photo: Greg Ortega

One of the saddest realities of the novel coronavirus pandemic is that families usually can’t be there when loved ones are hospitalized for – and die from – COVID-19.

And in immigrant communities like South Florida’s, that can be devastating – with relatives often thousands of miles away. The family of WLRN’s Tim Padgett recently experienced that heartbreak here – and in Venezuela.

This is how I’ve been trying to remember my cuñado, my brother-in-law, Arquímedes Pérez. Not in sadness, but through the uproarious and razor-sharp wit of Venezuela’s most popular comedian, Benjamín Rausseo. Better known as El Conde del Guácharo. The Count of Guácharo.

Arquímedes – we called him Chi-Chi – was a bear of a man with a big, tough heart and an even bigger sense of humor. He was a savvy businessman, a loving father – and a huge Conde del Guácharo fan. But that always seemed backwards to me. I thought El Conde should have been a huge Chi-Chi fan. To me, Chi-Chi was a more masterful humorist.

Like El Conde, Chi-Chi possessed that richly Venezuelan gift for raucous but rapier-like satire. Spontaneous repartee that would make even Robin Williams sound at a loss for words.

I’d pour myself a rum-and-Coke and savor his rapid-fire growl as he skewered the foibles of the high and the low. Even the parts my gringo ear couldn’t catch still made me laugh until I cried.

So I’ve been trying to recall the laughs and suppress the tears since my wife and I received the terrible news on August 14 that her brother Arquímedes – Chi-Chi – had died of COVID-19, at a hospital in Barcelona, Venezuela. He was just 56 years old.

COVID infection carries especially serious risks in Venezuela. Thanks to the worst economic collapse in the world today, its healthcare system is wrecked. The novel coronavirus pandemic broke out later in Venezuela than in most countries. But since mid-summer its number of cases and deaths is spiking.

Compounding our grief – and the grief of so many families like ours in South Florida – is the fact that the pandemic kept us so far away from a loved one battling this plague.

And that’s why our capacity for memory is perhaps more important during this tragedy than any other.

One night in Caracas while I was interviewing a source over dinner, I spied El Conde del Guácharo – Benjamín Rausseo – sitting at a nearby table. I introduced myself and told him he was my brother-in-law’s comic hero. I asked for his autograph – and I of course had him sign it to Chi-Chi.

I framed the autograph and gave it to Chi-Chi the following Christmas. He wasn’t one for big displays of affection, but it was enough for me to see one of his impressed smiles. My big regret is that I never sent Chi-Chi’s autograph to El Conde del Guácharo.

Arquímedes Pérez is survived by his wife Lismaira and his six children; his mother Yolanda; his sisters Marisol, Lin, my wife Yola; and me.

This was part of our ongoing series of remembrances of those in – and dear to – our South Florida community taken by COVID-19.

We’d like to remember more of your loved ones. Tell us about them over an email. You can send a note to talktous@wlrnnew.org. Again, that email is: Talk To Us at wlrnnews.org. Write COVID MEMORY in the subject line. And stay safe.

If you’d like to listen to this story, click on the clip at the top of the page.

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