Tuesday, March 11, 2008

El Último Adiós

My yesterday was bookmarked by death. Not the best way to begin a week but at least I can say that there was nothing personal going on between the Grim Reaper and me. In the morning it was the nameless body under the sheet by the side of the road. Last night it was Mari Luz Cortés, the little 5-year old girl who went missing on January 13th after she had gone to a neighbourhood kiosk to buy a bag of potato chips. Her last recorded words were to the two friends who had accompanied her part way: wait for me.

Her body was discovered on Friday floating in the Ría de Huelva estuary and her funeral was yesterday. The whole town - a town which has declared 3 days of mourning - attended. The country's flags are flying at half-mast.

Initially, Mari Luz' disappearance received short shrift in the Spanish media which still gave (and gives) seemingly unlimited coverage to the case of Madeleine McCann, who went missing in May of 2007. Some alleged that this was because Mari Luz was a gitana - a gypsy - and was a child of a tough neighbourhood of Huelva, a city plagued by crime and drugs. There were even rumours that Mari Luz' disappearance was linked to the settling of a feud between two warring families. After all, this is, some people whispered, what gypsies do. In any case, her family certainly couldn't afford to launch the media blitz that the McCanns did:

"There have certainly been no high-profile visits to the US First Lady, Laura Bush, or TV adverts with footballers David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo calling for Mari Luz's safe return. The McCanns flew to Rome for a special audience with the Pope ..."

Others suggest that the perceived drama surrounding the Madeleine case - that the family was vacationing at the time, that these seemingly perfect parents not only showed little public emotion but were even suspects - made the story more newsworthy, even freakish from a Spanish perspective. But whatever the reason (or combination thereof), the 5-year old's photo was eventually seen on bus shelters, in shop windows, and affixed to electrical polls through Spain. A website was created. A bank account was opened to accept donations. Marches were conducted. Balloons released. Private detectives were hired. There were alleged sightings. A bogus ransom demand was made.

But all for naught. Mari Luz was found in the same clothes that she was wearing when she went missing. Has she been dead all this time?

Thousands of people lined the streets of Huelva yesterday to bid Mari Luz an último adiós and to escort the tiny white coffin on its final journey. So sad. How do you find meaning or solace in such a terrible thing? That at least the parents have closure? Perhaps. Or that her death will rekindle public awareness to the fact that there are some 200 children still missing in Spain. Hopefully.


Anne said...

What's even sadder is that I tried to look Mari Luz Cortés up on Google, and every single page that came up had some mention of Madeleine McCann... my heart goes out to Mari Luz's family.

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