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News: Bolivarian Project | Gender and Sexuality | Indigenous and Afro-Venezuelans

First Black Woman Independence Fighter is Honoured in Venezuela’s National Mausoleum

Caracas, October 23rd 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelans came together this Friday to honour Black female independence fighter, Juana Ramirez, whose symbolic remains were posthumously laid to rest in the National Mausoleum of Heroes in an official state ceremony. 

Born into slavery in Guarico, Venezuela in 1790, Ramirez went on to command an all women’s 100 strong artillery unit in 1813. Her troops were instrumental in resisting Spanish soldiers’ attempts to reconquer the newly independent Venezuela and return it to colonial rule. 

Her bravery and penchant for fighting on the front lines secured her the nickname of “Juana the Advancer”. 

She is the first black woman to be ascended to the National Mausoleum, which was flooded with social movements on Friday.

“Symbol of the Venezuelan woman, Venezuelan woman, woman, symbol of courage and love, I am Juana Ramirez, in my children and my grandchildren, in your children and your grandchildren, here is Juana the Advancer… Symbol of the Black woman, woman, Black woman, Afro-woman, woman, symbol of dignity, symbol of guerrilla women,” recited a representative from the National Institute against Racial Discrimination before going on to welcome Juana’s remains into the pantheon in song. 

Earlier in June 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed that Juana would be the next historic figure to enter into the pantheon and “fill it with her light”. Since then, the country’s National Assembly has been involved in the long drawn out legal process of making her ascension a reality.  

Her remains successfully arrived in Caracas earlier last week after having embarked on an accompanied pilgrimage in late September from the San Felipe cemetery in eastern Monagas state where Ramirez is recorded to have been buried. 

The pilgrimage passed by the country’s National Assembly for a special parliamentary session on Friday morning before making its way to its final stop at the National Mausoleum, where it was greeted by crowds of jubilant Venezuelans.  

“This is a homage to campesinas (rural women workers), women workers and women who build the commune on a daily basis… We vow to follow the example of struggle which Juana set us,” vowed Nora Delgado, spokesperson for UNAMUJER (National Union of Women), to thunderous applause and chants from the mostly women audience.

Those present were also addressed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who spoke at length about the colonial legacy of racism and its impact on women, as well as detailing Juana’s life story and the importance of Latin American “myths and legends” in the construction of revolutionary identity in Venezuela.

Mayra Oropeza, the Director of the Operational Strategic Command of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, also highlighted the advances made by women in the Bolivarian Revolution and affirmed that Juana Ramirez’s spirit continued to be present in the struggle against machismo in the armed forces, where many women now occupy important command positions. 

“Women can only be truly liberated in socialist revolution, that we know!” cried Oropeza. 

The revolutionary heroine will now take up her final resting place alongside figures such as national independence hero Simon Bolivar and other generals who fought in the Wars of Independence. 

Her admission brings the total number of women in the mausoleum to 6 out of the 140 political and historic figures that eternally reside there. 

The other five women include musician Teresa Carreño, novelist Teresa de la Parra and independence heroines Manuela Saenz, Luisa Cacéres de Arizmendi and Josefina Camejo. 

Saenz, Camejo and Ramirez were all admitted to the pantheon during the governments of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has effectively doubled the number of women in the prestigious mausoleum since 1999.  

“This is an act of recognition for Venezuelan women and their struggles… We are all Juana and we have all been recognised by this,” stated the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Gladys Requena. 

Ramirez is the first of a list of four women to have been designated for the distinguished accolade by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias, on International Women’s Day in 2008. 

The other three women are indigenous chief and anti-colonial resistance leader, Jefa Apacuana, Simon Bolivar’s wet-nurse, Hipolita Bolivar, and his nanny, Matea Bolivar. They have yet to be officially incorporated into the pantheon.  

Published on Oct 26th 2015 at 9.53pm