In 2013 the socialist family in Gibraltar lost two major figures. In April we said goodbye to Charles Bruzon and on the last day of the year to Luis Del Rio.
Both were very different people but had more in common than one might realise. I first met Luis some two and a half years ago. When I was introduced to him he was described to me as being Gibraltar’s Che Guevara. It was said somewhat tongue in cheek but it came back to me when I read Joelle Baglietto’s fond Facebook farewell tribute where she wrote “Say hi to Che for me.”
Some months after I met Luis my dear friend Charles asked me to read through an article he’d written for the Christian Socialist Movement magazine in the UK. What stunned me was that Charles had chosen to use a radical quote from Keir Hardie in which he wrote of Christ the first Communist. I never discussed religion with Luis but I certainly did with Charles. Both men were staunch socialists and I am sure they connected in that conviction via Hardie, Che and Christ the first Communist. Indeed Charles was always delighted when he could connect his devout Christianity with Joe Bossano’s strong no-nonsense socialism, which happened more often than not.
The other aspect of their lives in which they shared much in common was their genuine concern for other people. Both men would go out of their way to help those in need. The disadvantaged in our society could count on their help and support not just in word but also in deed.
Yet Charles Bruzon and Luis del Rio were also very different. I remember well the first time I heard Charles speak in public because I was knocked away by his articulate, impassioned socialist message born of the pulpit. I also remember the last time that Luis stood for the executive committee of the GSLP. Candidates were given the opportunity to make a short speech. That was not Luis’ way, he gave a wave and the party re-elected him because they already knew his true worth.
Charles was one of the public faces of the GSLP first as an MP and then as a Government minister. Luis was one of the dedicated backroom boys. Yet both were wise enough to know you could not have one without the other. Leaders need loyal lieutenants at their side and there was none more loyal than Luis Del Rio.
In losing Luis Gibraltar has lost another part of its historic memory. He came from a Gibraltar very different from the Rock of today and indeed those under 30 probably know little of its existence.
Luis grew up alongside Joe Bossano: a man he was close to all his life. When I interviewed Joe some years ago we spoke of his early life in Gibraltar. Although I grew up some 1,000 miles to the north our mutual families had shared experiences. Poverty is poverty is poverty whether it is Devil’s Gap or Silvertown in London’s dockland. What is common is the battle of families to survive with dignity.
That very hardship is in the DNA of today’s Gibraltarian even though extreme poverty is a thing of the past. It was Luis, along with others, who gave witness to it. Their fight for justice was carried first by the TGWU through to today’s GSLP and Luis was one of the socialism’s constant banner carriers.
I last spoke to Luis at length just days before he flew to London for the hospital tests which tragically bore bad news. If he had any inkling of his pending fate he certainly gave no signs and it was a conversation filled with his usual good humour.
I am not sure if in the after life they read Panorama, perhaps they do online. In my last email message to Luis as he started his final treatment I urged him to have anímo. If he is reading this my message would be the same as he rights any wrongs he sees around him. I certainly send anímo to his close family at their deep loss: a loss they share with the wider socialist family and all Gibraltarians who believe in social justice for all.