Former United Democratic Party (UDP) area representative for Dangriga and more recently councilor for Dangriga Town, Russell “Chiste” Garcia, passed away on Saturday, December 19, after a one-year battle with renal failure. He was 58.
Garcia, widely known for his “rootsy” living and his famous anti-racism poem Kerobee, had been one of the twenty-one patients on a government-subsidized dialysis program, through which patients get free dialysis treatment at the Belize Healthcare Partners in Belize City, while the government pays $150,000 a month to the private hospital.
In the 1993 to 1998 tenure of the UDP, Chiste served as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, after beating former UDP leader, Ted Aranda, who had crossed political lines in the 1989 elections to become a contender for the People’s United Party.
As a UDP candidate, Garcia returned to the political arena in 2006 and was elected to serve on the Dangriga Town Council until March 2009.
His brother-in-law, UDP Dangriga Town Councilor, Harry Sabal, told Amandala Monday morning that once Garcia got his dialysis, he was okay.
He had been on treatment since suffering renal failure about a year ago, Sabal added.
Russel “Chiste” Garcia was married to Florence Garcia, nee Sabal, and they had 5 children together. Gwen, their daughter, a poet after her father’s own heart, wrote a piece dedicated to him shortly after his death, and it is expected to be among the tributes presented in his honor at his funeral, slated for 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday at the Sacred Heart Church in Dangriga.
Garcia will be buried after a state funeral, and Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Wildred “Sedi” Elrington, will deliver his eulogy.
According to Sabal, Chiste, who was not diabetic, went to BHPL for dialysis on Monday, December 14, but he had to defer that treatment because his blood count was too low. He had had to get a blood transfusion before he could take treatment again.
After the transfusion, Garcia returned to BHPL on Thursday, and was able to undergo dialysis treatment.
Garcia was also suffering from a cough. He was admitted to the Southern Regional Hospital on Friday morning. His condition worsened and he lost consciousness.
On Friday around 11:00 p.m., he had to be flown out by helicopter to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, where he died on Saturday.
Chiste is the brother of Myrtle Palacio, former Chief Elections Officer, former head of the Office of Governance, and founder of Glessima Research & Services.
Sabal said that had the former minister not gotten sick, he would not have gone into retirement, and would have continued to serve Dangriga—a community Sabal said he had served well.
UDP leader, Dean Barrow, told Amandala that he had served in Cabinet along with Garcia back in the 1990’s. Barrow said he saw Garcia as a man with novel ideas and very much into his job, having been a man of the soil (into agriculture) himself. He was the first “dred” in Cabinet, said Barrow, adding that Garcia may have cut his locks shortly after his foray into national electoral politics.