Cesar Chelala
A physician and writer

Don Quixote Still Lives

It may come as a surprise to many, but Don Quixote is still alive, and in a most unlikely place. Don Quixote is now living in Tucumán, my hometown in Northern Argentina.

He is not dressed with body armor but rather, despite usually scorching temperatures, with suit and tie. He will probably be carrying bundles of papers, some of them legal sheaves which enable him to persecute and enrage his enemies. Fortunately, his enemies are also those of civility, decency, and honor.

He is of medium height, a narrow face with a short beard, an aquiline nose, and penetrating eyes, a mixture of green and blue. They are serious, determined eyes.

Although he is not a lawyer himself, his legal knowledge is encyclopedic and probably greater than that of any lawyer, something he uses to full advantage when suing miscreants. He works as a director in a construction company but—to his wife’s dismay—he will sideline any activity to pursue his obsessions.

What identifies him most is not his physical aspect. It is rather his devotion to fight for unjust causes. There is a wonderful phrase in Spanish that totally defines him, “Defensor de pobres, menores y ausentes,” (Advocate for the poor, the children, and the absent.)

His defeats leave him undaunted. He strenuously protested when the Argentine government awarded a medal of honor to General Augusto Pinochet, sending dozens of letters to the Argentine authorities.

His appeals were denied and General Pinochet received his award. He then made a special motion to forbid him from using his medal, on the grounds that Pinochet had helped the British against the Argentines during the Malvinas/Falkland war. His motion was denied once more.

When Pinochet died, he presented a motion to the authorities to have Pinochet’s family return his medal. Again, that motion was denied. “This is not the end of this story,” he later told me, chagrined.

A recent incident shows him at his best, though. For a long time, it had been a source of irritation to Tucumánians that, on the side of the Government House there was a 12-floor tall apartment building whose wall, contiguous to it, was totally covered with the logo of an international soft drink company.

To Tucumánians, it looked as if that company owned the city government. Although greatly irritated, common citizens were unable to do anything about it.

I live in New York and visit my family in Tucumán at least once a year. During one of my visits I was walking with Don Quixote when I saw the logo demeaning not only the Government House next to it but all the surrounding area. I couldn’t help commenting to my friend how that huge logo belittled the whole area.

“Don’t worry,” he told me, “very soon it will not be there.” I could only laugh in disbelief.

“Who is going to erase it?” I asked. He looked at me and answered, “I will.”

I laughed, again. Fortunately, he didn’t seem annoyed by my reaction. I didn’t tell him then but I wondered how he was going to do something that not even government officials had been able to do: Defeat one of the most powerful international sof-drink companies in the world.

On a later visit to my hometown I no longer saw the logo. The huge wall was totally painted in white. Surprised, I called my friend and asked him what had happened. “Didn’t I tell you that I would erase it?” he said proudly. He then gave me some of the details of the operation.

He had contacted architects and government officials at City Hall who agreed with him but had been unable to force the company to remove it. There were very powerful interests behind the logo which occupied the city’s best space, they explained. In spite of that, Don Quixote presented several legal complaints to the authorities, but to no avail. He still continued his fight, undaunted.

Finally, after nine months of unrelenting struggle (“just like a pregnancy,” he told me) he finally found a legal loophole and was able to obtain a municipal decree ordering the company to expunge the offending logo.

After many defeats, this was clearly a major achievement for my friend. I couldn’t but ask him, “Why do you continue fighting all these mostly lost causes which are so costly, take so much of your energy, and don’t give you any financial gain?”

He looked at me sadly and responded, “Because if I don’t do it, I get sick.”

About the Author
César Chelala is a physician and writer born in Argentina and living in the U.S. He wrote for leading newspapers all over the world and for the main medical journals, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, The China Daily, The Moscow Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard International Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The British Medical Journal. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
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