Colombia: Cartagena prepares to receive Garcia Marquez's ashes

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Bogota (AFP)

Cartagena, the jewel of colonial architecture on Colombia's Caribbean coast, was preparing Sunday to receive the ashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to be kept in a onetime convent near the home where the Nobel literature laureate liked to stay.

"It's an honor for the city of Cartagena to host such an event," Gonzalo Garcia Barcha, a son of the celebrated Colombian writer, told AFP. Garcia Marquez died at the age of 87 on April 17, 2014 in Mexico, where he lived with his wife Mercedes Barcha.

"The family is here," Garcia Barcha said; relatives had arrived in recent days from France and the United States.

In the Claustro de la Merced, or Cloister of Mercy, about 100 meters (yards) from the family's seafront home, preparations were under way Sunday for a ceremony at 2100 GMT in remembrance of "Gabo," the affectionate nickname given the writer.

A bronze bust of the author by British sculptor Katie Murray stood, covered for the moment in black plastic, in the courtyard.

It rested atop a commemorative stone that will hold a portion of Garcia Marquez's ashes; the rest will remain in Mexico, where he had lived since the 1980s.

"Some 400 people have been invited, including the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos," said Graciela Venecia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the University of Cartagena, which organized the event.

The president once saluted Garcia Marquez, author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude," as "the greatest Colombian of all times."

The university said in a statement that at the family's request, a simple ceremony was planned, to be attended by "invitees as well as lovers of culture, well-known writers (...) and journalists."

Garcia Marquez was a fervent defender of the rights of victims of Latin American dictatorships, earning widespread admiration.

But there was no unanimity around the placement of the writer's ashes. "The homage to Garcia Marquez ... should take place at his native Aracataca," the village where he was born in 1927, Nereira Esparragoza, 51, told AFP. He had come from Barranquilla, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) away.

Katia Manjarrez, 53, a Cartagena businesswoman, went further, saying, "We should respect the country he loved, Mexico." As much as the presence of Gabo's ashes could be a boon to her city, she said, "for him, Cartagena and Aracataca were less important."

But near the walled city's famous Clock Tower, 62-year-old Gustavo Cabarcas said the ashes belonged in Cartagena. "For us," he said, "it is a source of joy that they remain here."