Dr Marcelo Jose Alfonzo Rosas, who passed away on February 22 aged 66, was a committed revolutionary and supporter of Venezuela’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez. He had been an active socialist since his student days at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), where he studied medicine and biology.
Born in the Isle of Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela, in 1949, Marcelo became active in student politics. He drove an ambulance as a getaway car in a daring kidnapping during a period of upsurge in radical politics in Venezuela in the 1960s. He later obtained a PhD at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, together with his wife Ramona, in 1977.
At that time, few Venezuelan students came back to their home country from the US; most were part of the “brain drain” that affects many under-developed nations. However, Marcelo and Ramona both returned to train and educate Venezuelan medical students in research techniques and modern medicine at the UCV’s Institute of Experimental Medicine (IME).
Basic medical research is difficult in a Third World country, but Marcelo achieved international renown in the area of asthma treatment.
He built a group of committed students around him, attracted by his sense of humour, enthusiasm, humility and his clear sense of humanity. He was a pathophysiology professor and director of the IME for many years, as well as being a member of the UCV University Council.
Just as important as his brilliant medical career, Marcelo was one of the few professors at UCV who supported the pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution that Chavez had led to his last breath. A centre of wealth, privilege and rampant corruption, the UCV is a snake pit of reaction and hatred of Chavismo.
Marcelo took them on and was a candidate for university rector in 2004, but could make little impact in a rigged electoral system.
Marcelo also gave selfless support for the Australian solidarity brigades organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) between 2006 and 2012. He would give groups a talk on the history of Venezuela, including the indigenous struggles against colonial Spain.
In a 2006 interview with Green Left Weekly, Marcelo said: “One important idea that Chavez had was to give power to the poor people. In the classic fight between the classes, the rich people have all the money and control of the government.
“The socialism that we are trying to build in this country is an attempt to give power to the poor people, the excluded sector — which includes the poor, the workers, the professionals, the housewives, the indigenous people.
“There is general unity around support for our democratic constitution, and the driving force of the people behind it.”
In a message to Australian supporters of Venezuela, Marcelo said: “My last call is to please take note of what is happening in Venezuela. We have to really break through the grip of the mass media and consumer society.
“In the end, to save the Earth, to save humanity, we need to develop a new way of living. This is a call for socialism internationally, in other countries.
“Because we have poor people, marginalised people in every country, we have to think about how to build a new society — to stop killing each other to survive, and to cooperate in order to live.”
Marcelo died from a heart attack. His wife Ramona explained it was a result of the stress and enormous pressure on people in Venezuela after Chavez’s death, the difficult economic circumstances, the battles against the bureaucracy at UCV and the battle to continue doing research work.
He will be sorely missed by Ramona and his two sons Marcelo and Huascar, as well his staunch academic and political ally in the IME, Dr Itala Lippo, his students, colleagues and close friends, and by members of the AVSN brigades he addressed over the years.
Marcelo Alfonzo, one of the unsung heroes of the Bolivarian Revolution. Vale companero.