Friday, October 01, 2010


Latin America has held a fascination for me as far back as I can remember. At a tender age I could identify the flags of all the Latin American countries and name their capitals, populations, biggest industries and all the bunk you can absorb, if you're so inclined, from encyclopaedias and the Pear's Cyclopaedia (1968 Edition).

Then in 1990 we decided to sell up and spend some time travelling in Latin America, a bit of a delayed gap year. We ended up teaching English in Mexico. As we arrived in the town in the Sierra Madre mountains where we were to begin work, our bus from Mexico City was buzzed by helicopters and the streets were crammed full of soldiers. First thoughts were that we had arrived in the middle of a coup. But no, the President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was speaking at an open air rally in the town. He was hugely popular at the time, but now lives in almost voluntary exile after leaving office in disgrace.

We were in Guatemala when Mrs Thatcher was deposed. It took some effort to convince our friends in Guatemala City that Britain hadn't actually had a coup. They found it hypocritical that they had been lectured on democracy by Europeans only to see the democratically elected leader of the UK ousted by a cabal. We eventually explained how our quaint form of democracy works, but it came to look even more absurd as we explained it. Mrs T was so admired they offered to drop their claim to Belize if we could arrange for her to take charge of Guatemala.

We also briefly knew the nephew of one of Guatemala's presidential candidates. The uncle seemed to be a decent, honest man and we were given the opprtunity to return for the election and follow his campaign. Foolishly we had so much of the continent to see, the Amazon, the Andes and so much more that we declined. He was elected but the last we heard, a couple of years later, he had been put under virtual house arrest by the military then sent into exile in El Salvador.

The early days of Violeta Chamorro's presidency of Nicaragua saw us surveying the shambolic state of anarchy that the Sandinistas had left behind in Nicaragua. Glad to be out of the hell that was Nicaragua we fled to Costa Rica, arriving as an earthquake struck.

But enough of my ramblings. It was the sight of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa standing in a hospital window shouting to the crowd of police and other demonstrators gathered below, that if they wanted to kill a president, there he was and they were welcome to take a pot shot. It could only happen in Latin America. He wasn't shot and, yet again, a Latino president was saved by the military after a gun battle between them and the police.

I can't help thinking that here in Britain Cameron would stand in a window, probably behind bullet proof glass, shouting: "Come on then, you want to heckle a Prime Minister? Then jolly well do it!".

The crowd would look up at the window, look at each other and mumble: "Stuff this, let's go for a curry. Who is that pillock?".

I still do miss Latin America.

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