South america

Bolsonaro isn’t finished yet

São Paulo The polls got it wrong again. In the first round of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday, challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) got 48.4 per cent of the vote, 5.2 points ahead of the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. Polls had predicted a possible first-round win for the insurgent. But – with neither candidate gaining a majority – they will now face a run-off election on 30 October. Bolsonaro hasn’t just flirted with the idea of a coup, he’s wined and dined it Lula has the lead and remains sanguine about victory. But the momentum is with Bolsonaro, the populist former army captain whose chaotic administration has polarised Brazil. Under

Nazi on the run: The Disappearance of Josef Mengele, by Olivier Guez, reviewed

Who would have thought that someone would write a novel about Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz doctor and infamous experimenter on live human bodies? Other characters in the French writer Olivier Guez’s story are also from the Nazi gang of debased criminals: Adolf Eichmann, Franz Stangl, the concentration camp commandant, and Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons. This is a historical novel, and Guez has researched it well. He invests the structure of events with his imagination and has Mengele relate his experiences throughout his long avoidance of capture. There’s a vivid sense of reality about the crazed, unrepentant eugenist’s attempt at an acceptable fugitive way of life, and Guez holds

How long can Peru’s new socialist leader last?

The symbolism could hardly have been clearer when Pedro Castillo was sworn in yesterday as Peru’s new President on the country’s 200th anniversary of independence. For arguably the first time in its history, Peru has a head-of-state who personifies the national majority — a campesino hailing from a particularly impoverished region of the northern Andes — rather than a member, real or honorary, of the largely white Lima elite. Given Peru’s persistent, stark inequality, drastically exacerbated by the pandemic, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the electorate has waited until now to vote in such a radical left-populist. Although the rabblerousing rural school teacher currently appears to be tacking towards the centre, he had originally promised

Lost city of fantasy

The new film The Lost City of Z is being advertised as based on the true story of one of Britain’s greatest explorers. It is about Lt-Col Percy Fawcett. Greatest explorer? Fawcett? He was a surveyor who never discovered anything, a nutter, a racist, and so incompetent that the only expedition he organised was a five-week disaster. Calling him one of our greatest explorers is like calling Eddie the Eagle one of our greatest sportsmen. It is an insult to the huge roster of true explorers. Had the advertisement been about a soap powder, it would fall foul of the Trade Descriptions Act. Percy Fawcett joined the army immediately after

Venezuela’s doomed love affair with socialism continues

It’s hard to imagine now but just decades ago Venezuela was the richest country in South America. The late President Hugo Chávez’s social programs thrived on record oil revenues; Venezuelan industry was left underdeveloped but poverty was glitteringly – yet only temporarily – relieved. Now that the price of oil has plummeted, the country’s hollow economy is dependent on imports it does not have the cash to buy. Normally reliable Chinese lenders are having second thoughts. Inflation has hit triple digits. Venezuela’s economy is in utter recession and is projected to contract eight per cent this year, making it officially the slowest-growing economy in the world. The litany of consequent disasters is

Wings of desire

Maria Sibylla Merian was a game old bird of entrepreneurial bent, with an overwhelming obsession with insects. Born in Frankfurt in 1647, she sacrificed her health and financial stability in pursuit of her passion. It carried her halfway across the globe and earned her lasting renown among a handful of cognoscenti. Merian was 15 when Jan Goedart published the first of his three volumes of Metamorphosis et historia naturalis insectorum and is unlikely to have seen the book until later. Goedart’s purpose, based on close observation of a range of insects, was a fuller understanding of insect life cycles. It was the same purpose to which Maria Merian devoted herself

Marvellous, murderous city

When Stefan Zweig first arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1936, he was overwhelmed not only by the city’s magnificent landscape but also by its ordered architecture and city planning. This encounter he would later describe as being ‘one of the most powerful impressions of my whole life’. In his Brazil: Land of the Future, a book that was an exercise in wish-fulfilment masquerading as travelogue, Zweig believed the country to be the embodiment of ‘future civilisation and peace in our world’. Over 70 years later Brazil held the world’s worst record for homicidal violence: for every ten people killed, one was a Brazilian. Rio, the cidade maravilhosa (marvellous city),

The murderous gangs who run the world

Rosalio Reta was 13 years old when recruited by a Mexican drug cartel. He was given a loyalty test — shoot dead a man tied to a chair — then moved into a nice house in Texas. Soon he was earning $500 a week for stakeouts and odd jobs, but the big money came from slitting the throats of the gang’s enemies, which paid a $50,000 bonus. Four years later he was arrested after 20 murders; his only remorse was over accidentally sparking a massacre that left him fearing his bosses might exact revenge on him. Such bloodstained stories of obscene violence in pursuit of obscene wealth fill the pages

Peru’s Indians are repressed with more efficiency than blacks ever were in South Africa

In The Spectator of 21 March a column by Toby Young caught my eye. Discussing the pros and cons of selective schools, Toby found it hard to reach an emphatic conclusion; and for what it’s worth I find it hard too — but, then again, what do I know? It was his international comparisons that engaged me. It was not the point he was trying to make, but Toby quoted a statistic which speaks volumes about the continuing oppression of the indigenous peoples of South America. In educational attainment tests, Peru has the world’s worst ‘variance’ explicable by the children’s backgrounds, or so the OECD have found. ‘Variance’ means departure

One day the Condor and the Eagle will fly wing-tip to wing-tip

The pub was disappointingly empty, so I took my first pint of the evening upstairs, where some sort of New Age society was holding a public talk and discussion. I gave the woman seated just inside the meeting room my £5 entry fee and found a spare seat at the back next to a big bloke with a beard. In the five minutes or so before the talk began, I counted 47 other people in the room, all of them white. Five chaps had advanced male pattern baldness, another had very obviously dyed hair (black). The total number of beards was six, including a goatee. Average age, at a guess,

A horse ride from Buenos Aires to New York? No problem!

Aimé Tschiffely was what I have seen in other contexts called a ‘doublehard bastard’. In the middle of the 1920s, this Swiss-born schoolteacher at the age of 30 feared that he was getting stuck in a groove and that he wanted ‘variety’. So he set out on a solo horse-ride from Buenos Aires to New York City. Tschiffely wasn’t even much of a horseman at this point. But he had the notion that the wild Criollo horses of Argentina — descendents of the Spanish horses transported to the continent by the Conquistadors in the 16th century and brought to excellence by their survival in that unforgiving environment in the centuries

Fog around the Falklands

For the populist president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, the ban on Falklands-flagged ships agreed by the Mercosur summit in Montevideo is a diplomatic triumph. It comes after a string of similar moves throughout the region aimed at tightening the noose around the Falklands. For example, HMS Gloucester was denied access to Montevideo in 2010 and, in an effort to strengthen Brazilian-Argentinian ties, Brazil did the same when HMS Clyde sought to dock in Rio de Janeiro. In reality, ships from the Falklands can switch flags before they enter any regional ports, but Argentina’s intent is to isolate the islands — and bring fellow South American nations along with them in

From the archives: The Great Communicator stumbles

It’s been 25 years since the Iran-Contra affair – the scandal about the US government selling arms to Iran and using the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan rebels. It saw Ronald Reagan’s approval rating drop from 67 per cent to 46 per cent, and fourteen memebers of his staff were indicted. In a piece that appeared in The Spectator exactly a quarter of a century ago, Christopher Hitchens explains how the Reagan administration was unable to contain the story. The end of the line, Christopher Hitchens, 29 November 1986 If you wish to understand the fire that has broken out in the Washington zoo, and penetrate beyond the mere lowing

Big Red

‘Dear mother, I’m feeling quite ill, From all of these bits off the grill; Nostrils and tits and unspeakable bits, Balls haven’t come yet, but they will!’ So wrote my late father-in-law, Cyril Ray, as he ran up the white flag after one asado too many during a trip to Argentina many years ago. And nothing has changed: I’m the least vegetarian person I know, but by the end of a ten-day trip to Buenos Aires and Mendoza, the merest whiff of woodsmoke had me reaching for the lettuce sandwich. The traditional Argentine asado — a loose term that can mean ‘short rib’, ‘grill’ or ‘barbecue’ — is a long,

Cameron vs Kirchner

After stating the obvious at PMQs this week — that the Falklands would remain sovereign British territory as long as they want to be — David Cameron has come under heavy fire from the Argentine President, Cristina Kirchner. As today’s papers report, she yesterday described our PM as “arrogant,” and said his comments were an “expression of mediocrity and almost of stupidity”. But there is nothing new in the British position, which has always been that there can be no negotiations over sovereignty unless and until such a time as the Falkland Islanders so wish. The issue has recently heated up after the United States sided with Argentina in demanding

Glutton for punishment

With its vast areas of barely explored wilderness, and its heady mix of the sublime, the bizarre and the lushly seductive, South America would appear to have all the ingredients to attract the travel writer. Yet the recent travel literature on the continent has been surprisingly scant and taken up by lightweight, gung-ho tales of not especially remarkable adventures. Fortunately there is John Gimlette, whose first South American travel book, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, captured with great wit and learning the quirkiness of Paraguay. He has now produced a no less remarkable portrait of the highly idiosyncratic countries known collectively as Guiana, the ‘Land of Many Waters’.

Daylight for the 33

As Alex says, the rescue of the Chilean miners has to be the “feel-good story of the year”. The first, Florencio Avalos, was winched out of his underground cell at 0310 British time, and a further four have been delivered to the surface since. With 28 more miners to come, this is by no means over – but a much happier end is in sight than many would have believed, 68 days ago.

What lies beneath

There’s the pretty-much-mandatory South American setting, the gloomy reflections on the nature of reality and unreality, along with a clutch of wildly unreliable narrators. There’s the pretty-much-mandatory South American setting, the gloomy reflections on the nature of reality and unreality, along with a clutch of wildly unreliable narrators. It even has the added cachet of having been written in Spanish by a Canadian and then translated into English. If ever there was a book that demanded to be hurled across the room by anyone who’s not a regular user of the word ‘ludic’, this surely is it. It therefore comes as a considerable surprise to report that All Men Are

Future foreign policy

If the Tories win power (still a big “if” these days), William Hague will walk into King Charles Street, be greeted by the FCO’s Permanent Secretary Peter Ricketts, meet his new staff and be briefed on the Office he will lead and the foreign challenges Britain faces. There will be plenty on his plate. Calls from foreign dignitaries, preparations for forthcoming summits, a discussion of key priorities, and suggestions for how to reorganise the machinery of government. There will also be a need to prepare the FCO’s contribution to a cost-cutting exercise.      But there ought to be an early discussion about how the world is changing and the

Slum-dwellers and high-flyers

James Scudamore is evidently fascin- ated by borderline personality disorder. His characters veer between moments of machismo-fuelled rage, extravagant eloquence and intense introspection. The Amnesia Clinic (2007), which earned him the Somerset Maugham Award for writers under 35, was set in Ecuador and depicted the tribulations of adolescence. For his second, bolder novel, he crosses the Andes to the even more turbulent setting of Brazil and heaving, torrid Sao Paolo. There are striking similarities between the books — among them a passion for the South American landscape and the quest for personal identity — but the naive charm of The Amnesia Clinic is here replaced by a more brutal force.