Interview With Hugh O’Shaughnessy: “The US Star Is Sinking In Latin America”.



The author of “The Priest Of Paraguay”, the biography of President Lugo (launched in Bolivar Hall on  September 2nd) tells  how he became involved in Latin America and assesses the region’s future:

Hugh O’Shaughnessy’s first encounter with the Spanish language was in the 1950’s. He had obtained a Scholarship to study in Salamanca during the Generalissimo Franco era and thereby ensured entry to Worcester College, Oxford for a Modern Languages course (together with French). After University, he worked for a while in a chocolate factory. At Christmas 1960, he was offered a job with ‘The Financial Times’. No-one else wanted to write about Latin America – which was “too far away to be of any interest” – so he agreed to do so himself. His passion for the region began then and continues to this day. In 1962, he visited the area for the first time. His arrival in Venezuela coincided with the Carupano and Puerto Cabello military revolts against President Romulo Betancourt’s hardline attitude towards Fidel Castro’s regime. He was “smitten by La Guaira and the autopista (motorway) to Caracas. Back then, The Financial Times was “a very broad-based paper”. He could more or less write what he wanted, though it might have been different if he’d attempted to express radical views about the European Community, France or the USA. Since those days, he feels that both the ‘FT’ and ‘The Economist’ magazine ( for whom he has also worked) have both “moved to the right” in their coverage of Latin America and that they follow “a policy of character assassination, particularly of Hugo Chavez”. When he finally left the ‘FT’ in 1985, he asked himself what he had achieved in his 25 years with them. The only thing he could think of was that he had prevented anyone from writing a leading editorial in favour of Pinochet.

During his career, O’Shaughnessy has displayed the essential journalist knack of sensing where and when the next significant event will take place. He landed in Buenos Aires just as a coup was taking place against President Arturo Illia ( “a good and much-maligned Head of State”) in 1966 and filed his report for The Economist in time for the Thursday deadline. In 1973, he remained in Santiago de Chile when most of his media colleagues had concluded that the political situation was “boiling down” and had returned to their base in Buenos Aires. He was thus one of the few western correspondents who witnessed the military overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government on September 11th. He recalls that  Salvador Allende told him that the epitaph on his tombstone would be “Here lies the future President of Chile”. O’Shaughnessy also met Jorge Rafael Videla , President of Argentina 1976-81, who he describes as “one of the most disreputable authorities Latin America has ever had” and was in Grenada when US forces invaded the island on October 25th 1983. His first book about the region, ‘Latin Americans’ (1988) was commissioned by the BBC to accompany their radio series of the same name.

In a more recent ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ BBC piece last year, he reported on “the amazing health services the Cubans are offering, especially in Bolivia”. He was there during President Evo Morales’ first term of office (2005 -2008) and was impressed by the eye hospitals that the Cubans, with Venezuelan money, have set up in El Alto and across the country: “On the borders with Peru and Argentina, there is free eye treatment available to anyone of any nationality. This constitutes a revolution in eye care at the top of the Andes”. He is glad that his account has been published around the world.

Meanwhile, he feels that the ” raison d’etre’ for US domination of the Western Hemisphere and Latin America has evaporated since the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 1989) and the end of the Soviet Union. The decline of US influence has coincided with growing Latin American self-confidence , boosted by the boom in raw material prices. In response, the US is trying to set up bases in Colombia and  has put together “A Fourth Fleet wandering around Latin American waters at exorbitant cost to US taxpayers”. Brazil is “well on its way to becoming a great power”. Bolivia for the first time in living memory has a trade surplus with the rest of the world and a budget surplus. It also has immense reserves of lithium and hydrocarbons. Morales  “Is getting to grips with the racial problems that have plagued Latin America since 1492”. Lugo became Paraguay’s President “against all the odds” and survived a coup against him in his first fortnight in power.

“The tide is turning in favour of reform and social democracy”. Even if Chavez is again “pitched out of office” it would “not be a mortal blow”. After the Castros have gone, it is certain that the right in the USA will seize the opportunity to recover the hold they had on Cuba from 1898 until Fidel took over: “The next Cuban Government will be prepared for that”. The Honduras crisis “Has revealed Mrs Clinton in her true colours”. Both she and Obama condemned the coup. However, although the US President supports Zelaya’s return, Hillary Clinton apparently does not: “There’s obviously a split between the two of them on this”. In O’Shaughnessy’s view, Zelaya’s ousting and the installation of the “Imposter Government” was carried out with the assistance of commercial and political interests in Washington.



Filed under: Politics | Posted on September 16th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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