Richard Gott

Richard Gott has written several books about Latin America, including Land without Evil: Utopian Journeys across the South American Watershed.

What do we remember about Cornelius Cardew? That he was a brilliant avant-garde composer who pioneered free improvisation and led a Scratch Orchestra of musicians and artists; that he wrote a polemical tract alleging that Stockhausen ‘serves imperialism’; and that, after spending a decade as a prominent Maoist, he was killed by a hit-and-run driver, in an apparent accident that conspiracy theorists have liked to construe as the work of the intelligence services.

Diary: Paraguayan Power

Richard Gott, 21 February 2008

At one end of the desolate park that stretches down from the public buildings of Asunción to the bay adjacent to the Paraguay River, where conquistadors first found refuge in the 16th century, stands a strange construction of concrete and metal that looks more like a contemporary artwork than a memorial. Scrambled within the cement are bronze hands sticking out and an upturned human face, crushed beneath an immense cube of concrete: the destroyed remains of the statue of General Alfredo Stroessner, one of the infamous dictators of the second half of the 20th century. He ruled here for 34 years, from a coup in 1954 until his overthrow in 1989, an annus mirabilis in Paraguay as well as in Eastern Europe.

Wafted to India: Unlucky Wavell

Richard Gott, 5 October 2006

For a schoolboy at Winchester in the 1950s, it was difficult to avoid the dramatic tombstone in the college cloisters. The memorial carries the simple legend WAVELL, deeply etched into the surface of a stone buried horizontally in the grass, and it joins those of other Wykehamists who are remembered there: George Mallory, lost on Everest in 1924, and William Whiting, who wrote the hymn...

A new history of the British Empire might be expected to concern itself with such issues as the construction of military dictatorship through the imposition of martial law; the violent seizure and settlement of land; the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples (and their culture and environment); the establishment of what is now called ‘institutional racism’; and the continuing...

The mountains of Venezuela rise up almost sheer from the shores of the Caribbean, with gashes of red earth below and vivid green forest above, the peaks entirely lost in grey cloud. From the aeroplane window I have often liked to imagine this as the land on which the local Indians stood when they first discovered Columbus on their beach in 1498 – although he landed some four hundred miles to the east, on the Peninsula de Paría, across the water from Trinidad.

From The Blog
9 October 2012

With Hugo Chávez’s election victory, the uncertainty that had built up about Venezuela’s future, sloppily fostered by the media in Europe and the United States, was swept away at a stroke. Venezuela enjoyed one of those great explosions of popular joy and excitement on Sunday night that occur just occasionally in Latin America, and of which I have been privileged to watch not a few. It may not survive – the euphoria created by Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution may evaporate as quickly as it began – but it should be enjoyed while it lasts. Chávez is the most popular figure not just in Venezuela but throughout Latin America, and it is high time that this was more widely recognised. Where in Europe can a politician achieve such popularity? On polling day I went to Zulia, a state in the far west that borders with Colombia.

Sacred Text: Guatemala

Richard Gott, 27 May 1999

On the way into Guatemala City from the airport on my first visit years ago, I was informed by the taxi-driver – who else? – of the death of the American Ambassador. It was August 1968, and John Gordon Mein had been assassinated that morning. This was an abrupt introduction to the complexities of Guatemalan politics, and I merely assumed – with the Vietnam War and the less-publicised Guatemalan guerrilla war of the Sixties well underway – that another imperial satrap had received his just deserts. The taxi-driver, however, thought it was bad news. There was an evening curfew and a 24-hour block on all journalistic reports leaving the country; it was not easy to discover quite what had taken place or to telex the story to the outside world.

Diary: Víctor Jara’s Chile

Richard Gott, 17 September 1998

Although I had lived for some of the previous decade in Santiago, I was not in Chile on 11 September 1973, the day 25 years ago when the government of Salvador Allende was overthrown. I was sitting in the Guardian’s old building in the Grays Inn Road when the news came in over the wires, but could not immediately fly to Chile, having a longstanding engagement to drive my family from Sussex to Yorkshire to establish them in a new home. The foreign editor threatened to send the Washington correspondent instead, so I promised I’d be on the first plane into Santiago. The Chilean military had closed the country to the outside world, and I knew that it would be some days before it opened up. They did not want too many foreign witnesses.

The Ribs of Rosinante

Richard Gott, 21 August 1997

I met Che Guevara in November 1963 at a reception in the gardens of the Soviet Embassy in Havana, one of those diplomatic occasions held every year to celebrate the anniversary of the October Revolution. He strode in after midnight, accompanied by a coterie of friends, bodyguards and hangers-on, wearing his trademark black beret, his shirt open to the waist. He was unbelievably beautiful. People stopped whatever they were doing and stared at the Revolution made flesh. ‘He had an incalculable enchantment that came completely naturally,’ Julia Costenla, an Argentine journalist told Jon Lee Anderson when he was researching his biography of Guevara. ‘If he entered a room, everything began revolving around him.’


Who was Christine?

26 April 2012

Jacqueline Rose shares Bill Weatherby’s apparent surprise that he found himself Marilyn Monroe’s confidant (LRB, 26 April). Perhaps she would have understood more quickly if she had known that Bill was gay. Weatherby was an immensely shy and private reporter who had escaped from the Guardian’s Manchester newsroom at the end of the 1950s to establish himself in New York as a showbiz...
The Mau Mau practice of obliging its activists to swear secret oaths of allegiance, referred to by Bernard Porter (LRB, 3 March), was by no means confined to Kenya. The phenomenon was common to many rebel organisations throughout the history of the British Empire, and deliberately mirrored a long-established British tradition. Instead of swearing loyalty to the British monarch on the Bible, a procedure...
What a brilliant pastiche by R.W. Johnson (LRB, 10 May) of a Daily Telegraph journalist visiting post-independence Africa in the 1960s. The unfortunate breakdown of the Volkswagen, the roads decaying ‘along with everything else’, the country ‘gripped’ in a fuel crisis, and a maize field burnt dry, a clear indication ‘of approaching famine’. When the intrepid reporter...

Do they drink the oil?

17 February 2000

Leo Zaibert (Letters, 1 June) accuses me of naivety and optimism, because I wrote positively about the Venezuelan Government of Hugo Chávez. It is safer, of course, to greet every new development in Latin America with cynicism. For the moment, however, Chávez's project appears to be the most interesting development in Latin America for many years. He has staked his reputation on rooting...

Lefter than thou

6 January 1994

Without wishing to revive the polemics of yesteryear, I would be unhappy if a new generation were to be left with Christopher Hitchens’s roseate view of the International Socialists in the Sixties and Seventies (LRB, 6 January). Of all the leftist sects that emerged in that period to take advantage of the global revolutionary upheaval that shook established institutions in every country, the...

Perfidy, Villainy, Intrigue: The Black Hole

Ramachandra Guha, 20 December 2012

In 1931, Gandhi visited England to discuss India’s political future. In a speech at Oxford, he hoped that when the empire finally ended, India would be an ‘equal partner with Britain,...

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America first

Felipe Fernández-Armesto, 7 January 1993

‘See America first’: the old tourist-office advertising slogan made it sound easy. The most famous moment in the history of exploration, however, is also one of the most baffling. In...

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