On 9 April 1948, the Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán stepped out of his office with a group of friends to walk to Bogotá’s Hotel Continental for lunch. An assassin confronted him in the street and shot him three times in the face and chest. He died shortly afterwards. His supporters caught the 20-year-old culprit, Juan Roa Sierra, and beat him to death. His body, naked except for a blue and red striped tie, was dumped in front of the Presidential Palace. It remained there for two days. ‘El Bogotazo’, the night of violence sparked by Gaitán’s assassination, left more than 3000 people dead and Bogotá half in ruins.
Around 1985 I found a badly printed little paperback at Grant & Cutler called De viaje por los países socialistas, by Gabriel García Márquez. It was an eye-opener – the first playful, thoughtful, intimate, non-ideological take on the Eastern bloc I’d read. García Márquez has always called himself a journalist. It turns out that his literary-intellectual formation was nurtured not only by the chatty spirits around his grandmother and the depredations of the United Fruit company, but also by the fabulous variations of Communism he observed on a couple of semi-clandestine trips in the late 1950s.
The book was a trove of weird anecdotes and shrewd assessments. Slightly unpolished, perhaps, but still, why hadn’t it been translated?