Malcolm Deas

Malcolm Deas is a historian of Latin America, and particularly of Colombia, and an emeritus fellow at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, where he taught modern history for almost five decades. He was among the founding staff of the Latin American Centre in Oxford and for a number of years its director.

Plan Colombia

Malcolm Deas, 5 April 2001

In memoriam, Jesús Antonio Bejarano, murdered by unknown assassins on his way to class, 1999.

Many more people continue to die in Colombia than in the Middle Eastern troubles between Israelis and Palestinians, and it’s high time more attention was paid to it internationally. It’s a country in the Northern Hemisphere and its capital city is within easy commuting distance of...

Moths of Ill Omen

Malcolm Deas, 30 October 1997

The Hispanic world is particularly reverential towards its writers, perhaps because, through the vagaries of world history, it has not much else to be reverential about. There are the turn of the century poets who could fill opera houses; the overcoated figures photographed on the Paris boulevards, making it, in what Latin Americans still sometimes call, with touching loyalty, the City of Light; the accounts, in the (unreadable) Sunday cultural supplements of La Prensa, El Universal, El Tiempo, or in certain beautifully printed but contentless monthly reviews, of breakfast conversations in New England when the revered poet was in residence on some campus or other. Matchless friends, great souls, universal intelligences, and often even accomplished cooks. Think how the shadow of Gabriel García Márquez has loomed over Colombia. Thirty years ago he published One Hundred Years of Solitude, the foundation stone of an unmanageable fame rivalled in the Spanish-speaking world only by Fidel Castro – a possible reason for their friendship – and not by many outside it.

Narco Nabobs

Malcolm Deas, 6 January 1994

Pablo Escobar, the world’s most famous drug smuggler, was finally found and killed by the Colombian police on 2 December 1993. Among journalists everywhere he was popular to the end. Most of the reports of his death invoked Robin Hood, and spoke of the mourning of the Medellín poor; and many local people did indeed turn out for his funeral. It was reported and photographed – cries of ‘Pablo, Pablo’, vengeance in the air, grieving sister dressed in black with elbows on coffin – so as to make Medellín appear as much as possible like some people’s idea of Sicily. Most of the expressions of admiration for Escobar, however, should be attributed to a willingness to live up to the questioner’s expectations, or to the Colombian habit of mamando gallo, or keeping one’s end up by saying and doing disrespectful things. The funeral was obviously an occasion not to be missed. A good turnout was not necessarily evidence of grief, but of a readiness to keep in their place authorities who might otherwise think that they had achieved something for which they should be congratulated. Congratulating governments has not figured much in the local political culture, and the national government has not been particularly popular in Medellin in recent years.

Homicide in Colombia

Malcolm Deas, 22 March 1990

Around 1890 Colombia was governed by Dr Rafael Nuñez. This ravaged old intellectual, a late convert from the fleshpots of Liverpool – he had been Consul there – and liberalism, exerted his influence from a breezy summer-house on the beach near Cartagena, and left the day-to-day business of government in Bogota to the ultramontane grammarian, schoolteacher, Virgil-translator and polymath Miguel Antonio Caro, who in the course of a long life, legend has it, not only never bothered to see the sea, which was then many days distant, but even drew the line at going to see the River Magdalena, close enough for someone of even the feeblest geographical curiosity.

Spectacle of the Rats and Owls

Malcolm Deas, 2 June 1988

‘Fidel Castro, alas’ one would have to answer if asked what 20th-century Latin American had cut the largest figure in the world. The best short account of the cultural reasons for lamentation is G. Cabrera Infante’s ‘Bites from the Bearded Crocodile’ (LRB, 4-17 June 1981). The economic and social reasons for being less than enthusiastic are set out in the leaden pages of Jorge Dominguez’s Cuba: Order and Revolution of 1970: it is worth bearing in mind that the present state of the Cuban economy can only be sustained by the receipt of something like half of all Soviet aid to the so-called Third World. And now there is Armando Valladares’s Against All Hope, a distinguished prison memoir.

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