Equatorial Americas, Three Revolutions

Book Cover: Equatorial Americas, Three Revolutions

Three feature pieces treating revolutions in each of Panama, Nicaragua and the building of tensions in Haiti.

In Panama, a Pantomime.

Billed as support for a rebellion against General Noriega, the US invaded Panama for Christmas 1989. A year later Western expatriates in their clubs and enclaves were still divided.

GENERAL NORIEGA’S portrait stood on the hotel bar, his cap crusted with laurels, stars the length of his epaulets, his cheeks pocked and grainy. The camera had caught him reviewing a parade. Now a year after capture, the General was still the legitimate head of government here, anyway in the view of most Latin American states, and this status suited his bearing in the photograph, his eyes staring down the rest of the world.

His army gone, his irregulars outlawed, twenty thousand US soldiers in occupation of his country, the General’s continued presence in this bar would have surprised him. The place is well known to cab drivers as El Parvo Real on Calle 51, set between the hotels and office blocks of Via Espana and the classy condominiums of Campo Alegre. But to those inside here it is called the Royal Peacock. A barmaid pulls brown ale from the keg. Ayrshire roses stand in a window vase, and someone can tell you the result of the soccer draw between Crystal Palace and Manchester United.

The Play of Children.

In Port o Prince, Haiti, waiting for the elections, tension builds, as does the heat. Here, we sit in a restaurant, speaking of Haitian artistries, during a power failure.

We were all eyes, in this dusk. Mme Du Paix said, “The Voodoo has taken over the Naïve in our culture. No artistry speaks without voodoo.” Mme Du Paix seemed well qualified to talk about this. She wore a black waistcoat above a skirt shot with gold, and a black bowler hat above hair shot with gold. The clever reference was to a known apparition, a small spirit atop a greater. “The church schools tolerate Voodoo, but call it Naïve,” she said.Father Laville smiled. He was born deep in the outside country, a descendant of slaves, a maroon in Haiti, the term a reference to Cameroon. “True,” he said, “we take care not to excite official interest in us.”I knew the same caution didn’t seem to apply to others. Noel Coward, Graham Greene, and Truman Capote were all public admirers of Haitian painting. This line-up made Wilson laugh. Wilson was the one American among us. “Perhaps they each spent dinner on this verandah during a power failure,” he said.

The Fall of Old Managua.

The Nicaraguan revolution split families, none more than the Reyes, in which two brothers each became prominent leaders of opposing factions. In the first free elections in a decade, during the period in which President Reagan was still denying collaboration with the Contras, the US backed faction lead by Violetta Chamorro took government.

Ricardo Reyes waited by his office telephone in Houston. Before the day was done, after announcements of the first cabinet appointments and courtesy calls to foreign heads of state, Donna Violeta dialed Houston and appointed Ricardo Reyes consul-general for Nicaragua. Not many days later she demoted Rodrigo Reyes from Chief Justice to Judge-in-Ordinary.Rodrigo said: “No surprise. We Sandinistas knew heads would roll.”Ricardo said: “All Sandinista heads should roll. My brother is lucky his did not roll further.”I met the brothers Reyes during the hot summer, the time of a Friday when switchboards quieted for siesta. But these were separate Fridays, Ricardo in Houston, Rodrigo in Managua. They spoke of each other as if answering the persistent voice of conscience, a debate of long standing, the sort of argument which family reunions make inevitable, as the rest of the family retreats from the table to the calm of the garden, leaving them to it.