The Great Spectacular

The Great Spectacular—the signing of the Panama Treaty—is over and there will be no general distribution. I had seen nothing like it since Around the World in Eighty Days. All the familiar actors from how many television screens and newspaper photographs seemed to be there—all except Elizabeth Taylor. Kissinger, before the delegations settled into their seats, could be seen button-holing his way around the hall of the Organization of American States with his world-wide grin: five rows in front of me I could see Nelson Rockefeller being strenuously amiable to Lady Bird, as though the two of them were sitting out a dance together, ex-President Ford more blond than I had imagined him from the screen—or had he been to the barber? There too were Mr. and Mrs. Mondale, Mrs. Carter. Two rows in front of me sat Andy Young, bright and boyish. All of them looked strikingly unimportant, like the stars in Around the World. They were not there to act, only to be noticed, party-goers having a night out together, pleased to feel at home with friendly faces—“What, you here?”

The real character actors were all up on the platform—an unpleasant sight but more impressive than the stars below: General Stroessner of Paraguay, whom I had last seen in uniform one National Day in Asuncion saluting the cripples of the Bolivian war as they wheeled by and the colonels stood stiffly upright in their cars like ninepins in a bowling alley (he had reminded me then of some flushed owner of a German Bierstube, and in civilian clothes he looked more than ever the part); General Videla of Argentina with a face squashed so flat there was hardly room for his two foxy eyes; General Banzer of Bolivia, a little frightened man with a small agitated mustache—he would have looked more like a dictator if he had worn a uniform, he had been miscast and misdressed; there too was the greatest character actor of them all—General Pinochet himself, the man you love to hate. Like Boris Karloff he had really attained the status of instant recognition, he was one who could look down with amused contempt at the highly paid frivolous Hollywood types below him. His chin was so deeply sunk in his collar he seemed to have no neck at all; he had clever, humorous, falsely good-fellow eyes which seemed to tell us all not to take too seriously all those stories of murder and torture. (A week before I had listened in Panama to an Argentine refugee. She broke down as she described how a bayonet had been thrust into her vagina.)

Pinochet, I feel sure, knew that he dominated the scene—he was the only one people were protesting about with banners in the streets of Washington—perhaps they couldn’t spell Stroessner’s name and they couldn’t remember Banzer’s. Pinochet was tactful, he didn’t wave to his ally Kissinger down below, and Kissinger never looked up at him. Then we all stood for the national anthems as…

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