Alma Guillermoprieto is a frequent contributor to The New York Review, often writing on Latin America. She is the author of Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution, among other books.
 (May 2016)


The End of Fidel

Reflection of Fidel Castro on a window in a working-class neighborhood, Havana, Cuba, 2012

Castro is gone from the scene at the moment when he could have been useful. Outwardly a highly cultured man with exquisite manners, he had the inner constitution of a bully. In defeat he always hit back harder, because it was simply not in him to back down.

Colombia: What Happened to Peace

Bolivar Square after Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos cast his ballot there in the referendum on a peace accord, Bogota, Colombia, October 2,

The fatal idea of holding a plebiscite to ratify the peace agreement between the FARC and the government was President Santos’s alone, and he stuck to it against strenuous opposition from his advisers. The referendum he designed to guarantee the peace agreement’s permanence proved its undoing. He had stated earlier that there was no plan B, and we now learn that he wasn’t kidding. The question is what comes now.

Cuba: The Big Change

President Obama with Cuban President Raúl Castro at a baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays, Havana, March 2016
The stock phrase being used in the press is that this is “the first visit by a sitting US president in eighty-eight years,” but of course that’s not the point. It’s the first visit since the Cuban Revolution, the first since the Bay of Pigs, the first since Fidel brought in the nuclear missiles that made the world freeze in fear of imminent nuclear annihilation in 1962, the first since the United States imposed fifty years of diplomatic and commercial isolation on an island with a population of eleven million.


Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
Until I arrived at the Review as an editorial assistant, I had never met anyone who so rarely engaged in idle pleasantries as Bob. His daily language was pared down, accurate, and sincere. I found his example revelatory, and I would ponder his usage and elisions like a giddy college freshman. Bob would never, for instance, wish us a good weekend. Presumably he had no particular investment in the quality of our weekends, and possibly he didn’t even know when his assistants’ weekends were, since we took turns working Saturday and Sunday shifts with him. But was he also, I wondered, rejecting the implied value of a good weekend? Is the goal of leisure time pleasure? Edification? Novel experience? If we couldn’t settle on criteria, we couldn’t possibly arrive at a valuation, in which case why bother asking on Monday morning how someone’s weekend had been?

Mexico: The Murder of the Young

Demonstrators marching from the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa to the center of Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, Mexico, to attend a memorial mass for the forty-three abducted students, October 2014
Everyone knows what happened; no one understands why. On September 26, forty-three students were abducted in one of the poorest states in the Mexican republic, from one of its very poorest public vocational schools—an all-male teachers’ college. This is by no means the largest or even necessarily the most horrifying mass killing to have taken place in Mexico in recent years, but it is the most known: we know the perpetrators (the local police and the local drug gangs), the victims (forty-three young men whose pictures are now everywhere), and their families, stoic hard workers—campesinos, many of them—who have refused to back down from their demand that their missing children be returned to them alive.

Mexico: Risking Life for Truth

A Mexican soldier helping to destroy a marijuana plantation near Culiacán, Sinaloa, February 2009
Let us say that you are a Mexican reporter working for peanuts at a local television station somewhere in the provinces—the state of Durango, for example—and that one day you get a friendly invitation from a powerful drug-trafficking group. Imagine that it is the Zetas, and that thanks to their efforts in your city several dozen people have recently perished in various unspeakable ways, while justice turned a blind eye. Among the dead is one of your colleagues. Now consider the invitation, which is to a press conference to be held punctually on the following Friday, at a not particularly out of the way spot just outside of town. You were, perhaps, considering going instead to a movie? Keep in mind, the invitation notes, that attendance will be taken by the Zetas.

Drugs: The Rebellion in Cartagena

President Obama with the Colombian singer Shakira and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena, where he was attending the Summit of the Americas, at which leaders openly discussed the legalization of drugs for the first time, April 15,2012
A couple of decades ago, perhaps, a discussion of the war on drugs declared by Richard Nixon back in 1973 could reasonably have centered on whether eradication of narcotic-producing crops and the violent extermination of drug-trafficking groups was the way to rescue the young and vulnerable from the threat of addiction. It was the existence of addicts, after all, and the desire to avoid creating more of them, that justified the entire notion of drug prohibition. But the startling, unprogrammed, and rebellious discussion about drugs that took place among hemispheric leaders in April at a summit in Cartagena, Colombia, barely mentioned addiction, because it’s too late for that.


Mexico: The War on Journalists

Photojournalist Rubén Espinosa in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, January 20, 2014

Given the almost complete lack of trust under which law enforcement authorities labor everywhere in Mexico, it is not surprising that the Mexico City District Attorney’s preliminary conclusion, that Rubén Espinosa and his friend, the activist Nadia Vera, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were murdered July 31, was met with general hoots of rage and derision.

Guzmán: The Buried Truth

A Mexican federal police officer inspecting Chapo Guzmán's escape tunnel, July 16, 2016

Chapo Guzmán’s jailbreak is arguably the greatest pie-in-the-face embarrassment any Mexican government has ever had to deal with. But as the country’s highest officials try to recover face, serious questions continue to pile up—including claims that he was captured last year by US agents disguised as Mexican marines.

Mexico: Making the Dogs Dance

The end of the nearly one-mile tunnel through which drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera escaped, Almoloya de Juárez, Mexico, July 12, 2015

Within a few hours of his relaxed escape from Mexico’s highest security prison, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as “el Chapo,” was back on Twitter. “Never say never,” the world’s most wanted drug trafficker cried. He thanked his collaborators, praised his sons, and made rude references to President Enrique Pena Nieto: “And you, @EPN, don’t call me a delinquent again, because I give people jobs, not like your piddling cheap government.”