Alma Guillermoprieto, who writes regularly for The New York Review about Latin America, is the author of Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution, among other books. (June 2019)


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.


A Reporting Life in Latin America

Government troops enforcing a daytime curfew after a massacre in San Vicente de Chucurí, Colombia, 1988
In November 1988 I was living in Bogotá when news broke that a terrible massacre had occurred in a small mining town miles away from just about everywhere, but reachable by plane from the city of Medellín. The story of the massacre in this town, called Segovia, took hours to travel to the capital, but then it burst all over the national news. We learned that in just an hour and a half of carnage, dozens of people had been murdered that long weekend. For days after the killings, the newspapers ran entire pages of photographs of mourners in the pouring rain, grieving over rows of coffins. But for all the scandal and commotion that week, I couldn’t find an account in the Bogotá media of what had actually taken place. Of course I had to go.

The Twisting Nature of Love

Yalitza Aparicio and Marco Graf in Roma


a film directed by Alfonso Cuarón
When I was a child there was always a nanny. My parents were broke more often than not—breakfast and supper might frequently be a bread roll and black coffee—but there was always a nanny, and no matter how sporadically we paid her, she never left: it was the order of things. Carmela fed me breakfast when my parents weren’t around. She took me with her wherever she went: to market, to shop for the day’s meal; to the shoe repair shop; to the park, where we sat on a bench to watch the pigeons while I clung to her, blurting questions; and even to faraway Xochimilco, where she had relatives, and where, on a dusty road in the middle of cornfields and narrow canals, I saw my first funeral—a quavering chant in the air, a dozen mourners, the men in straw cowboy hats, the women wrapped in rebozos, everyone holding a flower or a candle in the late-afternoon light, and at the center, a small white coffin bearing the angelito, the dead child.

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.

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.


Claudia Andujar: Witness to the Yanomami’s Last Struggle

Claudia Andujar: Unahi Opikɨ thëri, Opikɨ thëri, Roraima State, 1974

Policing the Amazon demands enormous sums of money and unwavering political commitment. Under Bolsonaro, it’s as though all the security cameras have been turned off. Thus the indigenous peoples’ struggle for survival that has lasted half a millennium may be about to end: some of the last people on earth who look at the world and see a wondrously different reality from the one we perceive are all but defenseless under Brazil’s new president. And it could be that soon all that will remain of their presence on this earth will be Claudia Andujar’s glorious photographs.

Mexico: A Voice Against the Darkness

Javier Valdez, Sinaloa, Mexico, May 23, 2013

On the day he was killed, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez had just come from a meeting with the Riodoce newspaper staff about his security situation; he should leave Sinaloa, at least for a while, everyone agreed. He was intercepted by gunmen on his way home.

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.