reflection

“The atmosphere in the train was grim. This was the bottom of the social scale, mainly people going to the next village, a ten cent ride to sell a dollar’s worth of bananas. The children chattered; no one else did. The adults seemed incurious, even surly, and those whose eyes I caught watching me appeared guiltily suspicious and turned away. In conversation they were off-hand. They asked no questions at all; their replies were brief.

I had a political reverie on that train. It was this: the government held elections, encouraged people to vote and appeared to be democratic. The army appeared to be impartial, the newspapers disinterested. And it remained a peasant society, basically underfed and unfree. It must perplex any peasant to be told he is living in a free country, when the facts of his life contradict this. It might be that this does not perplex him; he has every reason to believe, in accordance with the evidence, that democracy is feudal, a bureaucracy run by crooks and trigger-happy vigilantes.

When one sees a government of the Guatemalan sort professing such high-mindedness in its social aims and producing such mediocre results, one cannot be surprised if the peasant concludes that communism might be an improvement. It was a Latin American sickness: inferior government gave democracy an evil name and left people no option but to seek an alternative. From Guatemala to Argentina, the majority of the countries are run by self-serving tyrannies which are only making the merciless vengeance of anarchy inevitable.”

Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express, 1979, p. 111

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