Month: September 2017

tupamarosNestled between Brazil and Argentina is the small Latin American nation of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay). The nation is the second smallest on the continent next to Suriname and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. To foreign visitors, it may seem a like destination that is too good to be true.  Currently, the nation enjoys peace and shows no signs of the conflicts that once plagued Uruguayan society.   Revisiting the past, Lindsey Churchill tells the story of the Tupamaros, the left-wing revolutionary faction that captivated a country and earned the admiration of revolutionaries abroad.

The world is intimately familiar with the revolutionary campaigns in Cuba, Russia, China and Vietnam.  Names such Castro, Guevara, Mao, Stalin and Ho Chih Minh, have become cemented in the ideology of left-wing movements .  Uruguay also has a story to tell, one that contains all of the elements found in the narratives of Latin American politics saturated with military dictatorships.  Churchill takes us back in time to understand the development of the Tupamaro faction, their relationship with revolutionary groups in the United States and their inner-struggled with gender, the topic that plagued revolutionary efforts around the world.  Named after Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui), the revolutionary warrior who led a revolt against the Spanish empire, the group evolved from a political party into an organization that resorted to fear through violence as they advanced their agenda of transforming Uruguayan society.   Their story begins in the 1960s and in particular 1968, when Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco (1920-1998) suspended the constitution and unleashed a wave of oppression.  Fueled by the successful revolution in Cuba and the spirit of the American Civil-Rights Movement, the Tupamaros and the became the foremost revolutionary party whose actions sometimes had deadly consequences.

Although the book is only two hundred and sixty pages, I literally could not put it down.  Prior to reading it, I was unfamiliar with the Tupamaros and the reign of Pacheco’s successor, Juan Maria Bordaberry (1928-2011) whose twelve-year dictatorship following a coup, marked the darkest period in the history of the nation.  Political oppression, false imprisonment supplemented with torture and in some cases sexual assault, combined to fuel the drive for social reform through any means necessary. Churchill shines as she explores the purpose behind the movement, their relationship to U.S. revolutionaries and the complicated manner in which race in Uruguay is addresses or in some cases ignored completely.  In contrast to the images we find in the media, Afro-Uruguayans make up a sizeable portion of the country and in this book, their plight is not forgotten.  Through Churchill’s words, we become witnesses to the intricate and reciprocal relationship between American and Uruguayan revolutionaries who actively supported and encouraged each other in their struggles.

If you stand outside the local city airport in Buenos Aires, you can see the shores of Uruguay in the distance.  It might be hard to imagine for some, that the small nation largely forgotten in the media was once home to one of the world’s strongest political movements.  Society was divided, violence became a tool and the United States found itself involved in yet another controversial situation involving a Latin American dictatorship.  Many years have passed since the Tupamaros last embraced their revolutionary tactics but they remain a part of the nation’s social fabric. In fact, the former President José Mujica (1936-), is a former member of the Tupamaros and served thirteen years in prison for his deeds.  He was succeeded by Tabaré Vázquez (1938-) who still holds office today.

For those interested in the story of the Tupamaros , this is a great read and critical in understanding their history and the development of politics in modern-day Uruguay.

ISBN-10: 082651944X
ISBN-13: 978-0826519443

Civil Rights Movement Investigative Report

douglas-valentine-phoenix-programThe wars that have been fought by mankind contain many secrets that have survived the test of time.  Hindsight has become society’s treasured tool in investigating the past to learn what really happened.  The Vietnam War is among the most unpopular conflicts in American history.   The war continues to haunt the United States as a reminder of failed foreign policy and according to some as a premonition of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As we look back on the Vietnam War, we come to learn about the very dark side of the American involvement in Southeast Asia and the devastation that occurred when two nations collided in a struggle that pitted ideology against weapons at war. Douglas Valentine, author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, returns with this account of his research into The Phoenix Program, which for many years remained a mystery to those outside of military and political circles.  But just what was the Phoenix Program and how much of it as true?

The story begins with a gentlemen named Elton Manzione, who is a former member of the armed forces. Manzione claims to have been part of the program but Valentine readily states that his service records do not show him being a part of the program or in country at the time.   For some readers that may be enough to disregard what follows but the key to following the book is not Manzione’s story but the complex web that composed the program itself.  I forewarn the reader that the number of acronyms is staggering. If you have served in the military or are a Vietnam Veteran, then you will probably be familiar with many of the terms. But for the average reader, many of them will be unfamiliar and a challenge to remember.  Regardless, the story is interesting but I do believe many parts of it will be lost to history.  But what we can learn from the book is that there did in fact exist a program whose purpose was to infiltrate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strongholds through the use of counterintelligence and other black operations.  Somewhere along the line, things took a dark turn and many regrettable incidents took place that forever cast a dark cloud over any success the Phoenix Program may have had.

To be fair to Valentine, the book is not simply an account of atrocities that occurred.  The My Lai Massacre and other incidents have been documented and the accounts are not for readers who do not possess a strong composition.  Valentine does provide broad descriptions of shocking incidents but spares the reader of extensive and more revolting details.  The book can be tedious to read and requires that the reader follows along closely to get a visual of the many parties in operation in both North and South Vietnam.  But the key to understanding the book is not to memorize all of the names but to follow the bigger picture.  What is paramount to remember is that many honorable men and women served in Vietnam, some of them part of the Phoenix Program.  They in particular might agree with Valentine or feel that his book is way off base.   There were also darker elements of the U.S. military apparatus and intelligence communities whose actions during the war could possibly be considered war crimes.  And through Valentine’s work, we are forced to inquire about the real objective of the United States Armed Forces in Vietnam.  We will never know many secrets of the war but books such as this provide a look inside of some of the more controversial aspects of America’s most unpopular war.

ISBN-10: 1504032888
ISBN-13: 978-1504032889

Investigative Report

20170902_203551At 1 p.m. on January 29, 1977, Freddie Prinze, Sr., died at the UCLA Medical Center after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night before while talking to his manager Marvin “Dusty” Snyder.  Prinze was twenty-two years old and left behind grieving parents, siblings, a widow and a son, Freddie, Jr., who would go on to have successful career of his own in Hollywood.  Prinze rose to stardom at the age of 19 and in just three years went from aspiring comedian to a star on the comedy circuit and in the hit show Chico and the Man.  His time on earth was brief but at the height of his career, it is estimated that his face had been seen by nearly 40 million viewers.  I had often heard about Prinze and listened to my parents talk about him in conversations about their favorite shows from the past. I had always wondered what drove him to take his own life? And could it have been prevented?  His late mother Maria Pruetzel (1921-2013) tells her story and the story of Freddie’s short but incredible life in this memoir of their time together as mother and son.  His father Karl (1914-1979) is also in the story but in a supporting role for reasons Maria explains early in the book.

As I started the book I felt a bond with Maria and Freddie being a native New Yorker myself. No stranger to the area known as Washington Heights where Prinze called home, I have always been aware that Manhattan has been the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest stars.  Born on June 22, 1954 to a Hungarian father and Puerto Rican mother, Prinze would characteristically refer to himself as the “Hungarican”.  It was just one of his many catchphrases that became his trademarks.  Maria takes us back to his early years as a young kid on the streets of Manhattan who has big dreams of making it in show business.  The young Freddie we see could easily be one of us, a young teen, dealing with hormones, his peers, girls and his visions of leaving Washington Heights and one day living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.  He succeeded but as we see in the book, at a price that for many of us is far too high.

Unsurprisingly,  the reader is drawn to Freddie who was quite the character even before he became famous.  The anecdotes relayed by Maria are nothing short of hilarious and will have readers shaking their heads. As he moves through life and enters the School for Performing Arts, it is here that his life takes unexpected turns and changes forever. Prinze never did finish at the school but as we learn through Maria’s recollections, he was destined to stardom and possessed an uncanny vision that propelled him on to the national scene following a breakout performance on the Johnny Carson Show.  But with the fame came the demons which would follow him all the way to the end.

Those who are familiar with the personal lives of Hollywood stars and the industry culture, know of the dark side of tinsel town.  As Corey Feldman recalled in his biography Coreyography, you can get any drug you want in Hollywood and there never is a shortage of supply.  Prinze was no stranger to them and their effects on his life are heartbreaking.  A young man who rose to fame an at incredibly young age with the responsibility of supporting a wife and child, found himself under the grip of narcotics unable to shake their grasp. And that is the true tragedy of his life.  At twenty-two, he had many years ahead of him to make millions laugh and enjoy a successful career in the television and film industries.  But like many stars, he found a war within himself and struggled with his own feelings and the many stresses that plagued him.  And his death occurred far too soon and far too tragically.  As his mother explains to us, Freddie’s way is not the way you want to leave here, there are always other options. But beautifully, she also reminds us that Freddie is still here with us every time we watch him again on our television screens.

ISBN-10: 089251051X
ISBN-13: 978-0892510511

Biographies