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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, December 08, 2006


In October I posted a brief account of an unusually enviable travel assignment I'd taken up, which was to help drive two Ferraris from Managua, Nicaragua, up through Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and on to the major Mayan site of Palenque in Southern Mexico.

If anyone's interested, I believe tomorrow's Daily Telegraph Travel Section will be running the feature I wrote for them. This picture wasn't submitted to the paper but I like it. It shows my disintegrating hat placed possessively on the driver's seat of the red Ferrari. The blue one had a more elegant interior - pale cream hide - but somehow the exterior of the red one always attracted more attention out in the (Third) world.


Blogger David Glazier said...

I have just read your piece in today's Daily Telegraph, Travel Section.

It's a pity you weren't able to spend more real time in these Central American republics, especially El Salvador, as many of your preconceived ideas of progress would have been revealed as utter balderdash.

El Salvador is not, as you falsely state, synonymous with coups and economic devastation and, yes, there was a civil war, there were government(and rebel)death squads but "The Disappeared" - you didn't visit Chile or Argentina by mistake did you?

El Salvador, since 1992, has made enormous progress socially and economically and all it's elections since then have been fair and above board.

Get your facts straight!

11:39 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Thanks for your comments, though your apologist position might have been better served by less combative assertions. To answer them:

I can assure you that El Salvador remains synonymous with all these things in a great many people's minds. This is not because they were thinking of some other country, or because they refuse to acknowledge that things change but because they have a sense of history - and they're not shallow enough to forget about the past and think everything's hunkydory just because a right-wing civilian government comes to power via elections.

The name El Salvador is still synonymous with right-wing death squads even for the Pentagon, as this news report in The Times last year suggests:

"The Pentagon is considering forming hit squads of Kurdish and Shia fighters to target leaders of the Iraqi insurgency in a strategic shift borrowed from the American struggle against left-wing guerrillas in Central America 20 years ago. Under the so-called 'El Salvador option', Iraqi and American forces would be sent to kill or kidnap insurgency leaders..."

And here's what even the US State Department - ie the CIA - included in its undeniably biased report of March 2003 (the latest I could find online: see

"some police officers committed killings. Some police officers used excessive force and mistreated detainees...At times police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. The PNC dismissed 372 employees and sanctioned 520 others. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. The judiciary remained inefficient and hampered by widespread corruption. The Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s office took initial steps during the year to address inefficiency and corruption in the judiciary. The Court dismissed 38 judges based upon formal notification by the Ministry of Education that they had not fulfilled the requirements for their degrees. The Attorney General asked the Court to lift the immunity of four judges whom he intended to prosecute. Impunity for the rich and powerful remained a problem. Violence and discrimination against women remained a serious problem. Discrimination against disabled persons also remained a problem. Abuse of children, child labor, and forced child prostitution were also problems. The Government did not protect adequately workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. Trafficking in women and children was a problem."

And here's the BBC's September 2006 report on El Salvador:

"The economy depends heavily on the money sent home by Salvadorans living in the US. Poverty, civil war, natural disasters and their consequent dislocations have left their mark on El Salvador's society, which is among the most crime-ridden in the Americas.

Violent street gangs, known as 'maras', have been described by President Saca as a 'regional problem that requires regional solutions'. One of the most notorious groups was started in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the US."


"Tony Saca won a five-year term in presidential elections in March 2004. It was the fourth successive victory for the right-wing Arena party.

The former radio and TV sports presenter said he wanted to work with other parties in the government. He promised to crack down on criminal gangs, to strive for transparent government and to promote ties with the US.

Arena has been linked to death-squad murders during the civil war, but Mr Saca stressed that his victory was 'a moment to forget all the past'. He has rejected calls to scrap amnesty laws, which protect former officials from prosecution.

Mr Saca... owns a radio network."

Like you, Mr. Glazier, this man wants "to forget all the past".
Well he would, wouldn't he? Getting the facts straight is a difficult business - but I wrote in good faith, and I think I captured more of the truth than you are trying to do.

1:26 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Mr. Glazier
I forgot to deal with your point about The Disappeared. I know that the phrase originated to describe victims in South American countries but the same murderous practice was common in El Salvador too - I had looked into this before I wrote my piece - and the "fair and above board" regime you seem to think so admirable has consistently refused to help the families of the El Salvador Disappeared (at the same time as refusing to prosecute any of the murderers from the death squads). This is what Amnesty International says on the subject, as reported online (see

"2003: Amnesty International is today launching a new report on the children who 'disappeared' in El Salvador during the armed conflict that took place in the country from 1980 to 1991.

The report, 'El Salvador: Where are the disappeared children?', outlines the despair and tireless efforts made by parents and relatives of the disappeared children and non-governmental organizations to establish their fate, and the failure of authorities to address their claim of truth and justice.

'Those relatives have suffered for too long and deserve to know where their children are,' Amnesty International said. 'The failure of the authorities in El Salvador is only adding insult to injury... For 21 years the Salvadorean judicial system and the state have failed them and their family, to such an extent that on 18 June 2003 the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights,' Amnesty International said.

'Past and present Salvadorean authorities have failed in their duty to carry out thorough impartial and independent investigations and bring those responsible to justice in accordance to the San José Agreement - one of a series of agreements signed between the government and the armed opposition groups in 1990, near the end of the conflict. The agreement focused on respect for human rights, investigation into human rights violations, and the identification and punishment of those responsible.' Amnesty International added.

'On one hand, the authorities have failed to investigate and punish past human rights violations. On the other, they refuse to even support efforts by parents, relatives and NGOs to find the disappeared children.'"

2:08 pm  
Blogger David Glazier said...

Mr Gray:

You have addressed my comments with a plethora of quotations from sources which are not all that impressive such as as the rent-a-crowd Amnesty International.

However you have totally failed to address my commments concerning the alleged coups and economic devastation. When did these coups take place? Can the economy of El Salvador really be described as a "devastation" - I don't think so.

I have been involved in El Salvador since November 1963, in good times and in bad and, YES, there have been some really bad times. Not all of Government making - the rebels committed even worse atrocities than those that can be placed at the door of the Government of the day. And, of course, the "maras" are encouraged and supported by the FMLN.

Best wishes.

David Glazier

9:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hope your self indulgent and somewhat pointless jaunt was worth to your ego the environmental and social cost incurred at the expense of your self indulgence.

when there's the beginnings of a third world war in the middle east being waged in the name of blood for oil, when the worlds climate becomes ever more unstable as a consequence of co2 emmissions - a piece such as yours only highlights the symptomatic disconnection a generation of selfish car dependant morons epitomised by the likes of yourself has with the reality of the modern world.

10:49 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Anonymous
Actually I have given some thought to the environmental cost. I'm very conscious that my carbon footprint this year has been atrocious - not just the Ferrari trip but the North American trip my wife and I made in September to promote The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia over there - which involved flying over 17,500 miles in 17 days.

All I can say is that most years, and most of the time, my carbon footprint is markedly lighter than many people's. I work from home, so I don't drive to work. When I travel long distance I use trains wherever possible. (Even when travelling to Germany for the Dylan Symposium there in February.) And we're a one-car family and it's a small car. We compost. We recycle. And I rarely eat meat, and my wife never does.

Digby does, but he's an OAP so his appetite is modest.

Anyway I'm not going to apologise to someone who calls me a moron and writes so badly.

I don't much care for your emissions either (and at least I can spell the word).

3:42 pm  

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