Maria Gillespie

When I was growing up Latin America was a mess. It was undemocratic & all the economies were a mess. Inflation especially was a problem. It was many countries more than 100 per cent. Military governments in Central & South America were the rule rather than the exception. Given that Latin American governments don’t generally fight each other, one wonders what their vast armies are for. If civilian governments diminished their armies it would also decrease the chances of the military taking over.

Now democracy is thriving in Latin America & indeed most governments are left of centre.

Maria Gillespie was on the BBC World Service last week. She was interviewed by Alan Johnston who himself was taken hostage a year or 2 ago. There seemed to be some empathy there. I must say that Alan Johnston & Matthew Bannister are both really good & sensitive interviewers.

Maria was 15 & there had been a coup d’état in Uruguay. She was married to a trade union activist. He left the country with their daughter, fled the country as they say, because the authorities were after him. It is not clear why she didn’t go with him. I suppose it never occurred to her that she would be picked up & sentenced to decades in prison, 75 years in fact, as an enemy of the régime. Prison was a terrifying experience. She heard people being tortured, being executed. They wanted information about her husband’s activities. But she didn’t know anything. When she was interrogated she was taken from her cell hooded. When she didn’t tell them anything in fact because she didn’t know anything they took out all her teeth one by one.  

But then Amnesty International adopted her as one of their prisoners & when thousands of postcards starting arriving for & on her behalf, they released her & put her on a ferry to Argentina. She had had a terrifying experience. In Buenos Aires, she was walking down the street & spotted the Amnesty offices. She had known nothing about Amnesty & had been worried that all the attention would make her situation worse. She came to Britain & was reunited with her husband & daughter. On the World Service, Alan Johnston said she now lives in Chester, which leaves many gaps in the story. But at least she is still alive & it sounded like she was in good health.

This is the link for Maria Gillespie on the BBC World Service

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