the lost decade

Latin American leaders have reacted to the death of Margaret Thatcher luke-warmly, in contrast to the gush that has filled the airwaves and printed page in the UK. Most have obeyed strict formalities, noting her passing, and recognising her impact on international politics. There have been some exceptions though.

thatcher stamp

Stamp issued by government of Violeta Chamorro – a Sandinista version is unlikely!

In the Maggie camp the neo-liberalistas from Mexico, Chile and Colombia have joined the glorification. Argentina, because of Las Malvinas, have either ignored her death completely, or shown hostility. The gritted teeth response from most of Latin America was to be expected. Thatcher was a friend to, apologist and cheer-leader for General Augusto Pinochet, one of a number of fascist dictators who received her blessing. She was not only a fan of their hard line (as in torture, death squads and state sponsored assassination) with the Left. She was also an admirer of the neo-liberal economics introduced to Chile by Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. Together with Reagan, the IMF and the World Bank, she promoted this as the ‘Washington consensus’ to the world. Savage cuts in public spending, privatisation and the destruction of trade unions were road tested in Latin America. It led to Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ – economies shrunk, and real wages in urban areas contracted by between 20 and 40 per cent.

Thatcher’s role, usually, was to be the lapdog of US Foreign policy. She supported the invasion of Panama, and branded Nelson Mandela’s ANC ‘a terrorist organisation’, whilst enjoying warm relations with the Apartheid regime. She supported the US attacks on Nicaragua and backed the Contras from the start. Mark Curtis has detailed the ‘nod and wink’ support the Thatcher government gave to UK security company KMS, involved in training the Contras and gun-running. This became the game plan for the UK, taking a similar approach to Afghanistan, supporting the mujahedeen against the Soviet Army (elements of which would, of course, morph into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda).

This more covert approach also extended to the domestic field, at least as far as Foreign policy was concerned. In 1987 Adolfo Calero, a Contra leader heavily involved in the Iran/Contra scandal, was invited to the UK by the Committee for a Free Britain. The trip also included a visit to the House of Commons, organised by Tory MPs.


Daughter Yamileth, at 15, cries over the grave of her mother, Carmen Mendieta, who was killed by contras on the road to Rio Blanco on December 2, 1987.

The Committee (also known as the Campaign for a Free Britain) was a front for leading supporters of the Conservative Party, many of them with ties to Thatcher. It received funds from Rupert Murdoch. Amongst the main figures in the CFB were David Hart, advisor to Thatcher, and Christopher Monckton, a member of the Downing Street Policy Unit. Hart is one of the more ‘colourful’ (i.e. both dodgy and seriously scary) members of the Thatcher entourage. He was one of the main co-ordinators of getting miners to break the strike, including liasing with ex-members of the security forces. In later life he became involved in the arms industry, including having an arrest warrant issued against him for an African coup, and allegations in the Guardian that he took £13 million in secret payments from BAE Systems.

In 1988 he shared a platform with Richard Perle at a CFB event. Perle was a Reagan offical, who would later become notorious for helping draw up the Project for a New American Century, which laid out the game plan for the invasion of Iraq long before Bush Jr took power, and highlighted how an international crisis (which was eventually the 9/11 attacks on the US) could be used to push through extreme measures both at home and abroad.

So what was the Nicaraguan response to the passing of Thatcher? Vice-President Moises Omar Halleslevens offerd this: “This English lady known as the Iron Lady was characterized for her tough hand and a raft of policies that I would say were coarse and crude for the people of that distant but brotherly country.” He also wished that “the Lord has her next to him”.

In reality she is more likely to be next to her old tea-drinking buddies, General Pinochet and Jimmy Savile. And no one captured better the feelings of the UK’s lost decade (and for many communities in Wales, continuing devastation) than Elvis Costello, a more thoughtful version of ‘Ding, Dong.’


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