Living On

Armen is heavily missed. His absence left a hole in independent observation of the political and economic risk situation in Latin America. Beyond the merely analytical though his work was wide-ranging from Armenian philanthropy and social observation of Latin and European lifestyles through to being a "fly on the wall" at the Cannes Film Festival every year and reporting back on the more exotic foibles of the international jet-set.

We miss his wit, his sense of history and his bon mots (in French, Armenian and, even, Turkish). Armen was very much a product of the Levant but then, like so many other Levantines, converted to an international stage where they offer insight into all around them. This record tries to humbly accumulate his collected writings for public consumption so they can be preserved and appreciated for the urgency of the moment in which they were written to the timelessness of the observations.

How best to categorise the uncategorisable? Maybe Armen could be described as an Armenian/Anglo/Franco Samuel Pepys for our times.....

It is ironic that ultimately it was the very mediocrity and self-satisfaction of the Chilean "system", which he documented so thoroughly, that brought about his tragic end.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

HOW CHILE IS COPING WITH THE CRISIS And what individual actors are up to..

When I first wrote about the impact of the crisis on Chile, just over
two months ago, it was conjecture more than anything else. We had very
few statistics referring to the months when things started going
seriously wrong, and not much action either. Since then, figures for
the closing months of 2008 have been coming in, together with opinion
polls, surveys and even some measures. Here is therefore an update.

WHAT THE MACROECONOMIC FIGURES SAY Let us start with the good news,
which will be a short section. Inflation was negative in the last two
months of 2008, so the year ended with a figure of 7.1 % (vs. 7.8 % in
2007), whereas it had been pushing 10 % not so long ago. This in turn
helps those indebted in the indexed UF. Much of this resulted from the
massaging of fuel prices, and the fact that after a sharp fall, the
Chilean peso recovered by over 5 % vs. the U$ in the last two months
of the year. It also means that the 8.2 % average increase in wages in
the years to November actually gives a small increase in real terms.

A word of warning: The reduction in inflation may easily go into
reverse. Importers and shopkeepers had felt uneasy about passing on
the cost of the higher dollar in the weeks leading up to Xmas, and big
ticket sellers such as motor distributors needed to get rid of
overstocking. Once this is out of the way, prices are climbing again.
Personal observations by this analyst in the past week alone, on items
so varied as university fees or shampoo, indicate rises of 15 to 20 %.
Fuel price decreases have already gone into reverse. The residents of
northern Chile have just been told that they can expect a big increase
in electricity bills. The price of foodstuffs, particularly those
based on internationally traded commodities, is also on the up again
(bread prices in Chile are stuck at a record level). International
postal charges went up by 14 % on January 19. Public transport tariffs
in Santiago are also scheduled to be raised. In this context, the
latest inflation estimate for 2009 (3.1 %) appears optimistic. The
Central Bank of Chile, notwithstanding the award of "best in the
region" recently granted upon its president by The Banker magazine, is
notorious for getting its forecasts wrong, even in "normal" times. A
new inflation index is to be introduced in coming months.

The rest is all bad news, which may explain why Ms. Bachelet decided
to give the Davos meeting a miss. Not getting the usual accolades
reserved for miracle workers may be too frustrating. "The best
ambulance driver" award is not really what the country's leaders are
accustomed to receive. The Central Bank's IMACEC activity index,
which tracks over 90 % of GDP, rose by just 0.1 % in November, a 10
­year low. Full-year figures are due on February 5. Industrial
Production fell by 5.7 %.

Though the jobless figure as of November marked only a small rise on
last year (+ 0.2 at 7.5 %), massive redundancies are on the way and
even official declarations hit at reaching a double digit figure later
this year. 10,000 jobs have been lost so far in mining alone, mainly
in the small and medium-sized operations that are not profitable at
current metal prices. However, larger mines have now joined the trend,
with BHP Billiton just announcing 2,000 redundancies. The building
industry, a major employer, is on its knees. During October, total new
construction surface authorisations plunged by nearly 45 %, and the
partial figure for November (housing only) mark a 59 % drop.
Greater Santiago property sales were down 34 % in the last quarter,
and 55 % in Concepcion, the country's third largest conurbation.
Year-end figures for unemployment will be available at the end of this

Other labour intensive sectors are also shedding staff. The salmon
industry, already hit by an almost insurmountable virus, is also
facing a drop in demand. The same goes for wine, with November exports
down 11.7 % in volume and 16.4 % in value.

Electricity consumption in 2008 dropped by 0.8 %, the first negative
result in 26 years, whereas overall energy consumption was down 0.4 %.
With the fall in fuel prices, one wonders how much enthusiasm shall
remain from the nuclear energy lobby (even if most of them are
mercenary). There is also a surplus of gas in Bolivia, which despite
denials might be triangulated to Chile through Argentina, at a
fraction of the cost of LPG from the two plans now being built on the
central and northern coasts.

Retail sales in November grew by just 0.5 %, but big ticket items are
being hard hit, despite the offers. In the last quarter of 2008, truck
sales dropped by 29 %, and in December alone, passenger vehicle sales
dropped by 41 %. Major retailers have cancelled up to U$ 1.5 bn of new
investment projects.

The summer tourist months appear to be strong, as many Chileans are
staying at home due to the exchange rate and fears on their future,
whereas Argentine tourists are arriving in droves, with Chilean
inflation being a quarter of theirs, compounded by the fact that the
fall in the Argentine peso was only a third of the Chilean one. The
authorities are doing their best to discourage this small (and
temporary) ray of sunshine, by offering such a poor border crossing
service for Argentine motorists that some are experiencing delays of 8
to 10 hours just to complete formalities. Even if you managed to make
it to the Pacific coast, you would find out that 75 lifeguards in Viña
del Mar had gone on strike because of low pay, the absence of proper
contracts and the lack of suitable equipment to carry out their job.
High-end and adventure tourism, in which Chile had been trying of
carving a market niche, is bound to suffer most. There are already
substantial cancellations from Santiago stopover tourists that embark
or disembark from cruises in Valparaiso and overnight in the capital.

It is only marginally better at the airport where queues are
increasingly reminiscent of Miami airport's International Terminal in
the 1980's. Despite aggressive marketing and discounted fares,
normally unheard of in high season, there are empty seats on most
outgoing flights (particularly in business class, where I saw, through
the curtain, an entirely empty cabin on one European airliner), and
overall figures are headed down wards. Sales of tickets for domestic
intercity buses fell by 20 % in the first fortnight of January.

THE EXTERNAL SECTOR As expected, the trade surplus for 2008
deteriorated sharply (- 57 % at U$ 10.16 bn), but this was due as much
to the profligacy of imports (+ 31 % at U$ 57.63 bn, of which 27 % was
fuels), than the drop in copper (-9.2 %). Overall exports were flat (+
0.2 % at U$ 67.89 bn of which 50.3 % was copper).

External reserved nevertheless managed to increase by 37 % to U$ 23.16
bn as of end December. We have external debt figures to November,
which shows a total of U$ 66.58 bn, of which U$ 47.42 bn is owed by
the non-bank private sector. Of the latter amount, U$ 13.75 bn is
payable within a year.
I continue to maintain that this high level of private external debt,
by companies selling either in pesos, or in dollar-denominated
commodities whose prices have plunged, is an Achille's heel of the
Chilean corporate sector. It should also have a much larger effect on
pushing the peso down, than the inflow from the timid recovery
measures, or foreign investment.

The peso ended 2008 at 641.50 per U$, which translates into a 21.6 %
real terms increase for the dollar. However, I fear that the
authorities have started playing games with the exchange rate again in
the first weeks of 2009. If not they, then we are once again prey to
the huevadas of Chilean economists. One argument for the dollar's
recent downward adjustment (in reverse order of what is happening on
international markets) is that "capital inflows" will push the peso
up? Yeah? Do you think the Ibañez family are going to take Wal-Mart's
billions and go from one exchange house to the other in Paseo Ahumada
to change them into pesos in tranches of U$ 10,000? Another argument
is about the "repatriation" of fiscal surpluses in order to pay for
the recovery plan. I shall deal with that one further down in this

FINANCIAL MARKETS The Santiago Bolsa, measured by the dollar
variation of its blue-chip (a misnomer?) IPSA index, lost nearly 40 %
last year, though it has recovered around 7 % so far in 2009.

The pension funds lost 22.5 % of their assets on average in 2008,
though for those in all equity-funds (what sort of supervisor allows
people to be in a pension fund entirely invested in equities, for
God's sake?), lost over 40 %. I suppose they could have done worse,
such as invest with Madoff through Banco Santander.

We have banking sector results up to November, and they show assets of
U$ 160 bn, loans of U$ 106bn and 11-month earnings of U$ 1.44 bn (no
comparable figures due to a change in accounting systems). Past due
loans are put at just 0.95 % with a Return on Equity of 15.9 %. Equity
amounted to U$ 9.9 bn. The system is comfortable in terms of its
exposure to foreign banks, as it owes them U$ 12.12 bn but only has
lent out U$ 1.31 bn. If the interbank lines are not renewed, there
could in theory be a problem, but considering the overwhelming
importance of foreign bank branches, it is an unlikely scenario as
there must be much incestuous cross-transactions. Derivatives appear
as U$ 13.32 bn in assets and U$ 11.33 bn as liabilities.

Though one cannot rule out individual problems (one small bank linked
to a retail group has had to receive a U$ 22 million capital injection
from its owners), Chilean banking sector is reaping the benefits of
conservatism (unless there is, as some people think, some submerged
iceberg or two somewhere there). It is now becoming even more prudent,
as two thirds of institutions report tighter lending conditions (I
wish the offers of credit popping up on the website of Santander,
telling me I am pre-approved, would also end). The Central Bank, in a
rare fit of candidness, declared that if the crisis reaches "Asian"
levels (such as in 1998), 28 % of households may have difficulties in
servicing their existing debt.

High indebtedness is not new in Chile, and it was bound to unravel if
the gravy train slowd down or stopped completely. Already, figures to
September showed a 40 % increase in late payments in the chain.
Non-bank credit cards past due proportion (they are less regarding on
credit rating when handing them out) had gone up from 19 % (already
high) in the first quarter of 2008 to 20.8 % in the third quarter, and
the crisis had not really started. Household debt increased from 33.4
% of disposable income in 2003 to 60.2 % in 2008. I rest my case.

The Central Bank reduced its intervention rate by one full point to
7.25 % (equal to inflation) on January 8, and announced that it may
pursue an "aggressive" policy of further cuts. The textbook economists
immediately applauded that totally empty move. In a country where
credit costs the end borrower between 20 and 200 % p.a., such a cut is
about as significant as that of circumcising an elephant to make the
animal lighter.

I do not know how much I have written on this matter over the years,
but nobody wants to understand, or even listen, so absorbed they are
by the monetarist teachings of some Litvak (OK, Ukrainan maybe) Ivy
League university professor, that you manage demand through monetary
policy. Chinganse, imbeciles..Even if you bought the "classical"
theory, banks have increased their spreads on whatever loans they are
still making, by more than the fall in base rate, so borrowing through
them is more expensive, not less.

THE REACTIVATION PACKAGE We are now less than 11 months away from
election time, and even accepting the possibility of "distraction"
candidates in the first round, it will probably boil down to a contest
between former president Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) and former candidate
Sebastian Piñera, with the latter still looking a winner.

The ruling Concertacion may be panicky enough to pull all the stops,
or at least more stops, but the U$ 4 bn package announced on January 5
is hardly the stuff of legend. A full quarter of that is a
"recapitalisation" of state mining group CODELCO, and though we do not
know on what it will be spent, it is not exactly a major job creation
scheme. Work subsidies, the temporary elimination of stamp duty, and
the bringing forward of tax reimbursements do not excite many people
either. Public work programmes, subject to umpteen permits and
discussions, are so slow to actually get off the ground in Chile that
one wonders if many of them will even start this year.

The only concrete measure is the March subsidy of some U$ 64 to a
number of special benefit receivers, and all families receiving child
benefit (where the amount will be paid for each child). Better than a
kick up the arse, but if you read my previous papers on the history of
these subsidies, either they are not paid at all (such as Energy
minister Tokman's false promises on electricity bills), or most of the
expense is initially financed by the employer himself, who then has to
wait months to be reimbursed, whilst the Treasury is sitting on the
money. To the extent that there is money a plenty (even with copper at
U$ 1.50, remember it averaged U$ 1.08 in the first three post-Pinochet
governments), it may not even be necessary to touch the funds abroad
(hence the stupidity of the argument justifying the recent strength of
the peso).

A mid-December survey by the respected CEP think tank turned up 42 %
who thought that the economy was "bad" or "very bad". The Business
Confidence index is at its lowest level since it was introduced in
November 2003. The Central Bank still estimates that the economy will
grow between 2 and 3 % this year. As things stand this week, they are
the only people to believe it.

In good Chilean spirit, employers are of course using the crisis to
exercise even more than the usual blackmail on staff, threatening them
with dismissal if they do not behave, restricting or cancelling wage
increases. They are also lobbying against reforming any legislation
improving pay and working conditions, as we witnessed again last week.
One conservative deputy, obviously frustrated because the Argentine
embassy has stopped organising the orgies on its top floor he used to
attend years ago, thundered against one piece of legislation "wages
are not fixed by law". Even executive pay is reported to be down.
The thieves still abound. Social Security contributions are still
being stolen (only 40 people from an estimated universe of 100,000
employers, used the special credit line set up by Banestado to pay
their contribution arrears, which in fact were not theirs at all but
part of the gross salary. Chile even had its own sub-tropical Madoff
scheme. Chilean "promoters" went around Spain and collected U$ 15
million from 120 Spanish private and institutional investors,
promising to invest it in "property schemes". There were no projects
and it was all a fraud. A leading TV personality ran up debts of
several hundred thousand dollars and escaped to Israel, the ultimate
refuge of the professional scoundrel. The head of the Economic Faculty
of one of the country's leading universities, who has been
pontificating as a panellist on a leading debate programme, is under a
cloud, after his department was found to be engaged in all forms of
financial irregularities, and the wheels of justice finally caught up
with several retired air force officers and some civilians involved in
a bribery case related to the 1994 purchase of second-hand combat
aircraft from Belgium. A leading opposition congressman, who usually
thunders about "irregularities" in public administration, was found
out owing three months' service charges in the condominium where he
lives with his family. All Ways Dishonest.

INTERNATIONAL EXPOSURE Chile and Argentina were co-hosts of the
expatriated Dakar Rally, after Africa was found to be so dangerous. It
was a mixed result, with several people, both participants and helpers
dying, and despite expectations of a good performance by locals who
knew the terrain, and two Chilean competitors being fined for
cheating, the best-placed local man came in 39th.

The whole show gave a new opportunity for the local press to parade
its arrogant linguistic ignorance. Referring to the overnight
prefabricated camps known as "bivouac", El Mercurio transformed it
into "Vivac".

Santiago's Municipal Theatre had planned to put on a production of
Tannhauser, but it was cancelled (contrary to expectation, it was not
replaced by the more appropriate Goterdammerung).

FOOTING THE BILL Who is ultimately paying for all the "salvage"
largesse being doled out around the world ? Nearly all the countries
involved had fiscal deficits before all this started, so they shall be
needing to borrow vast amounts in order to bridge an even bigger cap.
What do they do about it? Lower interest rates to virtually nil,
hoping that investors will still lend to them. The situation of banks
is even more ridiculous. To those of us who were prudent enough to
save, they are paying us 85 % less than 4 months ago. To the extent
that the interbank market is mortally wounded, and they themselves
have said (such as in Britain), that they would not pass-on the latest
cuts to borrowers, how are they hoping to fund themselves? One
exception is France, which thinking of smaller savers, has introduced
a special savings account op up to 50,000 Euros paying 6 % tax-free.
L'imagination au pouvoir.


Goes jointly to Radio Cooperativa and the policeman they quoted on December 15. Referring to the discovery of a torso in a bag, the reporter said "the police are trying to establish if any third party was involved". One can understand that it is possible to cut three of your own limbs with the remaining hand, but how do you then cut the last arm? Oh yes, I know what you are also thinking: "what about the head?". Do not worry, the remains were of a Chilean economist, he did not have any to start with.

I have not as yet undertaken my review of the mailing list, so you are not out of the woods. I shall definitely have to do something to punish Chilean readers (and be sorry about the collateral damage). For over two centuries, my ancestors lived in the land of Hamurrabi, so the king's principles shall be applied.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

REMEMBERING A GREAT LATINAMERICANIST And many other things too, but in particular a friend…

A week ago, John Rettie, my best friend of nearly 32 years, passed away in Yorkshire, at the age of 83. He had visited Chile last in November 2006, to achieve a long standing dream of celebrating his birthday in Easter Island, and this we managed to accomplish. I am reproducing below his excellent obituary written by our good mutual friend, writer and journalist Richard Gott, which is being published in London's The Guardian..

JOHN RETTIE By Richard Gott

John Rettie, who has died after a short illness aged 83, was among the
last of a generation of gentleman foreign reporters who deployed their
linguistic skills and historical understanding to illuminate the
countries in which they were stationed. Writing over nearly half a
century, mostly for the Guardian and for Reuters, and broadcasting for
the BBC World Service, Rettie took a particular interest in Russia and
Latin America, and he carved a niche for himself as a radical and
fiercely independent correspondent in several parts of the world ­
including Finland, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and India.
Politically he was an old-fashioned Liberal, an enthusiastic supporter
of national independence and highly critical of the empires of the
Soviet Union and (increasingly) of the United States. Endlessly witty
and amusing, a wonderful storyteller and teacher, he had an immense
army of loyal friends with a global reach, though he also had a
caustic tongue and did not suffer fools gladly. Famously, long ago in
1956, he brought the news from Moscow to the outside world of the
details of Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech, denouncing the crimes of
Stalin, a scoop of which he remained justly proud.

Born in 1925 in Ceylon, where his father and grandfather had owned
and managed tea estates for fifty years, Rettie came to England when
he was four to live in Yorkshire, where his mother's family owned a
handful of farms in Coverdale within sight of Penhill. Educated at
Rugby, he enlisted in the RAF and was sent to Canada to learn to fly.
His training was cut short by the end of the European war in May 1945,
and he enrolled as an early recruit to the services' Russian language
course organised at Cambridge, as the grey clouds of the Cold War
gathered. He moved seamlessly on to Peterhouse where he studied
Russian and Spanish, acquiring a lifelong fascination with language
and linguistics, as well as a low-tolerance level for grammatical
imperfection that in a less genial critic might have verged on

Joining Reuters as a fledgling reporter, he was despatched first to
Helsinki where he married a Finnish woman, Oili Lehtonen. Then, in
1954, he went to Moscow, as one of only a handful of foreign
correspondents living there at that time.

He had unprecedented access to the Soviet high command, explaining
years later how Khrushchev had understood that foreign journalists
would provide the easiest way for him to present himself to the world
as a human being you could do business with, rather than as the ogre
of the Kremlin of Stalin's day. Khrushchev and his colleagues in the
Politburo came frequently to diplomatic receptions, and enjoyed
drinking, chatting and arguing with diplomats and journalists alike.
Rettie watched him at close quarters for three years, once or twice a
week, sometimes shouting and bullying, but sometimes silent and
listening. "It all made great copy," Rettie recorded later,
"especially the drinking." On one occasion, he had drunk Khrushchev's
glass of aquavit when the Soviet leader thrust it at him in the
Norwegian embassy, saying: "This is a lot better than that whisky we
had in your embassy last week - here, try it!".

Shortly after Khrushchev had delivered his secret speech denouncing
Stalin in February 1956, Rettie was approached by a Soviet contact,
Kostya Orlov, who gave him a full account of what had been said, with
extraordinary details. One dealt with the unrest the speech had
caused, particularly in Georgia. Another concerned Khrushchev's
description of how Stalin used to humiliate those around him. "Once he
turned to me," Khrushchev had declared in his speech, "and said: 'Oi,
you, khokhol, dance the gopak.' So I danced." Khokhol is a derogatory
term for a Ukrainian, while the gopak is a fast and intricate
Ukrainian dance in the execution of which the portly Khrushchev would
have looked ridiculous.

Could Orlov's story be believed? Was he an agent provocateur, as
some of Rettie's colleagues believed, or under the control of the KGB?
Could Reuters put out a story that had a single and rather dubious
source? Rettie and his boss at Reuters, Sidney Weiland, concluded that
they had to believe the story. Rettie left on the plane for Stockholm
the next day with his notebooks, and Reuters published his anonymous
story with a Bonn dateline. It was front page news across the world.
Years later, he concluded that Khrushchev personally had authorised
the leak of the speech, a probability vouched for by Sergo Mikoyan,
son of the formidable Anastas Mikoyan, as well as by Khrushchev's son

Rettie left Moscow in 1957, alarmed by what appeared to be KGB
threats, and depressed by the fact that his wife had eloped with the
correspondent of the Agence France Press. Back in London, he joined
the foreign desk of the News Chronicle, along with Willie Forrest, Tom
Baistow, and James Cameron, but the Chronicle soon collapsed under him
and Rettie joined that small group of journalists that never bought
Cadbury's chocolates. Cadbury had been the owner of the Chronicle and
had closed it down, although it still had a circulation of over a

Rettie now moved continents and established himself as a free-lance
reporter in Mexico, marrying his second wife, Vanda Summers, with whom
he had a son and a daughter.

He came back to England in 1964, to stand in the Liberal interest at
the general election that year in Middlesbrough West. He came third,
with 5,816 votes, the winner (a Labour gain) being Jeremy Bray. The
following year he was in the Dominican Republic, sending vivid reports
to the Guardian on the US invasion of the island, ordered by President

Settling back in Britain in 1967, he helped set up Latin American
Newsletters, a weekly review of Latin American affairs, based
initially on the reports of two European news agencies, the Italian
Inter Press Service and the Spanish EFE, but soon acquiring a network
of experienced correspondents throughout the continent, as well as a
bunch of enthusiastic young journalists working in London.

During the 1970s, when much of Latin America fell under military rule
and censorship prevailed, the Newsletter became an important and much
respected source of news. Rettie put his capital and his energies into
making it a success, but eventually he fell out with two of his
partners, Hugh O'Shaughnessy and Christopher Roper, and he was voted
off the board (together with the writer of this notice) in 1980. Not
usually a man to bear a grudge, he never willingly spoke to them
again. At much the same time, a Middlesbrough engineering firm, James
Brown, with which his family was connected, and of which Rettie had
been the non-executive chairman, collapsed. He was left at the age of
53 with no job, no pension, and no income.

Fortunately, the Latin American service of the BBC came to his
rescue, and for some years he worked happily at Bush House, where,
because of his love and knowledge of Mexico and Mexican food, his love
of tequila and mezcal, his accent when he spoke Spanish, and his
affection for "dusky maidens" (a favourite expression), he was
considered as "an honorary Mexican". His tequila-infused evenings were
legendary, so much so that Julia Zapata, his producer for Thursday
morning programmes, requested a curfew on Wednesday night. He obeyed
her command, reminding her on the way to the studio of the magnitude
of his sacrifice. The Guardian also helped out, and he went on several
reporting trips to Latin America, notably during the Falklands war.

One day in 1986, someone at a BBC meeting convened to find a
volunteer to go to Sri Lanka, asked if anyone knew anything about the
country. "Yes", replied Rettie, "I was born there." Soon he was on the
plane to Colombo, reporting from there for both the BBC and the
Guardian for the next two years. It was a time of increasing violence
with frequent assassinations of politicians and bombs targeting
civilians. Rettie came away with the view that Sri Lanka politicians
"were more devious than any others I know", though he enjoyed living
in the colonial-era Galle Face hotel in Colombo where he had first
stayed at the age of three months.

Returning to London in 1989, and again at a loose end and without an
income, the Guardian asked if he would like to return to Moscow, then
at the height of the Gorbachev reforms, to join their existing
correspondent, Jonathan Steele. Rettie covered the furious and
increasingly public debates and splits in the Communist party which
led to its collapse in 1991 and to the implosion of the Soviet Union

Thanks partly to his knowledge of Finnish, he took an interest in the
Baltic republics, in particular Estonia which has a kindred language,
and he made regular trips to the region as the independence movements
developed. He did not disguise his excitement that they were breaking
away. He also loved travelling around Russia itself, a pleasure that
had not been possible for Western journalists in the 1950s.

By then in his mid-sixties, Rettie enjoyed mastering new technology.
He spent hours devising ways for the Guardian's computers to route
their copy through complex "packet-switching" to Helsinki and thence
on to London. He took crocodile clips with him to the ageing Soviet
hotels - the only option for most Western journalists to send stories
from Moscow - and found ways to unscrew phone sockets and link
straight to the wires. He was hugely generous to colleagues, including
the new corps of young Russian journalists who had to learn how to
abandon the self-censorship of the Soviet era and to write stories
graphically and quickly.

Returning to London, the Guardian suggested that he might like to
return to the sub-continent as their Delhi correspondent. "You have
just made an old man very happy", Rettie told Martin Woollacott, the
foreign editor, and at the age of 67 he set off for India, his final
posting. There he took an interest in the country's underclass - its
peasants and its Dalits, India's "untouchable" caste - as he had once
done in Latin America, though he was obliged to spend much time
dealing with the domestic problems of half a dozen local employees
recruited by previous correspondents.

When Rettie finally retired, he established himself in the small
gamekeeper's house on the family estate in Coverdale, much to the
surprise of his London friends who could not imagine such a
cosmopolitan character burying himself in the country. They were
wrong. Rettie lived alone and he rarely ventured south, but he had
soon recruited a legion of new friends among the farmers, publicans,
journalists, game-keepers, beaters and breadmakers of Yorkshire. He
amused himself by inviting his leftwing friends, including Tariq Ali,
to shoot pheasants in the winter, and he took a lasting interest in
Ukrainian affairs by organising regular visits to Yorkshire of
children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He remained on
friendly terms with his two wives, and is survived by them, his two
children, and his well-loved sister. He appeared to live most of the
time in his kitchen, keeping warm by the Aga, cooking venison from the
deep freeze, and drinking from his substantial wine store, stacked up
in the drawing room. His deep pessimism about the approaching
environmental crisis was reflected in his perennial remark (inherited
from his friend the late Harry Riley) that "t'human race has outlived
its usefulness", yet this invariably led on to another, much favoured
request to "open another bottle!"

John Cartmel Alexander Rettie, journalist, born in Sri Lanka, November
24, 1925; died in Yorkshire, January 10, 2009

HUEVADA DE LA SEMANA To ward off any complaints about the lack of consistency in this column, and despite the somber moment, I will stay within the British realm, nominating this week HM Queen Elizabeth II, her government and all those who sail in her.

On November 18 last, I wrote to the British Consul General in Santiago, with a copy to the Honorary Consul in Valparaiso, explaining that we as a family were under serious threat and not getting due process from the authorities. On November 25, Ms. Elizabeth Coghlan, British Consul General, dismissed the request with the following sentence "Many thanks for your email informing us of the nature of the problem which you and your family are currently facing. Unfortunately the British Embassy cannot get involved in legal disputes" (sic). The "honorary" consul in Valparaiso did not even bother to reply.

On December 30, I read whilst in England, that the latter had been nominated Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's New Year's Honours List. Explaining the award, the British Embassy's website referred to his "outstanding service to British interests in Chile,and in particular to British citizens in need of assistance". What next, the Nobel Peace prize for the Israeli Army?