History of the World According to the Movies: Part 50 – Latin America

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I couldn’t think of any other movie that pertains to Latin American history than The Motorcycle Diaries from 2004 which recalls 23-year old Argentine medical student Ernesto Guevara on his life changing journey through South America with his friend Alberto Granado. Of course, given his fame as a T-shirt image, Che Guevara has become America’s favorite Marxist guerrilla commander and revolutionary. However, the truth about Che isn’t as loveable as Hollywood portrays it to be.

Latin America doesn’t have a long history. Well, actually it does since it was once inhabited by indigenous tribes but and then colonized by the Europeans. Still, as independent entities, well, that’s only since the 19th century which is why I put it here. Of course, Hollywood portrays Latin American history as a long era with deserts, jungles, dictators, and hapless villagers. But is this a true portrayal of Latin American history? Not really since it’s more complex than that with interesting historical figures, events most people have never heard of, diverse cultures, and other things. Still, it’s kind of shown in the movies as a Third World travelogue like India and most of Asia you probably never saw in your life. Let’s just say it’s far more complicated than you see in the movies. Nevertheless, there aren’t many movies pertaining to Latin American history that people in the US know despite that it’s only south of the Southwest border like along Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. Not to mention, the US Hispanic population is on the rise and it’s the place many of our immigrants are coming from undocumented and otherwise. Nevertheless, there are a lot of things movies get wrong about Latin American history which I shall list accordingly.

Mexico:

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna:

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wore a shako helmet. (His foot soldiers did not him.)

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attacked the Alamo with 7,000 men. (More like 2500 men.)

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was a much older man during the siege of the Alamo. (He was only 42.)

Mexican general and president, Antonio López de Santa Anna was a villainous man who executed prisoners by cannon fire, puffed a gold braid, ate bonbons on fancy silverware while everyone else starved, and valued a human life as much as a chicken’s but not in a good way. (He was brutal but he’s actually a more interesting case. His hobbies included gambling on cockfights, consuming opium, and dishonoring women. Still, he had a great degree of charm alongside his brutality like a mustache twirling super villain.)

Benito Juarez:

Benito Juarez asked ex-Emperor Maximilian in Mexico to forgive him when the latter was about to be shot by firing squad. (Nice little scene for Juarez but the real Juarez didn’t regret Maximilian’s execution and wrote a manifesto saying it was “just, necessary, urgent and inevitable”.)

Pancho Villa:

Several of Pancho Villa’s associates spoke Quecha. (Quecha is a South American dialect that would’ve been spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. Pancho Villa was from Mexico.)

Pancho Villa took Mexico City by himself from Victriano Huerta and made himself president. (Actually he took it in a three pronged attack with Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza. After Huerta fled, they ruled the country together but Zapata soon went home Carranza eventually forced Villa out of power and ruled Mexico by himself. But he had Zapata assassinated while Villa retired.)

Emiliano Zapata:

Emiliano Zapata talked like Speedy Gonzales. (Contrary to Marlon Brando’s disastrous performance in Viva Zapata!, Zapata was well known for his high pitched, delicate voice. Still, Brando’s performance as Zapata must’ve been very offensive to the indigenous community in Mexico because it’s really terrible though Anthony Quinn does a hell of a good job as his brother.)

Emiliano Zapata and his followers were pro-American and the US supported Latin American liberation during the Mexican Revolution. (Well, it’s more complicated. True, the Zapistas did have some admiration for the US system of government after spending years under dictatorial regimes. And yes, the United States did provide asylum to rebel figurehead Francisco Madero where he remained unmolested. However, this was the time of US imperialism and America was basically looking after its own interests as said by William Howard Taft: “The day is not far distant when three Stars and Stripes at three equidistant points will mark our territory: one at the North Pole, another at the Panama Canal, and the third at the South Pole. The whole hemisphere will be ours in fact as, by virtue of our superiority of race, it already is ours morally.” Nevertheless, while the US did interfere with the Mexican Revolution, they weren’t above switching sides when it suited their own interests. Madero only suited their interests briefly and there’s an unproven theory that Madero was killed by US Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson {he wasn’t} but Wilson seemed to give the impression that the US was fine with Victoriano Huerta bumping off his rival until the US turned against him {still, Huerta was kind of a guy who switched sides as often as he changed uniforms}. As for Ambassador Wilson, well, President Wilson eventually fired him for interfering with Mexican politics.)

Emiliano Zapata was illiterate until he got married. (He may have not been the most educated guy in Mexico due to indigenous peasant background, but he could read and write by the time he was an adult. Still, Zapata’s wedding was interrupted by government troops riding forth against him. Also, contrary to Viva Zapata!, Zapata was assassinated by the forces of President Venustiano Carranza.)

Emiliano Zapata confronted Porfirio Díaz at Mexico’s National Palace. (This is the stuff of legend which has been discounted. Yet, this is in Viva Zapata!. However, while Porfirio Diaz was a bad president in his later years, he had earlier destroyed the brigands that plagued Mexico’s roads and set up the country’s infrastructure so the nation would benefit for years to come. Still, he was senile and surrounded by idiots and yes-men in his later years and should’ve retired.)

Francisco Madero:

Francisco Madero was a naïve idiot who didn’t know he was being executed by firing squad until somebody started shooting. (Madero’s family should’ve sued Elia Kazan for slander for portraying the guy this way in Viva Zapata!. The real Madero wasn’t so daft and knew very well he what was going to happen to him as he said to a loyal officer on his execution, “Adiós, my general. I shall never see you again.” His brother’s death was far more brutal.)

Mexican general Victoriano Huerta was present at Francisco Madero’s execution. (He wasn’t but he did order his execution.)

President Francisco Madero was overthrown in a coup and shot by General Pascal. (He was overthrown and assassinated by Gen. Victoriano Huerta yet he had someone else do the shooting. Also, there was no general named Pascal. Oh, and he was shot in a prison outside Mexico City not at the National Palace.)

Frida Kahlo:

Frida Kahlo seduced Italian photographer Tina Modotti in front of everyone at a party. (Yes, Frida was bisexual. Yet, Modotti might’ve introduced Frida Kahlo to her husband Diego Rivera, though they told several versions on how they met. Still, she didn’t publicly seduce Modotti.)

Leon Trotsky moved out of Frida Kahlo’s house to avoid falling in love with her and went to less secure digs where in which he would shortly meet his end with the ice pick. (Yes, she had an affair with Trotsky. Yes, he lived with her but so did her husband Diego Rivera. Still, though Trotsky and Frida ended the affair, she still allowed him to stay in the house but she left for Paris. Trotsky moved out when she was abroad possibly owing to a disagreement with Diego Rivera in 1939. However, unlike what Frida suggests, her libido had absolutely nothing to do with Trotsky’s murder since he was already Stalin’s #1 enemy by 1940 and Stalin had already killed members of his family and followers. Stalin was going to get him eventually. Also, he was killed by an ice axe not a pick contrary to popular legend.)

Frida Kahlo was completely able bodied before her bus accident. (Actually she had a lot of health problems as a child. She contracted polio at six that left her right leg thinner than her left, which she disguised by wearing long colorful skirts. It’s also been theorized that she may have been born with spinal bifida. Though she recovered from the bus accident, she had relapses of extreme pain for the rest of her life and had spent months of the time bedridden or hospitalized and was never able to have children.)

Frida Kahlo had no facial hair. (She had a mustache.)

Miscellaneous:

Good Mexicans were weak and stupid while bad Mexicans were corrupt, ruthless, and cruel.

Mexican villages had constant problems with bandits ransacking the town who lived much better lives than they did.

Everyone in Mexico was a Mestizo and everyone in other Latin American countries was Hispanic.

Mexicans were lazy workers who took midafternoon siestas. (The reason that Latin American workers took siestas was because they’ve been working all day in the hot sun. They took naps because they were exhausted or they would die, not lazy.)

Three Finger Jack and Joaquin Murieta were a cheery band of California outlaws under Mexican rule in California with Murieta’s brother Alejandro using guile to steal from corrupt soldiers in California’s government. (Three Finger Jack and Murieta were Gold Rush outlaws with a gang believed to be responsible for the murders in the Mother Lode area in the Sierra Nevadas. Alejandro Murieta was made up for The Mask of Zorro yet he ends up naming his kid Joaquin in The Legend of Zorro. Still, Joaquin Murieta and Three-Finger Jack were brought down in 1853. Still, Murieta was said to be a Mexican patriot or “The Mexican Robin Hood” though he probably wasn’t either.)

The US Army fought the French occupiers of Mexico. (Yes, Mexico was occupied by the French during the American Civil War and the Lincoln administration wasn’t happy about it. However, there was never any fighting between the US and the French. Besides, the Lincoln administration was more interested in fighting Confederate forces anyway. Yet, both Union and Confederate forces did battle the Indian tribes at the US and Mexican border as depicted in Major Dundee.)

The war against Maximilian in Mexico was seen as a “revolution.” (From Imdb: “As the Juarez government had never fled Mexico during the intervention, and consistently insisted it was the lawful government, no loyal Mexican would consider the war a revolution; it was the expulsion of a foreign invader.” Kicking the French puppet regime out of Mexico formed the basis of celebrating Cinco de Mayo.)

Leon Trotsky was assassinated by a man named Frank Jacson. (The guy’s name was Ramon Mercader who was an NKVD mole for Stalin and had successfully got close enough to Trotsky to kill him {despite the fact only Trotsky and Mercader’s girlfriend trusted him}. Still, Mercader wasn’t the only NKVD mole in Trotsky’s organization. Nevertheless, Trotsky was a horrible judge of character since he seriously underestimated Josef Stalin and never understood him as a brilliant, calculating, and visionary megalomaniac with an insatiable bloodthirst and a pathological need to get even with his enemies, with Trotsky at the top of his list. It was underestimating Stalin, that got Trotsky exiled in the first place.)

El Salvador:

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassin shot him while taking communion in front of him with photojournalist Robert Boyle sitting a few pews away. (Romero’s assassin was actually hiding behind a pillar when he shot him. Also, Robert Boyle wasn’t really there contrary to Oliver Stone’s Salvador, which isn’t a good reference source if you want to know anything about the civil war in El Salvador during the 1980. Robert Boyle also didn’t try to get his girlfriend Maria in the United States or photojournalist Jack Casady for that matter {because he didn’t exist}. Seriously, Oliver Stone is as bad with history as Mel Gibson, though his is more along current events.)

Panama:

Manuel Noriega was in hiding while on the run after the invasion of Panama. (Contrary to The Men who Stare at Goats, he never was. In fact, he briefly sought refuge at the Vatican Embassy after the invasion of Panama and the US knew it.)

Argentina:

Eva Peron:

Eva Peron was a beloved figure in Argentina who championed for the people. (She also was a great spokeswoman for her husband’s regime which helped make Argentina a hospitable place for Nazis. Still, Juan Peron’s willingness for having diplomatic relations with Franco Spain had more to do with his country being 1/3 Spanish and Franco being in desperate need for a political ally. Also, while Juan Peron did facilitate the entrance of Nazi criminals to Argentina, Russia, Great Britain, and the US did the same thing and probably for the same reasons such as to acquire advanced technology developed by the Germans during World War II. Of course, those countries took in scientists like Heisenberg and Von Braun but they were nevertheless war criminals. It’s just that after WWII, Britain, the US, and Russia didn’t really care that much. Yet, at the same time, Argentina accepted more Jewish immigrants than any other Latin American country under Peron’s watch.)

Eva Peron had an affair with 36 year old Agustín Magaldi when she was 15. (This is in Evita, yet since it’s 38-year-old Madonna playing a 15-year-old girl, this isn’t squicky. However, the real Eva probably didn’t have a relationship with Magaldi, 15 or not since the guy usually traveled with his wife. Not to mention, he was actually a chubby mama’s boy and far from the suave matinee idol he’s depicted. Also, it’s said that Eva’s family may have traveled to Buenos Aires with her. Unfortunately, when Andrew Lloyd Webber did his musical in the 1970’s, the only English biography of Eva Peron available in English was by a political opponent of the Perons and hasn’t been found very reliable. Rather an American equivalent of Evita would be kind of like a musical about Barack Obama based solely upon his Conservapedia page.)

Eva Peron’s rise to power just consisted of a mere makeover. (Yeah, Andrew Lloyd Webber, except that you left out Eva Peron’s support and campaign for women’s suffrage and social justice causes, her creation of the female Peronist Party, her work in government {overseeing ministries of labor, social welfare, and health as well as eventually became her husband’s vice-president and received the title of Spiritual Leader of Argentina a few months before her death from cervical cancer at 33 in 1952 [even if she did all that in her husband’s discretion]}, and dubious rumors of her links to fascist regimes. Evita just gives us only hats and lipstick and practically says nothing about why she’s so remembered in Argentina and says that her status as a beloved figure wasn’t deserved. No wonder people in that country hated it.)

Eva Peron was an ambitious woman who slept her way to power. (Now I see why Argentinian’s don’t like Evita. She was ambitious and had many relationships with men but it’s said that her success as a radio actress had more to do with her own merit as well as her willingness to take any job she could get {though she did arrive to Buenos Aires lacking a formal education or connections so she probably submitted to the casting couch a few times as many aspiring actresses did in her day}. Her business partner at Radio El Mundo didn’t really like her but admitted she was “thoroughly dependable” and by the time she met her husband, she was earning 6,000 pesos a month. Still, while Eva Peron wasn’t what you called a saint, she wasn’t a bad person either. Not to mention, Eva’s political success most definitely had a lot to do with her marriage to Juan Peron as well as her loyalty to him when he was imprisoned {though she didn’t organize the effort to get him out since she had no political clout with labor unions and wasn’t well liked in his inner circle or in Argentina’s entertainment business}, her effectiveness as a political campaigner, as well as other things. More importantly, Juan loved her or he wouldn’t have married her when he got out of prison. It’s very fair to say she loved him since she stood by Juan during his imprisonment, thanks to his political opponents in government who weren’t happy with his growing popularity. Besides, by the time she got sick, Eva was working as many as 20-22 hours a day and even ignored her husband’s request that she take some time off, cut back, and cool it on the weekends.)

Eva Peron was from a humble rural Argentine family. (Yes, she grew up poor but her dad was actually a wealthy rancher named Juan Duarte who was married and had multiple families. However, he wasn’t married to Evita’s mother Juana Ibarguren and when he died, Juana and her children were barred from attending his funeral. Still, Eva wasn’t destined for a good life not just due to poverty, but also because she was born out of wedlock in the days when illegitimate children were rejected and stigmatized. When Eva grew up and moved to Buenos Aires, she dyed her hair blond {she originally had black hair} and changed her name to Duarte. When she married Juan Peron, it’s said she destroyed her birth certificate and forged a new one. Still, if she had any resentment to the upper classes, then there’s a good reason for it who often depicted her as a low class person who slept her way to the top.)

Che Guevara:

Che Guevara was a heroic figure who stood for civil disobedience, rebellion, and freedom. (He also personally killed hundreds of people to spread communism and “liberate” the poor even Cuban rock fans. He saw rock music as a staple of American imperialism and had a strong dislike for it. Oh, and did I say he hated gay people? Still, he was verbally abrasive toward everyone in his unit which sometimes makes him come off as racist toward black people.)

Che Guevara was clean-cut and handsome. (Well, it’s said that he looked like a movie star when he was groomed. However, he had a lifelong aversion to grooming so that didn’t happen that often. Also, he once wore a pair of underpants for 2 months and gleefully won a bet that they would stand by themselves. Gross! In fact, it was his aversion to grooming in which he earned his nickname “Che” which means “pig.”)

Che Guevara’s girlfriend Chichina gave him $15 to buy her a bathing suit when he reached the US. (The money was actually for a scarf. However, she did dump him though and they never saw each other again.)

Che Guevara and Alberto Granado were chased out of a dance hall in Chile and managed to escape in the nick of time after Che caused a scandal by having a fling with a mechanic’s wife. (Unlike The Motorcycle Diaries, they actually stayed in the town for another night, had lunch with a family next door to the garage, and left without incident in the afternoon.)

Che Guevara gave the $15 to an impoverished Communist couple in Chuquicamata, Chile. (He, Alberto Granado, and the $15 actually made it to Miami where Che spent the money on a scarf he sent to his ex-girlfriend.)

Che Guevara was Eva Peron’s creepy stalker who turned up in various points in her life to remind her of her impending death. (Contrary to Evita, Che and Peron never met though Guevara did send Evita a prank letter asking her to buy him a jeep.)

Che Guevara served in the Cuban Revolution as a mercenary and combatant. (He was actually hired to serve as a medic yet he became a combatant later.)

Che Guevara was shot dead in Bolivia three times. (He was shot 9 times.)

Miscellaneous:

Argentina was a haven for Nazis. (Argentina wasn’t the only country to grant asylum to Nazis but gets a bad name for welcoming guys like Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele. Other Latin American countries did the same thing and so did Russia and the US. Still, many Latin American countries also provided asylum for many Jewish immigrants after the Holocaust as well. It’s a strange place.)

Peru:

The sundial at the Inti Huatana had a piece broken off around the 1950s. (It was in perfect condition at this time and the damage occurred in 2000 when a crane fell on it. Of course, you couldn’t show that in The Motorcycle Diaries.)

Chile:

Journalist Charles Horman’s body was shipped back from Chile after he was killed in the Pinochet’s regime. (While there is a scene of what is believed to be Horman’s body in the final image of Missing, DNA evidence has determined that the remains shipped back to Charles’ family in the United States didn’t belong to him. Still, as of now, they never found his body.)

Pinochet’s coup took place around the 1973 Christmas season. (Contrary to The House of the Spirits, it took place in September of that year, a little early to buy Christmas presents, you think?)

Venezuela:

Carlos the Jackal was a diabolical mastermind who was part of many assassinations and was never caught. (He was just a bumbling terrorist with a huge ego that led to his downfall with his 1994 capture. His past reputation was highly exaggerated and he wasn’t viewed that highly dangerous as movies claim him to be in real life {only said to have killed 11 people and injured 150 during his attacks}. Still, there are plenty of movies made with him as a main villain when he’d already been caught. Seriously, the Bourne series gives him too much credit.)

Paraguay:

Dr. Josef Mengele was a diabolical mastermind who tried to clone Adolf Hitler and launch am elaborate political scheme to recreate the Fourth Reich. (For one, while Mengele was a psychotic State-sponsored serial killer worthy of his nickname “The Angle of Death” he was actually a totally incompetent scientist {to the point other Nazi scientists thought him as a highly unqualified butcher} who wouldn’t be capable of undergoing a cloning project that was at least a century ahead of its time, let alone plan an elaborate scheme to recreate the Fourth Reich. Oh, and while he was in Paraguay for some time, he was actually living in Brazil where he died in 1979, hence the title, The Boys from Brazil from 1978. Still, he could’ve actually seen the movie despite having his health greatly deteriorated by that point.)

Dr. Josef Mengele fled to Paraguay after Adolf Eichmann was captured by Mossad agents in Argentina. (He was believed to be living in Paraguay but actually fled to Brazil.)

Brazil:

Brazil adopted soccer during the 20th century as its national pastime. (Soccer had been introduced in Brazil in 1884.)

Bolivia:

Butch Cassidy spent 20 years living in Bolivia and tried to return to the United States in the 1920s. (It’s pretty much accepted that he and the Sundance Kid killed themselves in 1908. Yet, it’s the subject of a 2011 film called Blackthorn. Still, he probably didn’t have any children with Etta Place.)

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