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Graham Greene . . . Photographer?
One of my first memories is a conversation over coffee between my parents and some relatives, in which my parents told a story about having run into Graham Greene at the terrace of the Hotel Guaraní, a lonely skyscraper of a provincial Asunción, Paraguay, in 1969. I faintly recall the smell of tobacco, some familiar voices, and the British writer’s name.
Years later, when I asked my father if they had indeed ran into Greene or if the meeting was just a figment of my imagination, he told me they had actually met. He remembered vaguely that a diplomatic service officer had introduced them, apparently because my father was the only person who spoke English accurately and could handle a conversation. He also said that they had drunk a bottle of gin together, while Greene confessed that a bunch of undercover policemen had snatched his camera in front of the Partido Colorado’s 1 offices the previous morning, just as he was shooting what appeared to be preparations for a parade. The Paraguayan diplomat added that the British embassy had dismissed any attempts of getting it back, as Mr. Greene insisted on avoiding a diplomatic incident.
As I pressed him for further details, my father remembered that they also discussed the government, foreign policy, a few exclusive parties Greene had attended, and the Nazis who had taken refuge in Paraguay.
A few months ago, while I was looking over police files from the Stroessner dictatorship related to missing persons during Operación Condor, 2 I found an ordinary envelope which had “photos seized in front of the A.N.R. ” 3 written on it. Inside, wrapped in newspaper, were five strips of photo negatives, somewhat damaged. When I asked the person in charge of the files about the envelope, he simply answered that I would find hundreds of yet unidentified documents.
My father never read Greene’s Travels with My Aunt , the second part of which takes place entirely in Asunción (and ends with a lavish party organized by an Italian smuggler and war criminal wanted by the CIA ). In fact, he was pretty surprised when I pointed to the extraordinary coincidences between his story, the novel’s final scenes, and the photographs found in the envelope.
— Fredi Casco, Asunción, April 2013
*—“Bienvenido hermano extranjero” is the title of a popular Paraguayan folk song that welcomes foreigners into the country.
1—Partido Colorado was the political party of General Alfredo Stroessner who ruled from 1954 to 1989.
2—Operación Condor was the series of operations coordinated by South American dictatorships—Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia—and the CIA that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.
3—The Asociación Nacional Republicana (ANR) was the offical name of the Partido Colorado.
—Fredi Casco is a writer and visual artist based in Asunción, Paraguay. His work often explores the disparity between high culture and popular culture and the tensions between official history and its “minor” documents. He is an editor of Sueño de la Razón, a magazine focused on South American photography. He is also the director of the Photography Biennial “El Ojo Salvaje” in Paraguay. His work is part of the 2013 Venice Biennial.