Allow me a tangent.
Bert, my best friend, was a counterintelligence agent. A really good one. I’ve said bad things on this blog about US foreign policy and intelligence. From shadowing John Lennon to bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan, much of Western intelligence is the bad product of people stuck in their own ideology and world view, but Bert was nothing like that. Many guys tell tall tales about covert operations, war stories about threats and enemies that sound eerily similar to the latest Hollywood movies, but not Bert. He didn’t carry a gun or shoot bad guys. He didn’t brag and rarely told any stories, I was perhaps the only person he confided in. About certain things he confided in me more than in his own sons.
Bert was a true counterintelligence agent, a card-carrying member of the US Communist party at the height of the so-called Cold War. He played a significant role in bringing about “detente”. He brought Romanian business to Foreign Trade Zone 24 in Scranton PA while Nicolae Ceausescu was trying to move policy towards the West. Bert always maintained Ceausescu was with the CIA. Bert was trusted so much by the Soviets that he did business with the head of the Siberian railroad and Amtorg. When he was out with Soviet agents, the Soviets always would point out the FBI agents watching. “See him over there, he’s FBI.”
His biggest coup was organizing the 1972 Nixon visit to China. Bert always said that the FBI had tried for 25 years to get in with China, but never made any headway. He got in in 2.5 years. Regardless of how you feel about China today, at the time the objective was simply to avoid all-out war.
Bert died several years ago after a long battle with cancer that he blamed on cigarettes and nuclear radiation. He had a large spot on his thigh that was smoother than a baby’s bottom where he believed he’d been hit by Soviet nuclear instrumentation (which he wanted to sell in the US).
What does any of this have to do with Peru and Ollanta Humala?
There have been many comments and opinions this week about the future of Peru under new President Ollanta Humala (he takes office on July 28). Otto was interviewed by The Motley Fool and he makes reasonable arguments (except that I don’t believe the meteoric rise of the Lima stock market is sustainable in the long run and I’m concerned that the amount of cash that the AFPs are pumping in the stock market is a considerable long term bubble risk).
As for Humala, I said way back in April that people were overreacting and not much would change under Ollanta Humala. I stand by that statement because of something Bert told me long ago. This was one of his stories that he repeated down to each and every detail maybe 50 or 100 times (he readily admitted that some of his past was traumatic and had taken a mental toll on him).
Bert’s career was no fairy tale by any stretch of the imagination. He got hurt and in trouble several times. He joined the US Navy as a young man and served on the Destroyer Leader USS Willis A. Lee. He got seriously hurt in the Navy and was medically discharged (but retired). He walked with a leg brace most of his adult life. He was badly beaten by the New York mob and arrested for being a Communist. He always maintained at one point both the FBI and CIA wanted him dead but the Navy Admiralty said there would be hell to pay if he was harmed. I believe that story because one day at the VA hospital in Tampa a group of young Navy officers came in to salute Bert. Everyone else in that hospital ward said something like: “who the heck are you? In here we’re all just sick old men who used to be somebody, and nobody comes to salute us.”
Bert grew up in a devout Catholic family. The story he told me over and over is that one day early in his career he got in serious trouble and sought refuge in the Vatican. There he confided in a high-level Vatican attorney that he had conflicting feelings about his work. He was raised a devout Catholic but became a counter-intelligence agent and card-carrying Communist.
The response from the Vatican, the Holy See, was this: “Son, you should work for whoever pays you the most.”
Long story short, there is a lot of money in Peru nowadays (mostly thanks to high metals prices and booming tourism) and Ollanta Humala will not want to upset that. Money always wins. Humala will certainly implement some domestic social programs, and that’s not a bad thing, but he won’t do anything so drastic that it would upset the country’s macro-economic prospects.
You can’t just compare Ollanta Humala the person to Hugo Chavez or Lula, look at the environment as well. Peru today is a very different country from 1980 or 1990. There is a lot of money in Peru today and Ollanta Humala will have to work with whoever pays Peru the most.
R.I.P. Bert, and know that at least some of your advice stuck with me.