Exploring life's passions

The man who shook Mao’s hand

Mao Zedong's mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

Mao Zedong’s mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

It will be no surprise to learn that Leonie and I have stepped in a plane to go some place before. You might not know that we have a strange goal we want to achieve as we travel: we want to visit all the mummified communist dictators around the world.

We’ve already seen Ho Chi Min, Mao and Lenin. Just the two Kim’s in North Korea to go now.

We mentioned this last Sunday, Easter Sunday, when Abad’s father asked about places we’d visited in the past. He nodded, like he understood our ambition.

He’d seen Ho Chi Min too, he told us. And Mao. He’d even shaken Mao’s hand. And while he didn’t meet Lenin, he’d also shaken Yuri Gargarin’s hand. But he wasn’t talking about some stuffed corpses, he met all these people when they were still alive and powerful.

Mr Peralta had been a leader in the Bolivian mines in his younger years. This made him a target for the dictator government at the time. In fact, Mr Peralta was taken, while his children, including Abad, were all still very young, and imprisoned and tortured by the dictatorship.

These were the days when Che Guevara was active in Bolivia (where he was eventually executed in 1967). Mr Peralta, along with many others in Latin America, was chosen to visit many countries sympathetic to their revolutionary cause, which included most of Europe.

Mr-Peralto-and-LeonieHe told us about his visits to Vietnam when Ho Chi Min was developing his guerrilla war against the Americans, his trips to Russia and his four years in China.

He told us about the many interesting people he met and the many political and philosophical debates they would have.

Other people listened in as he talked to us at the Easter party. Mr Peralta mentioned that he’d visited more than 70 countries, and someone asked which country was the best, what is the best place in the world to come from. The guy was clearly looking for Bolivia as an answer. And Mr Peralta nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘the best place to come from is humanity.’ We all sat there, quietly impressed.

Mr-Peralto flipMr Peralta, and the many men and woman like him, are finally getting some recognition for the part they played in freeing their country from military dictatorships.

We only heard a tiny fraction of the many stories he has to tell of that time. He made a great impression on us. We found him fascinating, humble and inspiring, full of vigour and still with a bright mischievous twinkle in his eye. At 84, his family are now gradually recording his experiences so that his grandkids (he’s already got more than 20) and great-grandkids (2 so far) will know what he achieved.

We won’t forget him either, and, as we continue our journey, we’ll try to remember that message about humanity being the best place to come from.

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2 Responses »

  1. I love Mr. Peralta. What a touching story … to remember. Thank you!


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