Read 18 Lost Stories From Hunter S. Thompson’s Forgotten Stint As a Foreign Correspondent


Image by Steve Ander­son, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

At 24, some five years before pub­lish­ing his break­out book, Hell’s Angels, and near­ly a decade before brand­ing him­self a “gonzo jour­nal­ist,” the young Hunter S. Thomp­son was an anony­mous free­lancer look­ing to make a name for him­self. The year was 1962. Fidel Cas­tro had marched into Havana three years ear­li­er, and the sto­ry of the decade — the expand­ing fron­tier of the Cold War — was play­ing out in Latin Amer­i­ca. It occurred to Thomp­son that a hun­gry cub reporter could build a rep­u­ta­tion cov­er­ing it.

Thompson’s epiphany coin­cid­ed with the launch of the Nation­al Observ­er, a mild­ly exper­i­men­tal week­ly news­pa­per pub­lished by the Dow Jones Com­pa­ny. Thomp­son sent a let­ter intro­duc­ing him­self, said he was head­ed to South Amer­i­ca, and got an invite to sub­mit any sto­ries he wrote along the way. He arrived in Colom­bia in May of 1962 and, over the course of the next year, trav­eled through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argenti­na, Uruguay, and Brazil. The Observ­er pub­lished some 20 of his sto­ries from or about South Amer­i­ca, most of which focused on the continent’s cul­ture and pol­i­tics, and on how these were affect­ed by a Cold War–era U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy cen­tered around aid and con­tain­ment.

Six of Thompson’s South Amer­i­ca pieces were anthol­o­gized in his 1979 col­lec­tion The Great Shark Hunt (some in a slight­ly altered form); the rest have been essen­tial­ly lost for more than 50 years, read­able only in a few libraries’ micro­form col­lec­tions of the Observ­er, which fold­ed in 1977. I dug up the whole series while research­ing my book, The Foot­loose Amer­i­can: Fol­low­ing the Hunter S. Thomp­son Trail Across South Amer­i­ca (get a copy here). From the out­set, I intend­ed to post the arti­cles online some­where fol­low­ing the book’s pub­li­ca­tion, so that oth­er read­ers and researchers can eas­i­ly access them — and now that the book’s been on shelves for a year, it seemed like time to make good.

As I write in the book — and as I’ve described in The Atlantic and else­where — Thompson’s South Amer­i­can reportage offers a glimpse at his emerg­ing style. This is sharp, wit­ty par­tic­i­pa­to­ry jour­nal­ism with a keen eye for the absur­di­ties of South Amer­i­can life in the 1960s . The pieces are a mix of straight­for­ward news report­ing and more nar­ra­tive, fea­ture-style arti­cles. The depth of insight into Cold War for­eign pol­i­cy is impres­sive, and the sto­ries con­tain some mem­o­rable prose: the taxis in Quito, Ecuador, “rolled back and forth like ani­mals look­ing for meat.” Asun­cion, Paraguay, is “an O. Hen­ry kind of place … about as live­ly as Atlantis, and near­ly as iso­lat­ed.” La Paz, Bolivia, mean­while, offers “steep hills and high prices, sun­ny days and cold nights, demon­stra­tions by wild-eyed oppo­si­tion groups, drunk­en Indi­ans reel­ing and shout­ing through the streets at night — a man­ic atmos­phere.”

The Com­mu­ni­ty Texts col­lec­tion at now hosts a doc­u­ment with 18 of Thompson’s Nation­al Observ­er sto­ries from South Amer­i­ca, as well as host­ing each piece for indi­vid­ual read­ing or down­load. Find them all right below.

Note: If you find that the font is small, just click the plus (+) sign at the bot­tom of the screen to increase the font size.

1) ‘Leery Opti­mism’ at Home for Kennedy Vis­i­tor (June 24, 1962)

A pro­file of Colom­bi­a’s U.S.-friendly pres­i­dent-elect.

2) Nobody is Neu­tral Under Aruba’s Hot Sun (July 16, 1962)

On the divi­sive pol­i­tics of sun­ny Aru­ba.

3) A Foot­loose Amer­i­can in a Smuggler’s Den (August 6, 1962)

Thomp­son is marooned in Gua­ji­ra, Colom­bia, smug­gling cap­i­tal of the Caribbean.

4) Democ­ra­cy Dies in Peru, But Few Seem to Mourn Its Pass­ing (August 27, 1962)

On the results of a sur­pris­ing Peru­vian elec­tion — and the mil­i­tary takeover that fol­lowed.

5) How Democ­ra­cy is Nudged Ahead in Ecuador (Sep­tem­ber 17, 1962)

A day in the life of the Amer­i­can pro­pa­gan­da bureau in Ecuador.

6) Bal­lots in Brazil Will Mea­sure the Allure of Left­ist Nation­al­ism (Octo­ber 1, 1962)

On a piv­otal Brazil­ian elec­tion and the lure of the pop­ulist left.

7) Oper­a­tion Tri­an­gu­lar: Bolivia’s Fate Rides With It (Octo­ber 15, 1962)

On tin min­ers’ grave­yards, vio­lent strik­ers, and Bolivi­a’s crip­pling reliance on resource extrac­tion.

8) Uruguay Goes to the Polls with Econ­o­my Sag­ging (Novem­ber 19, 1962) 

The Blan­cos and Col­orados clash at the polls in South Amer­i­ca’s most devel­oped democ­ra­cy.

9) Chat­ty Let­ters Dur­ing a Jour­ney From Aru­ba to Rio (Decem­ber 31, 1962)

A selec­tion of Thomp­son’s (some­times des­per­ate) let­ters from South Amer­i­ca to his edi­tor.

10) Trou­bled Brazil Holds Key Vote (Jan­u­ary 7, 1963) — Text 1Text 2

Brazil­ians vote with the specter of rev­o­lu­tion on the hori­zon.

11) It’s a Dic­ta­tor­ship, But Few Seem to Care Enough to Stay and Fight (Jan­u­ary 28, 1963)

Report­ing on the belea­guered oppo­si­tion to Paraguay’s dic­ta­tor, Alfre­do Stroess­ner.

12) Brazil­ian Sol­diers Stage Raid in Revenge (Feb­ru­ary 11, 1963)

Report­ing on a grudge, a rogue mil­i­tary, and a mur­der in a Rio de Janeiro bar.

13) Left­ist Trend and Emp­ty Trea­sury Plague the Latin Amer­i­can Giant (March 11, 1963)

Hyper­in­fla­tion, labor strikes, and grow­ing insta­bil­i­ty in Brazil.

14) A Nev­er-Nev­er Land High Above the Sea (April 15, 1963)

On mad­ness, para­noia, and bizarre hap­pen­ings in the streets of La Paz.

15) Elec­tion Watched as Barom­e­ter Of Country’s Eco­nom­ic Trend (May 20, 1963) 

Report­ing on the mil­i­tary jun­ta from gloomy Lima.

16) He Haunts the Ruins of His Once-Great Empire (June 10, 1963)

On the plight — and latent polit­i­cal pow­er — of indige­nous Andeans.

17) Why Anti-Gringo Winds Often Blow South of the Bor­der (August 19, 1963)

On cyn­i­cism and dis­il­lu­sion­ment (and drink­ing) among Amer­i­can expats in South Amer­i­ca.

18) Can Brazil Hold Out Until the Next Elec­tion? (Octo­ber 28, 1963)

Hyper-infla­tion threat­ens to sink the Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment.

This is a guest post from Bri­an Kevin, a writer based in Maine and the author of The Foot­loose Amer­i­can. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @BrianMT.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hunter S. Thomp­son, Exis­ten­tial­ist Life Coach, Gives Tips for Find­ing Mean­ing in Life

Read 10 Free Arti­cles by Hunter S. Thomp­son That Span His Gonzo Jour­nal­ist Career (1965–2005)

Hunter S. Thomp­son Inter­views Kei­th Richards

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