It's hard to believe it's been 14 years ago.
To most Americans in 2007, May Day is just another flip of the calendar, the first day of another month. There will, no doubt, be a few demonstrations in the
That wasn't the case in
We had known each other for years, and I was always intrigued by her missions of mercy. Then, one day in the early spring of 1993, she called me up and announced: "Someone just gave me a free airline ticket to
The thought both scared and excited me. But after talking to my wife and my editor, both of whom gave their reluctant blessing, I told her "Sure."
It was Betty who taught me that it's possible to have a warm personal relationship with someone despite clashing politics. As a conservative Catholic Republican, she would have made Rush Limbaugh seem liberal. Her contacts in
All this was cancelled out, in my mind, by her basic generosity. We kidded each other about our differences and agreed to disagree.
When our plane landed in
As it turned out, though, any friend of Betty's was a friend of theirs, and the military treated me like an honored guest (once they found out I didn’t write for the Washington Post, which they despised). We got rooms at the Hotel Sentenario at one edge of the city's main central square, right across from the
This, I learned later, was sheer stupidity, because foreigners were routinely kidnapped there in those days. Maybe I just looked like someone no one would bother paying a ransom for.
At any rate, I was headed out the door of the hotel on the early evening of April 30, 1993, when one of the desk clerks waved me over.
"Senor, are you going out tonight?" he asked in a conversational tone.
The crowd rocked, and it rolled. The more flamboyant and charismatic members took turns mounting a flatbed truck parked right in front of the National Palace and screaming invectives at whoever was inside. The president, Jose Serrano, was burned in effigy.
Oddly enough, there was not a single soldier or police officer visible between the flatbed and the palace. They were all inside, armed to the teeth, just in case things got out of hand.
And with no one to confront directly, the crowd soon lost its fire. After a couple of hours, they climbed off the flatbed truck, reloaded the buses, and left. Amazingly, they picked up all their trash during their exodus.
"Nothing but Communists," Betty spat when I met her later.
Maybe so. Yet in a strange way, that May Day rally in a divided and violent country gave me a glimpse into true democracy.
As for Betty, she was interred in a