Latin America’s intractable political problems—the sort laid bare in “The Lost Revolution,” have made the region a target for screwball satire. When Woody Allen takes a crack at Banana Republicanism, the result can be sublime, but in lesser hands the “comedy” can devolve into a stereotype-laden burlesque. Here, five visions of Latin politics gone south.

Bananas. Woody Allen. United Artists. 1971.
Allen is at his most irreverent as Fielding Melish, a brokenhearted product tester who falls in with the Cuban-styled revolutionaries of “San Marcos.” When the new president goes mad, declaring Swedish the official language and mandating that citizens change their underwear every half hour, Melish must take the helm. Nothing is sacred here—Howard Cosell does play-by-play calls for both a political assassination and Melish’s wedding night.

Moon Over Parador. Paul Mazursky. Universal. 1988.
Richard Dreyfuss plays a B actor who gets rooked into impersonating the deceased dictator of “Parador.” Dreyfuss (above) must salute and mumble well enough to fool the masses—how hard could that be in a country whose national anthem is sung to “O Tannenbaum”? Authoritarianism proves a tricky comic premise, however, as in the decidedly unfunny scene in which the army torches a small village.

The Three Caballeros. Norman Ferguson. Disney. 1945.
This WWII-era propaganda cartoon hoped to boost sympathy for the Allies in Latin America, and so shies away from overt ridicule. But Donald Duck’s compadres in the film are a Brazilian parrot and a vaguely offensive gun-toting rooster named Panchito. Less diplomatic is Donald’s aggressive interspecies heterosexuality: His “magic serape” ride in pursuit of Acapulco’s bikini babes must have generated an ambiguous brand of goodwill.

Walker. Alex Cox. Incine. 1987.
From director Alex Cox, whose comic sensibilities were far better suited to Repo Man, comes this screwy historical satire. Ed Harris stars as American soldier of fortune William Walker, who plundered Nicaragua in the 1850s. The film’s laughable incongruities—19th-century aristocrats reading Newsweek, Walker’s troops ßeeing in helicopters—were intended to give Walker resonance in the era of Iran-Contra, but instead make the entire endeavor impossible to take seriously.

The In-Laws. Arthur Hiller. Warner Bros. 1979.
In this farcical romp, Peter Falk plays a cia operative whose son is about to wed the daughter of a mild-mannered dentist, played by Alan Arkin. Falk cons his feckless future in-law into helping him sell U.S. mint engraving plates to Generalissimo Garcia—the loony dictator of “Tejada,” who takes his marching orders from a talking hand named Se–or Pepe. When a cia-backed coup disrupts the plot, the in-laws nonetheless abscond with $10 million—proving you don’t have to be a dictator to loot a small Latin American country.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate