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Enrique Jara: Never a man to do things by halves

Enrique Jara was one of my closest friends. I came to know his outstanding ability and leadership qualities when we were working together in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s. Reuters, in an attempt to extract itself from its loss-making media service position in Latin America, cooperated with leading publishers to set up Latín as a regional news agency. Latin American correspondents were hired, with Enrique as their editor. He quickly won a loyal following in the bureaus and fostered the career of outstanding reporters such as, for example, Carlos Banales who gave Latín its scoop on the survival of members of the Uruguayan rugby team who ate parts of their dead companions’ bodies to stay alive. A Spanish-language editorial operation that had become listless under Reuters was given new energy as Enrique, never a man to do things by halves, piled in with new ideas including special editorial services for the publisher-owners, or socios. Late one evening he dumped the Banales exclusive on my desk and suggested that I produce an English-language version and sell it to newspapers around the world. We did this very successfully in cooperation with The New York Times. I did not get any dinner that night, or much sleep.

These exciting days did not last. Though we worked together to put Latín’s finances on a firmer footing, the owners wished to see in Latín a capital value that was not there - in truth we needed all their money to run from day to day. Reuters had meantime become wealthier with the blossoming of the economic services and was able to re-absorb the Latin American media operation. Enrique left eventually and joined as editor of La Opinion of Buenos Aires as Argentina headed into the terrible abyss of military rule in which people simply disappeared - Los Desaparecidos. One of them, for a time, was Enrique himself, when the junta took exception to a certain story in La Opinion. I still remember my Mother, up from peaceful Devon, reacting with dismay to his account of his torture by electric shocks to his testiculos. Oh dear!

This unusual stimulus had the happy result of bringing him back to Reuters, where he managed our superb operation in Italy and later took on the Reuters media portfolio. But the narrow constrictions of the time did not allow for him becoming the eminent figure he might have become across his own continent. So what. A true Uruguayan, he was happy welcoming guests with his wife Nelly for barbecues in his peaceful farmstead, and taking them out riding over and through what seemed to be incredibly dangerous electric fences.

It was through Enrique that I learned to love Latin America, and sometimes to understand it. The only thing I never forgave him was his stubborn insistence, repeated over the years, that my wife Christine spoke better Spanish than I did. ■