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My Days at the Peruvian Times

After having taught English as a second language for three years, I worked up the courage to walk into the offices of the Peruvian Times and ask for a job in January 1978. I think they gave me the job because I could speak fluent Spanish and knew Lima enough not to get lost while on assignment. I was assigned to report on the upcoming elections for a Constituent Assembly and the labor scene, taking over from Jonathan Cavanaugh. They were heady days -- the military was on their way out and civilian politicans were to be eased into power. In addition, labor unions and the Marxist left stage protest strikes that startled the military.

The Peruvian Times and Andean Air Mail S.A. had a second-floor office on Jirón Carabaya, just off Plaza San Martín. At the time, it was located close to the eye of the political storm -- the Presidential Palace, Congress, the HQs of the main political parties and the thoroughfares that were frequently clogged with marches and protests. The Peruvian Times had stopped publishing in 1975 when the military cracked down on the independent press. It divided into the monthly Andean Report (sold exclusively by subscription for several hundred dollars) and the weekly Lima Times that appealed to the Anglo-American community and tourism. The thinking behind the name of the Andean Report was to give it an international focus so the military would not touch it for fear of offending neighboring countries. In reality, there were only news clippings for the other Andean countries.

Nicholas Asheshov, an eccentric Russian-Brit who had adopted Peru as his stomping grounds, was the journalistic mind behind PTSA. Donald Griffis, the co-owner and business manager of PTSA, was the son of "Old Man" Griffis who founded the company in the 1930s. Don held the company together under some pretty stressful economic times. He died suddenly in surgery in 1988. He was sorely missed by family, friends, and PTSA. His daughter, Ellie, picked up after him.

Nick Asheshov purchased a hotel in the Sacred Valley of the Inca and is running it as an Andean country squire.

Nick and I spent many late hours going over my attempts at writing stories for the Andean Report. I had absolutely no idea of what it meant to write a news story or an analysis piece -- and atrocious spelling. I could barely type and think what I wanted to write at the same time. I was fortunate to have someone willing to go over my copy line by line. To keep me busy between Andean Report's monthly deadlines, I wrote a weekly column in the Lima Times. My byline was Cuthbert O. Jones, which was shortened to C.O. Jones until someone caught on to the joke (Cojones is a gross term for testicles in Spanish).

During the 1970s, information was a scarce commodity in Peru. Even before the military takeover of the newspapers in July 1974, the media was under constant pressure from the government. For instance, Caretas magazine had been shut down repeatedly during the decade. Nick had hidden Caretas publisher, Enrique Zileri, in his Cieneguilla country cottage when the government was trying to track him down. That meant that both PTSA publications were read carefully for any hint of which way the political and economic winds were blowings.

PTSA also brought out other publications like Carta Minera and a tourism guide.

Most correspondents for the major media stopped off at the office and set up a lunch with Nick, frequently at the Phoenix Club, a British club overlooking Plaza San Martin. I especially remember the New York Times's Juan de Onis. Other British institutions were the Lima Cricket Club, and the two Brit schools, Markham (boys) and San Silvestre (girls) where we put Matthew and Stephanie.

Many Yanks and Brits spent time working at the Peruvian Times. Others wrote articles on a free lance basis. Adventures in the backwoods were steady fare, especially backpacking in the Andes, visiting Cusco, canoeing on the Amazon or its tributaries. But many Lima residents looked to the Lima Times for reliable reporting because the daily papers were so bad, even after the owners got them back in 1980. Many readers were expecting information from Andean Report to seap into the weekly.

But the best facet of PTSA was that it gave me a chance to study Peru seriously. I got to talk and interview politicans and intellectuals. I made some stabs at explaining why Peru was so frustrating and fascinating. PTSA was where I could nurture myself while I remade myself as a writer. And I could share this exercise with others over an expresso in the cafés on Plaza San Martin. I met people whom I still think of as my best friends. But PTSA was like a small pot that would not allow a plant to expand its roots.

I left the Peruvian Times in 1982 because I tired of strict business writing. I wanted more opportunity to write for international media. I also started working with the flamboyant publisher-editor Guillermo Thorndike of La República on the idea of bringing out a daily English newspaper. The economic recession in 1983 soon squashed that idea, but I did get a taste of Spanish-language journalism.

In the late 1980s, the Peruvian Times moved its offices to Miraflores to get away from the decaying conditions in downtown Lima. Nick went to Chile to repeat the formula of Andean Report. He was shuttling between Lima and Santiago for awhile. That coincided with a continued decline in the number of Americans residing in Lima and a bad advertising market, especially for tourism. As far as I know today in 2001, PTSA has given up its Miraflores offices and none of its publications are coming out.