Letter: Tristan Garel-Jones obituary

Keith Morris
Photograph: Allstar/Alamy

When Lord Garel-Jones acted as the official translator for John Major, it was in Bogotá in June 1992, on the first ever prime ministerial visit to South America. The Earth Summit was being held in Rio and Tristan, whose responsibilities included Latin America as well as Europe, persuaded his good friend to visit Colombia on the way.

The visit, in the times of the drug baron Pablo Escobar, was seen as a splendid gesture by the Colombians and transformed our relationship. It was part of a boost to our relations with Latin America as a whole that Tristan inspired. Latin American leaders had never met a British politician who spoke Spanish as well as them and also knew and loved the region so well. He was very popular indeed. He himself convinced members of the cabinet to visit the region, which they did in unprecedented numbers.

One result was a British-Latin-American trade meeting in the Banqueting Hall, Westminster, in 1997 four years after Tristan’s retirement. It was attended by three presidents and many ministers from Latin America, the prime minister and six members of the British cabinet. He put everyone at ease with his jokes, switching from English to Spanish and back, even using some Portuguese, as relaxed as if it was a gathering of friends, which, of course, for him it was. I cannot think of any British minister who could have put on such an international show.

He told me that his Latin American visits, which he so enjoyed, helped to keep him sane during the grind of the Maastricht legislation. I was so glad to see him still on good form during the state visit of President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in 2016: Santos as trade minister and old London hand had organised the Major visit a generation before. Tristan’s initiative was still bearing fruit.