A U.S. ambassador is ending his 38-year diplomatic career with a song — recording an album of music in the Guarani language that has made him a Paraguayan recording star.
James Cason said Friday he has sold about 2,000 copies of his record "Campo Jurado" — "Field of Promises" — using the proceeds to finance scholarships for poor Paraguayan youths to learn English.
Few foreigners have ever bothered to learn Guarani, an indigenous language little used outside the landlocked South American country, and Cason's recording drew heavy local media attention, some bemused, some admiring. Local radio stations took to playing it. A performance was posted on YouTube.
The CD even launched a debate in Paraguay's Senate when a leftist politician, Domingo Laino, accused Cason of butchering the Guarani language "with his horrible voice."
Paraguayans defended effort
That prompted a flood of support for Cason on local Internet sites. "God bless America and God bless Paraguay" wrote a man who signed his name as Luis Alvarenga on the Web site of the newspaper Ultima Hora.
Senators voted unanimously last week against filing a complaint.
Cason said many Paraguayans were impressed at the idea "of somebody at my age of 63 wanting to learn one of the hardest languages."
"Somebody's appreciating their culture and that's the reason why people are so happy about the record," he said.
Cason said it even prompted some Paraguayans to pay renewed attention to their own traditional music, thinking, "if a foreigner likes it, then we should like it."
The ambassador said he's not yet sure what he'll do when he retires from the State Department at the end of September. He joked that if nothing else turns up, he might move to Miami, sit on the dock and sell worms.
"If they buy two dozen, I'll sing them a song in Guarani."
Ready to keep speaking Guarani
He said he may sit in with Paraguayan musicians in Miami from time to time: "I don't want to lose Guarani: I've invested 3 1/2 years in it."
Cason said he plans to have the record, now available only in Paraguay, produced in the United States and available to download.
Cason spent most of his career in the Americas. As chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, he was a favorite target of Cuba's communist press.
Cason said he has most enjoyed Paraguay, and would take off on Saturday with a song in Guarani.
"Tomorrow morning when I leave, I'm going to sing 'Goodbye, My Favorite Place.'"