Elizabeth II: how were the queen's only 4 visits to Latin America in her 70-year reign

Elizabeth II: how were the queen’s only 4 visits to Latin America in her 70-year reign

September 10, 2022, 12:45 PM

September 10, 2022, 12:45 PM

Serge Lemoine/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II with Mexican President Luis Echeverría during her visit to Mexico in 1975.

Although Latin America did not have the geostrategic importance for the United Kingdom of regions such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia or the African continent, the first trip of Elizabeth II as Queen of England curiously began in a Latin American country: Panama.

Throughout her 70-year reign, the monarch visited only three other countries in the region: Brazil and Chile in 1968, and Mexico in 1975 and 1983.

On these visits, he met with heads of state and with figures such as Edson Arantes do Nascimento, “King” Pelé, who had already held two soccer world cups by the time he met Elizabeth II at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Cover of La Estrella de Panamá of November 29, 1953. The queen and her husband appear

The Panama Press
Cover of La Estrella de Panamá of November 29, 1953.

Panama, unlike the other three countries, was not an official state visit, but two elements stand out from those days of transit through the Canal on the way to several of the member states of the British Commonwealth of Nations (Commonwealth).

The queen had not been on the throne – that November 29, 1953 – even six months when the Ghotic ship arrived in the Panamanian city of Colón, and the trip coincided with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Central American nation as a republic.

Another curious fact is that on November 30, from Panamanian lands, Isabel II sent a happy birthday for the first time as monarch to Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, who was celebrating 79 years. Churchill would be the first of 15 prime ministers she would meet during her seven decades as head of state.


“It was a privilege for Panama to have been selected at that time by the English Crown as the transit point from the Atlantic to the Pacific on its route to New Zealand and Australia,” Colon historian Luis Javier Ceballos explained to BBC Mundo, who described the visit real as “apotheosis”.

Isabel II had been crowned on June 2, 1953, when she was 27 years old, and her first journey would last for half a year.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the Miraflores locks on the Panama Canal, November 29, 1953.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Felipe visited Panama on November 29, 1953. In the image, observing the Miraflores locks, in the Panama Canal.

“The Panamanian president José Antonio Remón Cantera took advantage of the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary to reconcile all the political parties and reduce tensions in the country. The people enthusiastically applauded the government’s initiative to admit all the ceremonial protocol to receive the queen Elizabeth II and her husband,” Cevallos said.

Among the crowd that welcomed Queen Elizabeth when she arrived days later in Panama City was Alberto Luis Tuñón Núñez, who in 2021 recalled that eventful day for BBC Mundo:

“The visit was the theme of the day. In the neighborhood, everyone commented: ‘The queen is coming, the queen is coming!’ And practically the whole city was mobilized.”

“My privilege was to be able to see it from very close. I was barely two meters away and I could see that the queen, excited, grabbed Prince Philip’s hand and squeezed it. I still remember it like it was yesterday.”


“Your Majesty, this is the world-famous player Pelé,” said Lael Soares, chief of protocol at Palácio Guanabara, the official seat of government in Rio de Janeiro.

“Oh, I know!” smiled the queen, holding out her hand. “I already know him by his name. And I feel very happy to greet him.”

“Tell him that I am happy to have participated in a game that included his presence,” Pelé asked, a little uneasily, to the royal interpreter.

“Tell him happiness is mine,” replied the queen, with another smile. She was 42 years old and had already been on the throne for 16.

Felipe, Isabel II and Pelé

National Archive
Isabel II and Pelé at the Maracanã stadium.

The above dialogue, reproduced by the newspaper O Globo, occurred during the first and only visit of the British Crown to Brazil, between November 1 and 11, 1968, during the military dictatorship.

Pelé, at just 28 years old, was already a two-time world champion, thanks to the titles won at the 1958 World Cups in Sweden and 1962 in Chile. A year and seven months later he would win the third championship, in Mexico, in 1970.

The two met in the grandstand of the Maracanã Stadium after a match between the teams from Rio and São Paulo. The Paulistas won the dispute 3-2. Pelé, the captain of the São Paulo team, scored one of the goals, the 900th of his career, in the 39th minute of the first half.

“Football was born in England, but once, in the Maracana, filled with 100,000 people, we had the honor of showing the beauty of Brazilian football to British royalty. I keep this day with great affection in my memory,” Pelé published, in their social networks, on April 9, 2021, the date of Prince Philip’s death.

Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

National Archive
When Prince Felipe died, Pelé remembered that day in which he coincided with members of the British royalty.

The 1968 trip took the queen and the prince consort through six cities in Brazil: Recife, Salvador, Brasilia, São Paulo, Campinas and Rio de Janeiro.

“To date, it is the only trip by a British monarch to South America and, for that alone, it is already very important,” Brazilian ambassador to London Fred Arruda told BBC Brazil in 2022.

“It was a visit that had several aspects. In addition to the government meetings, there were aspects of science and technology, culture and even infrastructure. But, above all, I would say that the trip was designed to bring Brazilians closer to the United Kingdom, using the magnetism of the royal couple. And that worked very well,” he concluded.


The other South American country visited by the royal couple that November 1968 was Chile.

In Santiago, Isabel and Felipe were received by President Eduardo Frei Montalva, who had formally invited them to visit Chilean lands in 1965, when he visited the United Kingdom as part of a European tour.

Eduardo Frei Montalva when he was received in London by Elizabeth II

Getty Images
Eduardo Frei Montalva when he was received in London by Elizabeth II.

The Eduardo Frei Montalva House Museum recalls that an unprecedented event occurred in the midst of this official visit: Queen Elizabeth II attended, along with Philip of Edinburgh, to a private dinner at the president’s housewhich “escaped from everything that had been prepared for official visits until then”.

According to the House Museum, the idea for this event was Mariano Fontecilla, in charge of protocol, who at the opening of the commemorative exhibition of the royal visit described the objective of this “unique dinner”.

“He could give knowledge of what a normal and ordinary head of state is like in our nation and how he is ventilated without a palace and with nothing. It was also an example blow, that they knew that in this country there was a president who had an austerity plan and seriousness, not only in saying, but in acting and in his own life”.

In dialogue with BBC Mundo, Maite Gallego, deputy director of the House Museum, highlighted “the friendly and very human relationship” that had been established between the European monarch and the South American president during his visit to London as the background that allowed that dinner.

“When Foncecilla proposed to Frei to invite Isabel II to eat at his home, the president had his doubts and replied: ‘I would not like people to think that I am cheeky (that I believe myself too much) inviting the queen to my house’ Gallego recalled. But he was finally convinced by his protocol officer.

There is no visual record, no photo or image of the dinner, which was also brief because later the president and the queen attended the soccer match between the University of Chile and the Catholic University, which was played at the National Stadium.

In addition to the capital, Isabel II was in the Valparaíso region, visiting the National Congress, and the southern town of Pucón.


On February 24, 1975, a crowd gathered in the Zócalo of the Mexican capital to receive Queen Elizabeth II amid songs, flowers and various artistic expressions.

The queen’s visit marked the 150th anniversary of a major trade and shipping agreement between Britain and Mexico, signed in 1825.

Queen Elizabeth II with a group of children

Serge Lemoine/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II in Mexico, in 1975.

“The affection that was shown to her was very evident. There was a demonstration of joy and goodwill to send a message to the sovereign that she was very welcome in Mexico,” César Lajud, a Mexican professor of Economics at the Nebrija University of Madrid, which was present on the occasion.

This is how the newspaper El Universal reported the dinner of honor that Elizabeth II offered at the British embassy in Mexico in honor of President Luis Echeverría and his wife, María Ester Zuno, on February 25.

“With her exquisite skills as a hostess, she served tender chicks stuffed with pâté as the main course, garnished with artichoke hearts. A musical ensemble performed music by European and American authors, in addition to an arrangement of ‘La Cucaracha'”.

“Something that was striking for the queen is that she said that only in India had she been received by larger crowds than in Mexico,” Professor Harim Gutiérrez, from the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico, reminded BBC Mundo.

“The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, was an organization that had a great deal of skill and experience in mobilizing its supporters,” which was not only reflected in the elections, but also in other types of activities, Gutiérrez added.

In addition to the Federal District, the queen visited the archaeological zone of Monté Alban, one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica, located 8 kilometers from the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, and in Yucatán she inaugurated the Parque Zoologico La Reina in Tizimín, which was named in his honour.

“The queen said that she had learned about the Mayan culture in books and that she was very excited to be able to visit the place and see it with her own eyes,” Gutiérrez said.

Queen Elizabeth II in Mexico

Serge Lemoine/Getty Images
The queen visited the archaeological zone of Uxmal.

The professor from the Autonomous Metropolitan University said that the second visit, in 1983, did not have the same popular impact as the first, since the country was suffering from a severe economic crisis caused by the drop in oil prices a year earlier.

It was, according to the expert, a more discreet visit, with an additional diplomatic agenda.

“I can venture to say that that moment (the visit) served to improve relations between Mexico and the United Kingdom” after the Malvinas/Falklands war in 1982, when Mexico supported Argentina’s demand for the islands.

Lajud agrees: “In a way, he tried to soften and enhance Britain’s presence in Latin America.”

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