Novelist Vargas Llosa stirs up left and right in Latin America

May 28, 2009

The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who in his youth was a champion of the Latin American left and later evolved into an outspoken conservative, has been caught up in a struggle between two presidents camped out on opposite ends of the political spectrum — Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Peru’s Alan Garcia.

The two presidents frequently trade barbs as Chavez positions himself as the leader of the left in Latin America who favors nationalizing companies, while Garcia presents himself as the polar opposite who has won the support of conservatives by vigorously defending free enterprise, signing free trade deals, and strengthening ties to the United States.

On Thursday, Garcia jumped on Chavez after Vargas Llosa was delayed for more than an hour while passing through immigration in Caracas, where authorities told him that because he was a foreigner he was prohibited from making political comments while in Venezuela. “Any attack against free thought and expression is unfortunate, intolerant and anti-democratic,” Garcia said of the delay. Vargas Llosa, who was on his way to speak at a conference hosted by the Cedice think tank that promotes free markets, called the warning an “intimidating gesture” and said “nobody can put limits on free speech.”

Vargas Llosa also defied the prohibition and warned that “Venezuela is getting closer and closer to being a Communist dictatorship and farther and farther away from a liberal democracy.” Venezuela’s state news agency, ABN, focused on Vargas Llosa’s softer comments, running with the headline “Vargas Llosa recognizes that this isn’t a totalitarian country” after the writer said that “If Venezuela were a totalitarian dictatorship we wouldn’t be here.” Chavez has yet to address the Vargas Llosa episode.

Vargas Llosa, who many critics say is one of the finest Latin American novelists ever, has been criticized by his peers for abandoning the left and has never won the Nobel prize. He was once an admirer of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, but later became a sharp critic. He also had a high-profile falling out with Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was a longtime supporter of Castro. Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez were once great friends but came to blows in a famous fight three decades ago that was ostensibly over a woman but was widely believed to be about politics as well.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Edwin Montilva. Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa speaks to the media in Caracas May 28, 2009

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Marco Aquino)


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Communism feeds on the all-consuming fire of youth, but smolders with the realities of age and wisdom.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

The left is not “communism”, and Venezuela is not a communist country.. The desired effect of the word communism in this context is obvious, however the concept of social cooperation for mutual benefit is what took us out of the jungles and to the forefront of evolution.In Latin America one has much to gain from exploiting new markets in socialist countries. Many fortunes lay dormant waiting for the right political atmosphere for private control of resources and human markets for the safe extraction of profit.Its obvious that removing Chavez in Venezuela is pivotal in the fight to reverse enormously popular democratic social trends in the region, and although its going to be a long road ahead maybe Vargas Llosa having come from the left can kick-start the process of reverse-engineering the progress in the region back towards the brutal right wing dictatorships of old.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Thanks for reinforcing my point Brian.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

Ok, I was commenting more on the content of the article. Honestly I didn’t entirely understand your point, on communism, and could only offer the fact that there are no communist countries in South America, in relevance to Vargas Llosa’s comments as well as your own.I was more interested in the political motives of Senor Llosa in using the word “communism” to incorrectly describe something he knows, as a person educated in politics, bears no resemblance to his description.The use of the word carries a negative connotation most would easily connect to unrelated cold war era regimes and propaganda, without realizing the astronomical difference between democratic socialism and totalitarian communism that comes with political education. Which sadly is not compulsory education in many countries including western ‘democracies’.Would you like to clarify your point Pat?

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Communism does not equal Soviet communism and Vargas Llosa’s description seems accurate with respect to Chavez’s explicit intentions for Venuzuela.In communist theory, there are no inherent democractic rights and only the voice of the working class as reflected by their leaders waging class war should be heard. In practice over time this leads to oppression and totalitarian dictatorship. Hence, Llosa’s comment.

Posted by smnz | Report as abusive

[…] the meantime, Reuters says that Álvaro’s dad, Mario is stirring things up: Novelist Vargas Llosa stirs up left and right in Latin America. Good for […]

Posted by Fausta’s Blog » Blog Archive » More Alvaro in Venezuela | Report as abusive

Ok, Bri (sorry, couldn’t resist, I hate being called Pat).Hugo Chavez has openly admitted that he is taking Venezuela towards a socialist state. Fair enough, but he is not just controlling the economy (socialism), he is controlling politics (communism) through nationalization/intimidation of the media, arresting the opposition, and creating new government positions to supersede rivals he can’t arrest. In other words, he has a lot of power, but can’t wait for more, and has taken short cuts to get it (getting closer to totalitarian communism than democratic socialism). This is where the line gets crossed. But I bet he is just telling those bad media people how it is, huh? Enough clarification? I bet it didn’t occur to you that Llosa lived through the first set of socialist revolutions, and realized they were not economically viable unless they had massive amounts of raw materials, and plundered them exactly like they accuse the US of doing. What pays the bills when they run out?And by the way, I learned the difference between socialism and communism in middle school, at about age 12 or so. Where exactly are you from that they don’t teach Economics/Government in school? I am from Mississippi (US), so you can’t have an education system worse than ours, can you?And why would you say “western ‘democracies\'”? Do you think we are not? Please clarify.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

The author or this article mix up the names: The one who was delayed in the airport and said that hi was he was ”prohibited from making political comments while in Venezuela”, was ALVARO Vargas Llosa, son of the author Mario Vargas Llosa. Both of them were in Venezuela for the same conference. Talking about media mistakes… About Patrick concept of communism, there is a Wikipedia quote: ”Communism (from Latin: communis = ”common”) is a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general.[1][2][3] In political science, the term ”communism” is sometimes used to refer to communist states, a form of government in which the state operates under a one-party system and declares allegiance to Marxism-Leninism or a derivative thereof, even if the party does not actually claim that it has already developed communism”…

Posted by rose | Report as abusive

Both Alvaro and Mario were delayed upon entering Venezuela, each on different days.

Posted by terry wade | Report as abusive

@rose: Actually, you are the one who is wrong. BOTH Mario and Alvaro were detained at the Venezuelan airport. Alvaro got to Venezuela a few days earlier and was detained for 2 hours or so at the airport. Mario came later and suffered the same detention. BOTH were told not to issue any political opinions because as tourists they were not allowed to do so. You see, in Venezuela, your freedom of expression currently depends on what passport you carry.

Posted by Peric O’verde | Report as abusive

“Communism feeds on the all-consuming fire of youth, but smolders with the realities of age and wisdom.”My, oh, my, what a clicheYou are suggesting communism is some biological force and that aged people have wisdom.Of course this is not what you are really suggesting;To properly put it”When you have been betrayed enough by so-called ‘Communists’ (Casto, Chavez, etc.) and you have digested enough television you become cynical enough to believe in the so-called ‘Democrats’ instead”The next step is: “if you are still young, you become wise enough to join the military and abuse children in the name of democracy – if you are old you are wise enough to allow 1% of the population to control 40% of the nation’s wealth in the name of “free market capitalism.”At least the young “Communist” has avoided being an young or old “Democrat.” Perhaps he should come to terms with what Socialism really is and what Chavez and co. are not. Then he will be able to approach the question productively. Until then, he will be just as clueless to betrayals as are the even more confused and illusioned “wise elders.”

Posted by Roy Fairbank | Report as abusive

Sure Patrick, controlling the economy is not socialism, nor is controlling politics communism, rather totalitarianism.Nationalization of public infrastructure under democratic control is however democratic socialism. As far as regulating “intimidating” the private media and arresting members of other said political parties goes I agree there’s a thin line between abusing your power as an elected official and doing your duty to protect your country from coup attempts and foreign political interferance.Personally I dont think Chavez has crossed that line in any big way, and has done a lot to protect his country from foreign exploitation after the failed US backed coup that led to the people demanding his return.He has also done a lot to defend and support other countries in the region.I understand to an American he is public enemy no. 1, all im asking is that you understand why thats important to your INTERESTS, in the region.As for “paying the bills” when “raw materials” run out, the same things that pay the bills in any other country I guess. The only difference between a socialist economy and a capitalistic economy should be the concept that private control of state infrastructure is somehow more productive than democratic control in that the motivation to become wealthy will drive private business to compete against each-other (against their bottom line interests of profit, somehow) and force prices down as they work out new ways to produce goods more efficiently.A socialist economy can operate using the exact same principals only social infrastructure is controlled by the people not the highest bidder so by very nature is more democratic (if social democratic transition is actually achieved).Now when I say ‘western democracies’ I am pointing out the contradictions between the image and the realities of these types of systems. Usually two party systems with little real public political education, adding to that the most important public infrastructure, in terms of democratic tools, is not democratic in any way.. The private media. Which makes the election process more about a parties funding (again from the private sector) and mirrors the interests of private enterprise.I don’t know what kind of political education you’ve had in America but obviously you are not bringing any of these points to MY attention, and any more than a glance at your own governmental system would reveal its almost anti-democratic nature to a trained eye, despite your 1 multi-choice question every 3 or 4 years.Thanks for your comments, feel free to further clarify your response.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

@brian: So according to you, Mr. Chavez has not crossed in any big way the line that would define him as abusing the power of an elected official.What would be crossing the line in a “big way”? Putting dissidents in concentration camps? Executing them? Is it ok to cross your imaginary line many times in “small” ways? Are you going to tell us next that elections in Cuba are free and democratic?

Posted by Peric O’verde | Report as abusive

Yes Peric:”As far as regulating “intimidating” the private media and arresting members of other said political parties goes I agree there’s a thin line between abusing your power as an elected official and doing your duty to protect your country from coup attempts and foreign political interferance.Personally I dont think Chavez has crossed that line in any big way, and has done a lot to protect his country from foreign exploitation after the failed US backed coup that led to the people demanding his return.”During socialist transition in a region plagued by subversion, assasination and imperialistic interference you have to understand what is sometimes required to protect your national sovereignty and popular political system from outside threats. And there is a thin line between neutralizing threats before they become a threat to the nation and abusing your power to do so, in exactly the same way one would a terrorist threat.Chavez and the people of Venezuela have learned recently how dangerous the threats to their country and way of life can be, luckily they were able to protect their democracy last time.Its not MY imaginary line, its an obvious example of how careful and intelligent one has to be in that position, torn between protecting Venezuela at all costs and keeping the freedoms that make national security more difficult.If only the US under Bush had been able to keep their freedoms while under threat…You should also understand that democracy in Socialism is much different than in a Capitalistic state. Privitisation of public resources is anti-democratic behavior, maybe not through the eyes of a capitalist but they’ve never had a democratic media, or a elections free from corporate financing.Im sure the citizens of Venezuela understand what is necessary to defend their nation from the US and their clients in latin america and are proud of their leader for all the good work he has done in the region. After all they’re facing a country with the worst criminal record for imperialistic behavior in history, and if they didnt want Chavez and everything he stood for they wouldnt have demanded his return.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

In Richard Gott’s book about Chavez there is excellent detail covering the US involvement in the attempt to overthrow Chavez in April 2002, and also the popular response which defeated the coup and put Chavez back in power.Gott details how the US and Spain (under Aznar) had worked together to support the coup and had a joint statement already prepared. In the event, they expected other leaders across South America to come to their side and were greatly disappointed by the support for Chavez.In Gott’s words:”Washington made no secret of its dislike of the radical direction taken by the Bolivarian Revolution. The conspiracy against Chavez had been carefully planned by the country’s principal industrialists and businessmen, the leaders of the principal trade union movement, the owners of the main newspapers and television channels, the bishops of the Catholic Church, and conservative officers in the armed forces. Washington have its go-ahead to their plans.”If such a thing happened in the US or the UK, it would be branded as treason, terrorism, a threat to “all we hold dear”, and such-like and would evoke the strongest possible response from government, perhaps even a Patriot Act and a department of Homeland security. How many Americans would defend the right of the US media to organise and carry out a coup inside the US itself? They would be solidly in favour of incarcerating the organisers, suppressing their publications, siezing their assets, and putting them in some place like, oh maybe Guantanamo…

Posted by Synogenes | Report as abusive

@brian:I don’t buy it. Your reasoning (excuses) sound like those utter buy a thousand apologists for communism (now branded by Chavez as XXI century socialism) before you.The ruler starts by bending the rules a little with the excuse of protecting “the revolution”. Then the ruler continues to bend the rules a little bit more with the same excuse. We soon start to see arbitrary behaviors like limiting freedom of expression, the closing of media not sympathetic to the government and, the establishment of blacklist of those citizens that are deemed against the revolution (search for Tascon List). Finally, the ruler is engaged in a continuous rape of the constitution with the same excuse of protecting “the revolution”. It never ends. This is what we, Venezuelans, are experiencing at the moment and, what Cubans have had for the past 60 years or so.We have seen the submission of the Supreme Court of Justice to a Chavez’s pawn. The Congress made into a rubber stamp for Chavez’s wishes. There are essentially no public institutions that currently are independent from Chavez will… of course, all in the good name of “the revolution” and the threat of the outsider all powerful empire that is conspiring to take away anything and everything that has been accomplished. A classic textbook example of Communism set of instructions on “how to get to power and stay on it”.Your “thin line” is just an ad hoc device that keeps shifting to accommodate for whatever arbitrary decisions the supreme leader decides is good for all of us and ultimately for *his* project.Incidentally, since 1958 to 1998 when Chavez was elected the only subversion and assassination attempt was performed by Chavez himself when in 1992 he attempted a coup on a democratically elected government. Something that Chavez’s apologists seem to conveniently forget all the time. Not that I think that everything was picture perfect in those 40 years. Indeed, there was plenty of wrong with those governments but sadly Chavez has managed to do on the average even worse than them.Incidentally, are you Venezuelan or have you lived there for an extended period of time?

Posted by Peric O’verde | Report as abusive

Well its obvious which side of the fence you are sitting on.Look I understand your fears but it seems to be bordering on paranoia. If democratic socialism was not popular in Venezuela and was instead being forced on the people instead of the other way around you might be justified. Still I can understand the helplessness you must feel being just 1 person stuck in the middle of this war to preserve your nations identity and sovereignty. Especially being one who does not believe in social democracy, people like you will always be at odds with any change that results in a disadvantage to your more capitalistic aspirations.Unfortunately because of internal divisions like this, these situations tend to drag out for long periods of time.The only reason you’d prefer not to focus on the real threat to your country that is not only exploiting your national sovereignty but solidifying support for Chavez, and rather spread fear of the possibility of eventual corruption despite massive popular support and appraisal both regionally and domestically is because you are obviously not a socialist and you and your family probably stand to lose financially from further de-privitisation..You speak excellent English by the way, what is your profession?

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

“…Incidentally, since 1958 to 1998 when Chavez was elected the only subversion and assassination attempt was performed by Chavez himself when in 1992 he attempted a coup on a democratically elected government. Something that Chavez’s apologists seem to conveniently forget all the time. Not that I think that everything was picture perfect in those 40 years. Indeed, there was plenty of wrong with those governments but sadly Chavez has managed to do on the average even worse than them….”____________________Half-knowldeg e is WORSE than no knowledge at all.Chávez indeed tried a coup in 1998, but only after “democratic” gvt allowed mass-killings of hunger-marchers ! 3,000 murdered in cold blood by security forces and self proclaimed vigilantes from rich suburbs ! Was called the “Caracazo”.A “democracy” that murders itw own people has lost its legitimacy.Stop double standards and only report bak if Chávez murders at least one hundred people, ok ?

Posted by erik | Report as abusive

@erik:Please spare me the lecture. I was talking about coups of which Chavez continues to be the first offender of those 40 years between 1958-1998.And just in case, I’m not turning a blind eye on the issue. In fact, I think Carlos Andres Perez, together with a few other ones, should have ended up his/theirs days in jail instead of comfortably in exile in Miami or Costa Rica.And since we are talking of double standards, what do you call a president that prefers to spend the country resources on gaining political favors on the outside while inside his own country a 100,000+ of his citizens are slaughtered by crime because of lack of police? I’d call that person a traitor and send him directly to jail but I am sure communists will come up with some excuse to justify the supreme commandant.What’s your opinion?

Posted by Peric O’verde | Report as abusive

The comment on coup attempts was in reply to my own which was about regional political interference and assasination by the United States, thus was not a counterpoint to my own statement or even relevant to the point.The United States and its client regimes in Latin America stand alone in of their record for criminal behavior in the region and should be focused on as the primary threat to political and social values.Any diversion from this obvious problem can easily be seen as personally motivated.To answer your question Peric, I am not Venezuelan. Although I seem to much closer represent Venezuelans on these issues than yourself.Are you living in the USA?Have you been personally affected by the popularity of Chavez and Socialism in Venezuela?If you are unhappy with the success of socialism in Latin America you should be more unhappy with the brutal dictatorships and ruthless imperialism that gave birth to the movement.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

I roll my eyesChavez is neither a Socialist or a CommunistThat FOX news (or even Reuters) repeats the allegation is not adequate for calling him so. Chavez is a capitalist president of a capitalist government of a capitalist country.He is a nationalist, and so defies the US and calls himself a “Socialist” to outline his national plan in demagogic language in a country that is well sick of Washington regimes.He has and will betray Venezuelans who have illusions in him. Meanwhile the petty-bougeoisie throughout the world are glad to back him as a “socialist” in their effort to prop the capitalist system.Really, Its a huge problem: If only people were willing to read Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed. But no; Socialists are defined not on the basis of even cursory study of Marxist writing or history but on the basis of teleprompter words by News tarts and careerists who haven’t even read a word. Its the government that writes the news.

Posted by Roy Fairbank | Report as abusive

That’s an interesting perspective indeed Roy, so you’re saying despite all the socialist things he is doing he is really a capitalist in disguise? Do you think Washington would agree with you?So when a “Capitalist” leader takes apart the capitalist infrastructure piece by piece and de-privitises corporate control of public resources, while encouraging their neighbors to do so, at what point along the transition from capitalism to socialism do they earn the title of a socialist? As the uneducated “news tarts and careerists” would give them..Socialism belongs to no book, its a symbiotic principle that’s been around long before we created the word to describe it.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Brian, it would be tempting to post an essay but with the constraints of the box here It can only be said;1: capitalist nations have always nationalized, in fact, all capitalist nations have nationalized in their history.2: Chavez is not undermining the capitalist basis of the Venezuelan economy or setting up a state command economy – not to speak of a democratic socialist economy – he is merely striking at foreign interests in Venezuelan by nationalizing certain industries. This is a nationalist course no different from many third world countries in the world.3: The class structure in the country is sharply unequal. The economy is 99% private. It is a free trade capitalist economy.4: To preempt you, I should say neither Cuba or China are Socialist economies. This just highlights the point that even if Chavez nationalized a million times over, he still would not be president of a socialist country.5: What does symbiotic mean in this context? Socialist economy is a post-capitalist, classless, needs based economy where the means of production are democratically controlled by the whole of society, to start. Not even the Soviet Union was that.6: On the other hand, the Soviet Union was non-capitalist, aka, a workers’ state. Nationalist states do not abolish private property in the means of production or capitalist profit relations.That’s probably too much as well.

Posted by Roy Fairbank | Report as abusive

1. Privatization is not a defining characteristic of socialism, but one of capitalism.2./3. You speak in contradicting terms, maybe you have strictly different definitions for these words..Chavez is absolutely undermining capitalistic interests in Venezuela, one can be a nationalist in any way. He is not merely striking back at foreign interference but de-privatizing industries critical to socialist governance.What are you referring to when you say free trade capitalist economy?? Is there such a thing? What is the difference between this and a socialist economy?I was unaware that these were real economic terms.. indeed the only characteristic that strictly defines a government as more or less capitalistic or social is who’s in control of public infrastructure – The highest bidder or the people’s democracy.4. What is a socialist economy? An economy lacking private sector control of the media? I was unaware that socialism was an economic term??5. Symbiotic is an unequivocal concept in any context, it means for mutual benefit. The basis of any society and governing system. Socialism simply represents a more symbiotic principle because it is by nature more democratic, and that is the only difference between socialism and the anti-democratic capitalism. Other than that there are no other characteristics that cant be shared by either system.As more democracy is achieved in socialism more equality will naturally follow as an inevitability of symbiotic democracy.Thus in an anti-democratic capitalist country where the social infrastructure is not democratically controlled, more privatization (less democracy) will, and always has lead to less equality, naturally.With respect, I don’t think you understand what these terms actually mean. I mean, you equate a non-capitalist state to a workers state..You don’t seem to realize that a Socialist state leaves room for nationalism, free market economy and private enterprise.Perhaps you are making the same mistake as Peric and confusing a Totalitarian Communist system with the drastically different Democratic Socialist system.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Brian, I think Roy’s argument was a bit more nuanced than you are making out. In any case I am familiar with the arguments he is making so I will give my perspective on the matter.

What you call ‘democratic socialism’ is really Social Democracy. It is less ‘capitalistic’ in the sense that it tries to provide safeguards against the excesses of the market, and in past industrial economies has had full employment as one of its aims. It is still in its basis based on private property which is a tenet of classical liberalism (i.e. the ideology of capital accumulation).

Another distinction needs to be made, as nationalisation does not necessarily go hand in hand with democratisation – socialism as I and others see it is about commonly accessible services but also democratic control in the workplace and of resources in general. I would go further than Roy and say that the USSR was ‘state capitalist’ meaning that industry was owned by the state but workers did not have democratic control over the country’s resources. The USSR was also based on capital accumulation, hence its imperialist adventures. Remember that Russia was a very backwards country its people were exploited at an accelerated level to industrialise rapidly.

Finally your use of totalitarianism is misapplied. Totalitarianism is the idea of a state apparatus which dictates from above. This is opposed to the idea of communism which is about workers ownership AND control: from below. Nobody here is an apologist for ‘communist’ (state capitalist) USSR / China

Posted by MarcosSchneider | Report as abusive