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Novelist Vargas Llosa stirs up left and right in Latin America

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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.

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