Interview with Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian author

Latin America: 'Restraining the Media Brings About Dictatorship'

Mario Vargas Llosa thinks that, except for Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia, the ruling leftwing in the rest of Latin America is refreshed and democratic. (Photo: Juan Barreto / AFP-Getty Images)

Everything written by Mario Vargas Llosa is handwritten. Entire novels, essays, and opinion articles come from such a mechanical rhythm, a muscular cadence he claims to need. He has a suspicion that he belongs to the last generation of authors who rely on a notebook and a pen. Further, he advocates book hard copies and does not think that they will disappear.

The Peruvian writer spent 24 intense hours in Caracas. He landed at 3 p.m. on Saturday; at 6 p.m. he delivered a press conference. Finally, at 10 p.m. he attended as a V.I.P. member of the audience his play "Al Pie del Támesis" ("On the Banks of the Thames"), directed by Héctor Manrique. Just before the performance, he made the theater shudder as he was given a standing ovation, greeted and unexpectedly autographed some books.

Vargas Llosa waves the banner of a consummate democrat. He is not any more the revolutionary leftist he used to be when he was "very young." After a process depicted by him as protracted and traumatic, full of disappointment and breakdown of utopias, he jumps in defense of democracy "with all its glitches," as the best political system in any society. He hails the new century leftwing that opted for playing the democratic game, reinforcing democracy, and chides another one that still clings to old schemes that have turned out to be unfruitful.


You have said many times that democracy is imperfect. Do you think that this has caused the leftwing to take over again in Latin America? Do you view it as a threat to democratic freedoms?

The Latin American case is very interesting, because, for the first time, the leftwing is playing the democratic game. When I was young, the leftwing regarded democracy as a fake that justified social exploitation. Fortunately, this has changed for some democracies. This is the case for Chile, where socialism was very radical; now it is a successful democratic pillar. In Brazil, also, it surprisingly happened. Twenty years ago, Lula was not a democrat. Now, he is a democrat in his own right, and from the economic view, he is a classic liberal. That leftwing, the myths of which have fallen into place and has been refreshed, is welcome.

The Venezuelan case is otherwise, because its government believes in democracy. It believes in a pseudo, authoritarian democracy that disrespect freedoms, discriminates, and implements an economic policy that has failed worldwide. For that reason, the Soviet Union collapsed; for that reason China shifted toward a market economy under an authoritarian government, and for that reason, Cuba is a wretched country. Such an anachronistic leftwing is present only in Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia. Even in Ecuador, its people curbed this process. In the rest of Latin America, I cannot see an upturn to the left.

You labeled as "dire black cloud" the political events in Venezuela. When do you reckon this cloud will be dispelled?

Venezuelans must give this answer. Those who rule that country were chosen by Venezuelans themselves. People sometimes make mistakes and pay dearly for it. They have the governments elected by them, even though they regret it afterward. I am scared to look, in Latin America, at absolutely blatant examples of authoritarianism and some sectors still thinking that it is the way toward development and justice. There is need to fight such blindness, to remind them of the meaning of corruption, violence, and lack of freedom.

A few days ago, during a meeting, the presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela advocated restriction of the media operations. How can the independent media counter this trend?

By protesting and offering resistance. We do know what it does mean when a government starts curtailing freedom of the media—this unavoidably leads to dictatorship. And if we do not want a dictatorship, whenever the media are constrained, there is need to mobilize both the domestic and global public opinion. There is much awareness in this regard throughout the world. You saw it when the government shut down [private television channel] RCTV. Mobilization was huge. I think all we have to do is to protest by all the means afforded under democracy. When the media are closed, a dictatorship is coming. No society lacking critical media can be democratic.

Translated by Conchita Delgado.

From El Universal.