Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unafraid to push back

Nobel-laureate author Vargas Llosa protests S. American abuses

  • Print
Mario Vargas Llosa


Mario Vargas Llosa

When I watched 78-year-old Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa arrive in Venezuela last week to lend support to student protests of that country's dubiously elected authoritarian government, I couldn't help thinking he's one of the most courageous intellectuals I've ever met.

Vargas Llosa, who alongside late fellow Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garca M°rquez may be Latin America's greatest literary glory of all time, could be enjoying his autumn years receiving honorary degrees from universities around the world, or rubbing elbows with international celebrities in one of his homes in New York, Madrid or Lima.

What's more, he could be making many more friends, and probably selling many more books, by going along with Latin America's fashionable pseudo-progressive political thinking. He could be delighting his audiences by telling them what many want to hear -- that all of Latin America's problems are caused by an evil U.S. empire -- and keeping silent about the human rights violations and economic disasters in countries such as Cuba and Venezuela.

Instead, Vargas Llosa not only speaks his mind, but acts accordingly. He visited Venezuela last week to participate in a conference on Freedom in Latin America organized by the independent group CEDICE, knowing he would probably be harassed and insulted by the Venezuelan regime during his stay there.

At a news conference and in several interviews there, Vargas Llosa blamed President Nicolas M°duro for Venezuela's "economic catastrophe." He pointed out that the country's inflation rate reached 57 per cent last year, which may be the world's highest, and there are growing shortages of food and other essential goods although Venezuela is one of the world's biggest oil producers.

Making the most of his presence there to reach Venezuelans in a country with increasingly censored media, Vargas Llosa said M°duro is insisting on using old-fashioned socialist and populist policies that have failed everywhere.

Asked about the anti-government student demonstrations that have rocked the country since February, which have left at least 41 dead and hundreds injured, Vargas Llosa called for the release of all political prisoners, which he said would help generate a climate for an "effective dialogue" between the government and the opposition.

He also referred to Latin America's failure to condemn M°duro's bloody repression of the student protests and the Venezuelan government's press censorship and imprisonment of opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lòpez. Countries in the region have shown a "cowardly attitude" by not denouncing the Venezuelan regime's abuses, he said.

In one of my most recent interviews with Vargas Llosa, I asked what motivates him to be so politically active -- often at great risk -- when he could be avoiding the stress of visiting hostile places. Just before that interview, he had been subject to insults by pro-government demonstrators during a visit to Argentina.

"I don't think that intellectuals should have a privileged or dominating position in public debate, but I do think that intellectuals should participate in the public debate, which is something that is happening less and less," Vargas Llosa told me in that 2012 interview.

"Unfortunately, especially in open and free societies, intellectuals are turning their backs on politics, considering it a dirty, despicable, activity, which they think shouldn't contaminate creative activities," he added. "I think that's a very mistaken attitude, because if he despises politics, we will be contributing to politics becoming despicable.

"It's true that many intellectuals have often been mistaken and have supported the worse causes. We have seen intellectuals who were Nazis, intellectuals who were communists and other who have even supported the Holocaust and massive murders of Jews," he went on. "But there have been lots of intellectuals who, on the contrary, have kept their clarity and defended freedom amid that kind of collective blindness that is political fanaticism."

My opinion: While most of us in the writing profession tend to honour our most successful colleagues only after they die (as we've seen in recent days with Garca M°rquez), I felt the need to applaud Vargas Llosa here and now, while he's alive, for his courage to defend basic freedoms and for doing it at great personal risk.

Regardless of whether we agree with his stand on all issues he speaks out about, which are almost everything you can think of, he's a man of tremendous courage in a world in which, as he told me, most intellectuals are turning their back on politics, especially when it comes to telling inconvenient truths. As he himself says, if intellectuals despise politics, politics will become even more despicable than it is now.


Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.

-- The Miami Herald



Rafael Hernandez argues there's much to gain by dropping U.S. embargo against Cuba at wfp.tocomment

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2014 0

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Vigil held in support of homeless homicide victims

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A gaggle of Canada geese goslings at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg Monday- See Project Honk Day 05- May 07, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google