Tag: mario vargas llosa

Johan Norberg: The Left and Vargas Llosa

The award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to liberal writer Mario Vargas Llosa engendered much praise from libertarians and very little criticism that I’ve noticed. But I wasn’t reading the Swedish newspapers, where, according to Cato senior fellow Johan Norberg, lefties went ballistic at the awarding of the prize to a non-leftist:

In Sweden’s biggest newspaper, Aftonbladet, three writers ripped him to pieces on the first day after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. One wrote that the prize was a victory for the Swedish right; one said it was a victory for the Latin American authoritarian right; one accused him of being not just ‘neo-liberal’ but also ‘macho’ (what Vargas Llosa did not know is that it is only acceptable for female authors to write about sex nowadays; when men do it, apparently, it is chauvinist and distasteful).

Aftonbladet’s Martin Ezpeleta even claimed that the prize was a victory for racists, because Vargas Llosa once wrote an essay attacking the ideology of multiculturalism. That the same essay also called for a more open immigration policy meant nothing to Ezpeleta – until others called his bluff and he quietly omitted the charge of ‘racism’ from his article and pretended that it had never been there….

The attempts to portray Vargas Llosa as a supporter of the authoritarian, conservative right in Latin America are just embarrassing. The only piece of evidence in the Aftonbladetarticle was that he supported Sebastián Piñera in Chile’s last presidential election – which doesn’t make sense in any way since Piñera is a moderate, democratic politician who has attacked the authoritarian tradition of Chile’s right and voted against Pinochet in the referendum on his rule in 1988.

Vargas Llosa’s attempt to hold all rulers to the same standards is what makes the claim that he betrayed the left so revealing. A lot of intellectuals have condemned rightist dictatorships in Peru and Chile, and a lot of intellectuals have condemned leftist dictatorships in Cuba and Nicaragua, but few have, like Vargas Llosa, condemned them both….

Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Prize

The news that Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature has gratified me beyond words. The award is a huge boost for liberty in Latin America.  Through his literary genius, prolific essays, and ceaseless activism, Vargas Llosa long established himself as perhaps Latin America’s most well-known public intellectual, and certainly its most well-known classical liberal. For decades, he has used his ability to reach a mass audience to promote the principles of the free society, becoming the region’s foremost advocate of democratic capitalism.

It was not always so. In the 1960s when his first novels appeared to wide acclaim, Vargas Llosa was representative of the Latin American intellectual establishment in his admiration of the Cuban revolution and his advocacy of radical leftist politics. Even then, however, anti-authoritarianism and a concern for the individual were prominent themes in his novels. In an example of independent thinking that characterizes Vargas Llosa’s commitment to the truth, he broke with the intellectual establishment in the early 1970s, strongly denouncing Fidel Castro’s revolution and turning away from statism in general. His increasingly forceful defense of individual liberty was strengthened by his discovery, by the 1970s, of the work of Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, whom Vargas Llosa cites as one of the three biggest intellectual influences on his thinking (the others being Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin)

An extremely versatile communicator, Vargas Llosa has explored Latin America’s deepest social problems and has demystified the utopian vision of demagogic leaders so common in Latin American history. A major theme of his 1981 novel, The War of the End of the World, for example, was that collectivist promises of a better life, or happiness, can only end in fanaticism—especially if various brands of collectivism are pitted against each other—precisely because civilization depends on the primacy of the individual and a close regard to the real world as opposed to dogmatic reliance on abstract but erroneous ideas of how the world might work. 

In places like Russia or Latin America where there is little or no tradition of individual liberty and people place little trust in the main institutions of society, the novelist often holds a special, almost God-like place. Fair or not, he is viewed as trustworthy because his ideas are his own and because he has somehow managed to remain independent from the corrupting influences of society. This has given Vargas Llosa a standing from which he has regularly offered up statements that have instantly provoked debate and that have often passed into national lexicons. In 1990, for example, during a visit to Mexico, he famously referred to the system of government under Mexico’s long-ruling PRI party as the “perfect dictatorship.” That scandalized the political class and the intelligentsia through much of Latin America, but any Mexico City cab driver would tell you that it was absolutely true. 

Last year at a conference organized in Caracas by the market-liberal CEDICE think tank and at a time when Hugo Chavez was radicalizing his socialist revolution, Vargas Llosa declared, “We don’t want Venezuela to become a totalitarian communist state.” That provoked Chavez to challenge him and the “neoliberals” to a nationally televised debate, in what turned out to be a ploy that Chavez backed out of once Vargas Llosa accepted the challenge. Vargas Llosa thus won the debate without holding it. The whole episode was prominently reported in the region and was a blow to Chavez, emphasizing the closed and cowardly nature of his regime.

When Vargas Llosa writes and speaks about economics, the effect is similar, as when he explains that historically in Latin America capitalism never existed. For those wishing to understand how Latin American economies really work, and how the free market is the most compatible economic system with the way Latin Americans live, I still recommend Vargas Llosa’s prologue to the early editions of Hernando de Soto’s classic, The Other Path, as one of the clearest statements about the region’s political economy. 

Perhaps the best example of Vargas Llosa’s influence in setting the agenda is in his native Peru. At the end of the 1980s, after President Alan Garcia had driven the country to ruin, Vargas Llosa decided to run for president, having already rallied mass protests against Garcia’s plans to further socialize the country. Vargas Llosa articulated an explicitly libertarian campaign platform, calling for radical market reforms. He lost the 1990 election to Alberto Fujimori, who ran a gradualist platform and relied on scare tactics and dirty tricks to win over the electorate.

But Vargas Llosa’s ideas won. After Chile, Peru became the Latin American country that implemented the most radical and comprehensive set of reforms in a short period of time. The reforms led to high growth and were highly popular. When Fujimori then abrogated the constitution and closed the Congress, Vargas Llosa rightly criticized the move and the abuses that followed. But the economic reforms that subsequent democratic governments stuck to or deepened have transformed the country and so far turned it into a Latin American success story. As such, Peru is showing Latin Americans the superiority of market democracy as opposed to populist authoritarianism. It is no wonder that Alan Garcia, currently Peru’s president for a second time, is the bitterest of rivals with Hugo Chavez. Alan Garcia is now yet another of Vargas Llosa’s converts.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Vargas Llosa, a fellow Peruvian. I have been influenced by him from a young age and, when studying at Northwestern University during his run for president, his libertarian platform informed my studies and ran in stark contrast to the lectures given by my leftist professor of Latin American politics. I’m honored that Vargas Llosa has since become a friend, generously supportive of Cato’s efforts and helpful as always to all of us throughout the region who promote liberal principles. Through his conduct and his ideas, he continues to be a teacher.

Gracias Mario.

The Politics of Mario Vargas Llosa

Marie Arana, the Peruvian-born former editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, writes a thoughtful and moving analysis of Mario Vargas Llosa’s work that has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. She explores at some length Vargas Llosa’s political views and whether they might have prevented him from winning the prize much earlier. But there’s one word that curiously doesn’t appear in her article. Curious, because it’s a very common word, the word that describes his political philosophy, a word that he himself uses frequently. You may want to read the article and see if you can find the missing word before reading further here.

Arana writes:

When asked by an editor several years ago why the prize had eluded him, he replied with a wry smile that he was hardly the politically correct choice.…

According to the Nobel committee, he has won the award “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”

For years, the gossip was that Stockholm would never recognize him because his politics were conservative, though many of his positions – on gay rights, for example – have been to the left of center.…

For all his bracing work decrying totalitarian strongmen, Vargas Llosa is no radical revolutionary. He has been described as an intransigent neoliberal, a man with unshakable convictions that his country and people need strict economic discipline, membership in the world market and tough austerity measures at home.

What’s the missing word? Give the article one more read.

Here’s the missing word: Mario Vargas Llosa is a liberal. This is not hard to determine. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as the “political and economic doctrine that emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individual and the need to limit the powers of government.” That seems to cover all the details Arana laid out.

And Vargas Llosa himself has made his liberalism clear. When he received the annual award of the American Enterprise Institute, his lecture was “Confessions of a Liberal.” He may have created some discomfort in the largely conservative audience when he said:

Because liberalism is not an ideology, that is, a dogmatic lay religion, but rather an open, evolving doctrine that yields to reality instead of trying to force reality to do the yielding, there are diverse tendencies and profound discrepancies among liberals. With regard to religion, gay marriage, abortion and such, liberals like me, who are agnostics as well as supporters of the separation between church and state and defenders of the decriminalization of abortion and gay marriage, are sometimes harshly criticized by other liberals who have opposite views on these issues.

Indeed, AEI left this part out in their own excerpting of the speech yesterday. But he got them back as he went on:

The free market is the best mechanism in existence for producing riches and, if well complemented with other institutions and uses of democratic culture, launches the material progress of a nation to the spectacular heights with which we are familiar.…

Thus, the liberal I aspire to be considers freedom a core value. Thanks to this freedom, humanity has been able to journey from the primitive cave to the stars and the information revolution, to progress from forms of collectivist and despotic association to representative democracy. The foundations of liberty are private property and the rule of law; this system guarantees the fewest possible forms of injustice, produces the greatest material and cultural progress, most effectively stems violence and provides the greatest respect for human rights. According to this concept of liberalism, freedom is a single, unified concept. Political and economic liberties are as inseparable as the two sides of a medal.…

We dream, as novelists tend to do: a world stripped of fanatics, terrorists and dictators, a world of different cultures, races, creeds and traditions, co-existing in peace thanks to the culture of freedom, in which borders have become bridges that men and women can cross in pursuit of their goals with no other obstacle than their supreme free will.

Then it will not be necessary to talk about freedom because it will be the air that we breathe and because we will all truly be free. Ludwig von Mises’ ideal of a universal culture infused with respect for the law and human rights will have become a reality.

Arana did mention that Vargas Llosa has been called a “neoliberal,” whatever that is. In his essay “Liberalism in the New Millennium,” in Global Fortune: The Stumble and Rise of World Capitalism (and reprinted in Cato’s anthology Toward Liberty), Vargas Llosa had some fun with the scare word “neoliberalism.”

Wikipedia stumbles a bit, as well, variously describing his views as liberal, neoliberal, or classical liberal. Can you be both classically and neo liberal? It does mention his break with the People’s Party of Spain over its illiberal conservative views. A story the New York Times must have missed this week in describing him as a conservative.

Of course, Vargas Llosa’s political views – against authoritarianism of any stripe, support for free markets, social tolerance, peace, the rule of law, and democratic governance – might best be described these days as libertarian. But that’s not a word that Vargas Llosa, a man of Latin America and Europe, seems to use. So for now let’s allow the great writer to describe his own views: Mario Vargas Llosa is a liberal, one of the great liberals of our age.

As for his literary standing, I’ll return to Marie Arana for the last word:

Too often, a Nobel morning has a literary critic running for cover or, at the very least, for Google, to learn exactly who, in the capricious eyes of the Swedish Academy, has merited the coveted award. Not so on Thursday. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature has gone to a writer whose name is well known to and widely venerated by the global literary community: the deeply intellectual, undeniably talented Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.…

But perhaps the most winning aspect of Vargas Llosa’s career is his deep and abiding humanity. Generous in friendship, unfailingly curious about the world at large, tireless in his quest to probe the nature of the human animal, he is a model writer for our times. It is such a pleasure for me to write at last: This year, the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to an indisputable winner.

Congratulations, Mario Vargas Llosa

On behalf of all of my colleagues at the Cato Institute, I warmly congratulate Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa for having won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Mario has distinguished himself not only as one of the world’s greatest novelists, but also as Latin America’s most well-known classical liberal—a champion of democratic capitalism who has never been afraid of speaking truth to power. His essays and tireless activism have educated millions of people in Latin America and inspired new generations to cherish and cultivate a culture of liberty. His vision of a modern Latin America has also informed Cato’s work in the region and beyond. We are honored and grateful that Mario has long been a generous friend of Cato’s and look forward to continuing that friendship in pursuit of advancing the liberal principles we share.

“We Don’t Want Venezuela to Become a Totalitarian Communist State”

“We don’t want Venezuela to become a totalitarian communist state,” declared Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa yesterday in Caracas at the opening of a major conference organized by the market-liberal think tank, CEDICE. I’m in Venezuela this week with my Cato colleagues Juan Carlos Hidalgo and Gabriela Calderon to participate in the event and to run a seminar for 60 students and young leaders from Venezuela, which took place earlier this week.

Vargas Llosa’s concern is not about some remote possibility. Nor is it the opinion of an isolated intellectual detached from reality. His comments received sustained applause from the over-flow crowd of the 600 people in attendance and he has been mobbed by the press since he arrived here yesterday. Venezuela is not yet a full fledged dictatorship, evidenced by the fact that we are meeting here with leading liberal intellectuals from the region. But the environment of intolerance, arbitrary rule, and state vilification of anybody who disagrees with Hugo Chavez’s march toward socialism has worsened at an alarming rate in recent months.

Already, Chavez has centralized economic and political control to a degree unmatched anywhere in the hemisphere outside of Cuba. He controls the legislature, the supreme court, the military, the central bank, the national electoral council, much of the media, the state oil monopoly and thus virtually all government spending, and exerts tremendous influence over the private sector through regulatory measures, most especially capital controls.

Freedom of speech is coming under renewed attack. Wednesday was the two-year anniversary of the government’s decision to shut down the independent RCTV (by refusing to renew its license)—until then the country’s largest television station. It was the closing of RCTV that sparked mass protests led by the Venezuelan student movement that culminated in the defeat in December 2007 of Chavez’s proposed constitutional referendum that would have turned the country into a socialist state. Since then, the opposition has won major victories in leading cities and states and Chavez has had to deal with the steep drop in the price of oil, the source of his astronomical spending. Chavez´s response has included the marginalization of elected opposition politicians by depriving them of most of their funding and appointing parallel officials to carry out local government functions with full funding; the imposition by law of many of the measures rejected in the constitutional referendum; a rash of further nationalizations and land confiscations; and threats to close Globovision TV, the only remaining independent television station in the country.

The extent and technological sophistication of state propaganda here is impressive and chilling. Numerous state television stations operate 24 hours a day, relying on a diversity of formats (talk shows, music videos, interviews, “news” programs, congressional “debates,” etc.), praising the Chavez regime, and attacking the private sector. The programming is not just pro-government. It is explicitly Marxist through and through. There is endless talk about the effort to create a “new socialist man.” Those of us who have come to defend basic freedom in Venezuela have been individually and institutionally labeled on state television as imperialists and agents of the CIA. Currently and ironically, there is a government campaign against the “hegemony” of the private press and “media terrorism”—otherwise known in civilized countries as freedom of the press. The state intellectuals are discussing the lack of social responsibility of the private press and one channel carries congressional debates on the subject. The other day the government raided the house of the president of Globovision and accused him of violating the law in business dealings unrelated to the television station. This is being used as further proof of the existence of a vast “mafia” led by the “oligarchy.” Last night Mario Silva, the Goebbels of Venezuela, openly called on his television show for the closing of Globovision on the grounds that the station has misled and insulted the Venezuelan people for far too long and that enough is enough. I could go on but you get the picture. And this is only TV. The government finances marches, concerts and rallies, and pro-Chavez party propaganda on billboards, government buildings, public squares, etc. throughout the city and the country.

As was posted earlier, we co-sponsored a three-day Cato seminar on classical liberal thought for 60 Venezuelan students earlier this week with CEDICE that the national guard, an education ministry official and state TV interrupted in an effort to shut the event down. Their reasons for doing so were ludicrous—they accused us of setting up a university without permission. When we explained that it was a seminar that only uses the name university in the title, they then said we were engaging in false advertising and thus were still breaking the law. Fortunately, we had immediately called Globovision who immediately began reporting the incident as it occurred. I think Globovision’s role played no small part in pressuring government officials to leave. The government tried to intimidate us and provoke us into reacting aggressively, which we did not do. (Ironically, my Argentinean colleague, Professor Martin Krause, was giving a lecture at our seminar on the importance of civil society at the time of the government’s harassment.) For weeks, state media had been reporting that we were setting up a camp to train young Venezuelans in subversive tactics to overthrow the Chavez regime. This has then been discussed at length on state television by commentators, intellectuals, etc. Later I watched on Mario Silva’s program how they covered the incident showing footage that supposedly showed how we were openly flouting Venezuelan law in a number of ways. Later the same day, the authorities detained Peruvian intellectual Alvaro Vargas Llosa for three hours upon his arrival at the airport as he was headed to the Cato-CEDICE seminar, finally letting him go and informing him that he could not discuss political issues. Here again Globovision played a key role. It began reporting the events at airport as they happened, which were in turn immediately reported throughout the Latin American press.

This is an increasingly polarized and tense society. But it is also true that Chavez must rely extensively on force and deception to promote his socialist project. His personal popularity has sunk under 50 percent in recent weeks (support for his policies are even lower) and he is becoming more radical. The CEDICE conference has been filled with especially inspiring and moving speeches, particularly from the Venezuelans. Some of them–like RCTV president Marcel Granier or Oscar Garcia Mendoza, president of a leading bank that has never done business with government—are heroes of freedom, putting their own fortunes and personal liberty at risk in openly challenging the regime. They have the admiration of all freedom lovers here. They deserve all the support they can get in a battle that is only going to get tougher.