Last week I attended a conference in Rosario, Argentina, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the think tank Fundacion Libertad. The event brought together a motley crew of classical liberal historians, philosophers, journalists, novelists, scholars, and politicians from almost 40 countries. The writers Mario Vargas Llosa, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza and Carlos Alberto Montaner were among the distinguished speakers.
Rosario is the city where Ernesto Che Guevara was born. Since 1989, it’s been governed by a series of socialist administrations. On Friday afternoon, as we left a luncheon at the city Chamber of Commerce, I ended up on a bus seated next to Vargas Llosa. I gushed to him about how much his books had meant to me. In response, he didn’t speak of himself or his work. Instead, he asked my name, what I had studied, what I did for a living, what had led me to writing.
Then the bus stopped abruptly. We had reached the Plaza de la Cooperacion, popularly referred to as “Che’s Plaza” for the revolutionary portrait that adorns it. The vehicle stopped because we were trapped by an angry mob of 150 people, who began raining down stones on us.
The passengers on the bus drew the curtains. Our security escort began frantically calling people on his cell phone, but no one answered. Then his phone lost reception. The rioters broke a window and we heard pieces of glass falling. Three more windows were smashed in rapid succession and someone hollered that they’d broken the driver’s window.
I got down on the floor with my head under the seat, but Vargas Llosa remained seated calmly to my left. From this awkward position, I asked him if he was always received in this manner. Not always, he said, but frequently.
About that time, the mob tried force the bus door open. But thankfully the driver finally managed to back the bus out and make a hasty exit.
When I told my Ecuadorian family and friends what had happened, several of them wondered, “Why do they hate him?” I thought of Ortega y Gasset: “The mass…does not wish to share life with those not of it. It hates to death everything that is not itself.”
Vargas Llosa has devoted most of his life to writing and traveling around the world extolling the virtues of liberty. Decades ago he believed in armed revolution, but his experiences and a series of reconsiderations led him to new realizations. Ever since, Vargas Llosa has usually been received with stones by extreme Latin American leftists.
Though the differences among those at the Fundacion Libertad conference were significant, we all agreed on basic principles: equality under the law and protection of private property rights as a mechanism to secure liberty and thus, life.
No one can speak of liberty, democracy and human rights while throwing stones at someone for only having voiced a different opinion. After all, none of these three things can exist where there is no tolerance.