Mario Vargas Llosa: an interview from the Monitor's archives

Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, was interviewed by the MONITOR in 1977. Llosa spoke about literature and politics in the Latin America region. He criticized US politics, called Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution "a great deception," and said he found Latin American writers to be socially and politically committed than those in the US.

Apr 22, 1977 – Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa thinks that the United States has made serious mistakes by supporting dictatorships and multinational corporations at the cost of human rights in Latin America. He also feels that the era of violent change in the region is over and that Fidel Castro's revolution has been "a great deception."

Mr. Vargas Llosa is well known as a severe critic of his own and other governments in the area. The doyen of Latin American writers, he has garnered most major awards for Hispanic literature and lectured extensively in this country.

His major works include "Los Jefes" ("The Leaders"), "La Ciudad y los Perros" (re-titled "Time of the Hero" in English), "La Casa Verde" ("The Green House"), and "Conversation en la Catedral" ("Conversation in the Cathedral").

Commenting on Latin American writers, Mr. Vargas Llosa says that in general he thinks they are more socially and politically committed than in the United States and Europe. "Literature in Latin America has been at the same time an artistic creation and instrument to describe and fight social injustice," he notes.

"Literature did and still does what press and the universities could not do because of dictatorships, censorship, and repression. Therefore literature has always had a very important social and political role."

He feels that writers living under dictatorships must stand for the freedom of expression and human rights and try to improve conditions for the people in their respective countries.

"I think if you want to be an artist, a writer, you need a society in which culture means something and is shared by the people. This is not possible in countries like Guatemala or Nicaragua which are ruled by very primitive and brutal dictators."

Mr. Vargas Llosa considerate has a responsibility to point out the violence in society. He says violence is perpetuated by social injustice because "there are enormous inequities in the third world and these social, economic, and cultural inequalities create a very violent situation."

The habit of supporting dictatorial governments in order to save them from communism, he says, "is very stupid," adding that "the best way to promote communism is to support dictatorships." He emphasizes that dictators throughout Latin America present themselves as crusaders against communism "and as their people hate these dictators they feel instinctively that the enemies of their enemies are their friends." He thinks that, in the past, this friendship with dictators has been very damaging for the United States image in Latin America. "If the United States is going to pursue this kind of policy, its future relations with Latin America will be very bad," he says.

Democracy in Latin America is at best a rare commodity, according to Mr. Vargas Llosa. He cites Venezuela and Costa Rica as the best examples of representative government, saying that Mexico and Columbia, while still dictatorships, do offer some individual freedoms. "The rest of the countries are different forms of dictatorships."

The era of violent revolution in Latin America has passed he feels. "I think the majority view this kind of solution very skeptically." Many people he says, believe certain dictators in Latin America are the consequence of violent change in the region. "What is happening in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay may in some way be the result of this belief in violent revolution," he suggests.

Mr. Vargas Llosa believes that it is only through solidarity that many of the problems facing South America will be solved. Only with the help of the other countries can Cuba regain its national identity and be free of Soviet domination, he says.

The Cuban experiment of the '60s was as much a disappointment for Mr. Vargas Llosa as it was for many other Latin American writers and artists. "This [Cuba] was a very great deception, disillusionment, for many people, myself included," he confesses. "I believed at the beginning of the Cuban revolution that Cuba was going to create a very special model of socialism, a revolution that would respect human rights and freedom."

He says it is very difficult to know now if Cuba really had a free choice or whether it was pushed by circumstances - for instance by the United States Government - to choose the Soviet path. "The fact is that it has chosen this path and has become absolutely subordinated to the Soviet Union."

Because of the Cuban "subordination," Mr Vargas Llosa believes Soviet philosophy is no longer attractive to Latin American reformers. But this is not to say that the United States is regarded as the best example for Latin America, he adds. "The problem with the United States is different. The United States has had very difficult relations with Latin America because the corporations and multinationals have, in many cases, exploited Latin America. This has created a very wrong image of the United States, because we know the United States is not only corporations. It's a lot of very good things, but for the great masses this wrong image has prevailed."

The future for Latin America, Mr. Vargas Llosa believes, is not in attempting to copy other political systems. "I feel that the models that have failed have failed because they were transposed." He feels Latin America must create its own models to fight underdevelopment. "We can use foreign experience, but we must organize this in a very personal and creative way. I think it is the only solution."

Even if development takes place in a nonviolent, partially democratic way, Mr. Vargas Llosa believes the writer will still have the duty to point out what is wrong with the system.

"I think literature is a very nonconformist institution. I don't think literature has ever existed as a testimony of happiness. I think literature h,as always been a testimony of unhappi-ness. I think you write because you have problems."

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