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Argentina: Controversy Over Mario Vargas Llosa Attending Book Fair

Image from Flickr by Globovisión (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From April 20 to May 9, the city of Buenos Aires will host the 37th International Book Fair, considered one of the most extensive [es] of its kind in the Spanish speaking world. Every year, the Festival relies on special guests that lead talks, seminars, workshops and present their work. One of the guests for the 2011 affair, among others, is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa, set to host the opening of this prestigious event.

The invitation has generated opinions of all kinds and contempt from those who criticize the author's political stances as well as his recent commentary regarding Argentina. In October 2010, when he had not yet received the Nobel Prize, Mario Vargas Llosa voiced harsh criticisms with respect to the governments of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during an interview for an Argentina media group [es].

Many Argentinian intellectuals have maintained positions [es] in favor of the invitation, while others are against it. Horacio González, Director of the Argentinean National Library, sent a letter [es] to Carlos De Santos, President of the Argentine Book Chamber [es], requesting that he designate an Argentinean writer for the inauguration.

In the Blog del Garra [es] “la Güera” writes a brief post about the topic where she argues that,

….Vargas Llosa ha sido invitado a la Feria del Libro para que auxilie a la derecha argentina

….Vargas Llosa has been invited to the Book Fair to aid right-wing Argentina

Lucas Llach, in a post on his blog entitled, “Was Vargas a Nazi? [es], reviews the author's ideology compared to the left-wing politics of ex-Brazilian President Lula da Silva and those of Fidel Castro in Cuba:

Me molesta la doble moral. ¿Podés pensar que sos “del palo” de Lula y de Castro y que por eso te molestan las ideas de Vargas Llosa? Solamente si sos un cínico. La política democrática y neoliberal de Lula no podría ser más opuesta a la política autoritaria y literalmente comunista de los Castro. Tenés que elegir […] Si te gustan las políticas de Lula en Brasil tu diferencia con Vargas Llosa es de matices, de estilos […]

The double standard bothers me. Can you think that you are “cut from the same cloth” as Lula and Castro and, as such, oppose Vargas Llosa's ideas? Only if you're a cynic. Lula's democratic and neoliberal politics cannot be any more conflicting with Castro's authoritarian and literally communist policies. You need to choose […] If you like Lula's politics in Brazil, then your distinction from Vargas Llosa is but subtle, stylistic […]

There are groups on Facebook that praise the Nobel Prize winner's participation, such as “Welcome Vargas to Buenos Aires [es].” Adrian Lombardini writes [es] in this group:

Realmente son tristes los enanos mentales que lo critican por “antidemocrático”, “de derecha” y tonterías por el estilo. Como en tantos otros casos, son las simples emociones básicas como la envidia, disfrazadas de un discurso “políticamente correcto”, en favor de “las masas”, los indígenas, etc…

The mental midgets that criticize him for being “antidemocratic,” “right wing,” and other such nonsense are truly sad. As in so many other cases, these are simple, basic emotions just like envy, disguised in a “politically correct” dialogue, in favor of “the masses,” the indigenous people, etc…

On the other side lies the group “NO to Mario Vargas Llosa [es].” Cecilia Rodriguez in this group writes [es]:

Sin dudas q la feria del libro se ha convertido en escenario propicio para actos de indole política, mas precisamente opositora. Opositora al cambio, a que el Estado empiece a involucrarse en cuestiones económicas, sociales, culturales, etc.Obviamente que a ciertos sectores no les conviene. Y este señor Vargas LLosa lo único de lo q puede venir a promulgar son sus 2 unicas ideas de cabecera: no a la participación del Estado, y si a la libre economía. Defiende a los sectores capitalistas, a los grandes mercados. Como argentinos, si nos tenemos algo de respeto y dignidad no podemos permitir su presencia ni sus palabras que son de una ignorancia aberrante.

Without a doubt, the Book Fair has turned into a favorable scenario for rallies of political nature — opponents, to be more precise. Opponents to change, to the State becoming involved in economic, social, cultural issues, etc. And this Mr. Vargas Llosa can only come to preach the 2 ideas from his seat: no to State participation, and yes to a free economy. In defense of the capitalist sectors and the big markets. As Argentineans, if we don't get some respect and dignity, we cannot permit neither his presence nor his words of deviant ignorance.

Exequiel Klopman in the same group comments [es] ironically:

Y daaaleee! censúremoslo, escrachémoslo por no ser de izquierda y ni siquiera de centro, vamos a negarle a la gente que lo sigue el derecho a escucharlo libremente, para que se note que somos más democráticos que nunca y que nadie, que la razón es una sola y la tenemos nosotros, y así de a poco ya nadie discuta más nada.

Y cuando el mundo vea que en el país de Borges le tapamos la boca a un Nobel, seremos el Faro de la Libertad y los Derechos.

And yes! Let's censor him, expose him for not being left-wing and not even center, we're going to bar him from people who maintain the right to listen to him freely, so that they see that we are more democratic than ever and than anyone, that there is only one correct way, our way, and that by virtue of that, no one will argue anymore.

And when the world sees that in Borges’ country, we tape the mouth of a Nobel Prize winner shut, we will be the Lighthouse of Liberty and Rights.

Argentinean leader, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, vetoed Horacio González's note, requesting he withdraw it, as reported in Spanish newspaper El País [es]. Consequently, the Director of the library sent a second letter, clarifying [es]:

He percibido que la discusión corre el riesgo de ser presentada como una vía para limitar la palabra de un escritor, que siempre leímos como el buen novelista que es, y cuestionamos como especial promotor de interpretaciones inadecuadas sobre la política y la sociedad argentina. No era aquél su sentido sino el de resguardar la Feria del Libro como ámbito de múltiples voces, procurando que la calidad de las mismas predomine por sobre las inscripciones políticas inmediatistas.

I sense that this discussion runs the risk of being presented as an avenue for limiting the words of a writer whom we've always read as the great novelist that he is, and questioned as the main promoter of misleading interpretations of Argentinean politics and society. This was not [the letter's] sentiment, but rather one of safeguarding the Book Fair as an environment for multiple voices, and aiming that this dominates over any immediate political messages.

Vargas Llosa's response did not wait. On March 13, the Nobel Prize winner published a column in Spanish newspaper El Pais [es], and Argentinean magazine ñ [es] published a dialogue in which Vargas Llosa declares:

Lo último que se me hubiera ocurrido es ir a inaugurar la Feria del Libro para hacer política. No era lo propio, lo adecuado. Sé que hay un sitio para cada cosa. Ahora ellos han creado una situación muy difícil porque sería un terrible escamoteo que yo no hablara de mis posiciones y mis ideas cuando me querían prohibir que lo hiciera … Es una cuestión de dignidad, de coherencia, y sería una frustración para quienes quieran escucharme que no me dé por enterado de lo que han dicho, de las acusaciones que me han hecho y, además, de las etiquetas que me han colocado.

The last thing that would have occurred to me is to go to the Book Fair to talk politics. It was not proper, nor appropriate. I know that there is a time and place for everything. Now they have created an extremely difficult situation because it would be a terrible act of restraint for me to not speak of my positions and my ideas when they want to prohibit me from doing so … It is a question of dignity, of coherence, and it would be frustrating to those who want to listen to me if I fail to acknowledge that which has been said, the accusations made against me, and the labels placed upon me.

Since it is an event of intellect and freedom of expression, the reactions [es] have been diverse. All in all, April 20 will clear up many doubts: Will the Nobel Prize winner attend? and if so, what will be his inaugural speech?

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