Mario Vargas Llosa is a literary treasure, author of classic and beloved novels of Peruvian and Latin American life ranging from The Green House to Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to The Feast of the Goat. But the writer, who has been named the 2010 Nobel laureate for literature, has a second persona as well -- as one of the most respected and outspoken public intellectuals in Latin America. And unlike many Latin American writers of his generation, Vargas Llosa's politics have veered toward the neoliberal. Peru's president, Alan García, aptly called his award Thursday a triumph for "the visionary intelligence of Mario Vargas Llosa and his libertarian and democratic ideals."
Whether writing on Cuba or China, Venezuela or Israel, Vargas Llosa's political views can be summed up by the preeminence of freedom -- the idea that everyone, everywhere, must live unburdened by tyranny, be it political, economic, or cultural. "Sometimes in this world of pragmatism, you lose sight of the principle at stake," says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. "And Vargas Llosa always brings us back to the principle. He makes people think. There are very few people you could say that about in the region."
Born in Peru in 1936, Vargas Llosa studied in Madrid, saw the both the promise and then the cruelty of Cuba's revolution firsthand while visiting as a young man, and became politically awakened watching the injustice of civil war and military dictatorship back home in Peru. He was always a fiction writer first and foremost, his novels delicately and wittily poking at the hypocrisies and vanities of Latin American life at that time. Over the years, he came to believe in the concrete power of fiction to change world events. "I don't think there is a great fiction that is not an essential contradiction of the world as it is," he told the New York Times in 2002.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that politics would prove enticing. In 1990, he ran for president of Peru as head of an unruly coalition of neoliberal groups and Christian groups, vowing to bring down what was then 3,000 percent inflation through privatization and strict austerity measures and to steer the country away from autocratic leaders. (Instead, Alberto Fujimori won, restoring economic stability, but at the price of countless human rights abuses.)
More recently, Vargas Llosa has vocally opposed the left-leaning governments of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and Cuba's Castro brothers, who he turned against after Fidel Castro imprisoned the poet Heberto Padilla in 1971. He has argued passionately against the caudillo in Latin American politics -- the strongman who promises to liberate the people and often ends up doing the opposite. "In Latin America ... where I spend three or four months a year [he spends much of the rest of his time in Spain, where he acquired citizenship in 1993], [my] capacity for anger always returns, with the fervor of my youth, and I come to live as one lives, uneasily and alert," he recently wrote in El País of his political spirit.
What follows are several translated excerpts of Vargas Llosa's most recent writing for El Pais, offering a taste of his views on current politics in Latin America and beyond. (All faults of grammar and style are, of course, ours.)