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Argentina: Reactions to Mario Vargas Llosa's Keynote Address at the Book Fair

Photo of Mario Vargas Llosa: MTKR CC BY-NC 2.0

The 37th International Book Fair [es] opened on April 20, 2011 in Buenos Aires — designated by the UNESCO as the 2011 World Book Capital [es] — and will continue through May 9 at the Royal Society in Palermo [es]. This year's fair merits some mentions and highlights.

Like other years, the fair included special guest speakers. 2011 welcomed Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, which brought both favorable reactions as well as opposition, as published previously on Global Voices.

The speculations surrounding Vargas Llosa's keynote address were ultimately quelled when he took the podium on April 21, as reported in Fernando Mires‘ [es] blog:

Pocas veces un discurso ha sido esperado con más expectación como aquel pronunciado por el Premio Nobel de Literatura Mario Vargas Llosa con motivo de la inauguración de la Feria del Libro en Buenos Aires el 21 de Abril de 2011. Las razones de la expectación, como es sabido, no fueron de índole literaria sino política, y esas razones –también es sabido- no las impuso Vargas Llosa. Las impuso un grupo de intelectuales argentinos – más gobiernero que gobiernista- cuyo propósito no era otro que clausurar la voz del brillante intelectual peruano.

Few times has a speech generated as much speculation as that of Nobel author Mario Vargas Llosa at the keynote address for the book fair in Buenos Aires on April 21, 2011. It is widely known that expectations surrounding his speech were due not to matters concerning literature, but rather politics; and it is equally well known that it was not Vargas Llosa who generated such speculation. Conjectures were sparked by Argentinian intellectuals — more the government than the governed — who wished nothing less than to clamp down on the discourse of the brilliant Peruvian intellectual.

There was no delay in reactions from various Argentinian intellectuals, such as, for example, the opinions published on the blog Desde la Platea [es]:

Está muy bien que haya hablado en la Feria del Libro de nuestra ciudad. Debió quedarse en el campo de la literatura y no insistir sobre el destino de los argentinos, que sigue siendo cosa nuestra, salvo que Vargas Llosa sepa algo que no nos cuenta y ya no seamos más argentinos y nadie nos avisó.

It is a very good thing that he spoke at our city's book fair. He should have stuck to literature and insisted of talking about the fate of Argentinians, which is something that belongs to us, unless Vargas Llosa knows something he is not telling us and unless nobody told us that we are no longer Argentinians.

The blog for La Marea [es] magazine believes,

Desde nuestra actividad como intelectuales y trabajadores de la cultura en su más amplio sentido, comprometidos con la lucha de los pueblos por su liberación, consideramos necesario someter a discusión todas las políticas culturales, oficiales y privadas, que profundizan la dependencia económica y cultural argentina. No solo las declaraciones de Vargas Llosa lesionan la dignidad de nuestro pueblo, también aquellas acciones que atentan contra su producción cultural y su identidad.

From the point of view of our activities as intellectuals and those who work with culture in the widest sense of the word, we are committed to fighting for people's freedom and believe all cultural, official and private policies that make Argentina more economically and culturally dependent should be subject to discussion. Not only are Vargas Llosa's statements a blow to the dignity of our people, but so too are those actions that work against Argentina's development of its own culture and identity.

Contrarily, Domizio Vilma Beatriz made the following comment in the book fair blog [es]:

La presencia de Mario Vargas Llosa produjo una fuerte sacudida en mi espíritu latinamericano. Me recordó quienes somos los argentinos y quienes fuimos. Me replanteó interrogantes y pude darme respuestas que me aliviaron y me crearon esperanzas. La mirada de un hermano latinoamericano comprometido con nuestra realidad siempre nos es útil y enriquecedora. Me hizo revivir, con muchísimo placer el tono fuerte y divertido de sus libros y sentir nuevamente mi orgullo juvenil por la Educación Publica que tuvimos. Sé que su discurso vibró a lo largo y a lo ancho de nuestras fronteras y el mundo. Su perspectiva se abrió en mil dimensiones y pude ver que este presente histórico y social es relativo si nosotros nos lo proponemos. Gracias a la Feria del libro por haberlo convocado!!!.

Mario Vargas Llosa's presence shook the core of my Latin American spirit. It reminded me of who we Argentinians are and who we were. It raised questions anew, and I was able to find answers that gave me relief and new hope. The point of view of a Latin American brother who is committed to our reality is always helpful and enriching for us. It caused me to delightfully relive the strong and enjoyable narrative of his book and to once again feel my youthful pride for the public education we received. I know his speech reverberated from coast to coast and around the globe. His perspective provided a thousand perspectives, and I could see that this present of historical and social import is relative if we so propose. Thank you to the book fair for having invited him!!!

Fernando Mires‘ [es] blog provides a brief analysis of the Nobel laureate's speech and visit:

No, estimados escritores nacionalistas, izquierdistas, derechistas, populistas y acomodaticios. A Mario Vargas Llosa nadie le regaló el Premio Nobel. Lo ganó con una constancia, con un talento y con una integridad personal, que ustedes, aunque lo lapiden, nunca, ni en sueños, alcanzarán.

No, dear nationalist, leftist, rightist populist and run-of-the-mill writers. Nobody gave Mario Vargas Llosa the Nobel Prize as a present. He earned it on account of his persistent, talent and personal integrity, which you, though you may polish it, will never reach even in your dreams.

Mario Vargas Llosa, together with the mayor of Buenos Aires and Maria Kodama Photo: Government of the city of Buenos Aires CC BY-NC 2.0

The complete keynote address was published in the newspaper El Dia [es], with the following as one of the speaker's notable excerpts:

Agradezco a los organizadores de este certamen haber resistido las presiones de algunos colegas y adversarios de mis ideas políticas para desinvitarme. Y extiendo mi agradecimiento a la Presidenta, señora Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, cuya oportuna intervención atajó aquel intento de veto. Ojalá esta toma de posición en favor de la libertad de expresión de la mandataria argentina se contagie a todos sus partidarios y guíe su propia conducta de gobernante.

I thank the organizers of this event for resisting the pressure from some of their colleagues and political adversaries to un-invite me. And I extend my gratitude to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose timely intervention  ended the veto attempt. I hope that the position in favor of freedom of expression taken by Argentina's president spreads to all party members and guides her actions as head of the government.

What did Mario Vargas Llosa's visit leave us? La Voz del Interior [es] summarizes:

El Premio Nobel de Literatura Mario Vargas Llosa llegó en absoluta tranquilidad a la Feria del Libro, pronunció su discurso sin sobresaltos y se retiró sin abucheos ni nada parecido.

The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, arrived at the book fair absolutely composed, gave his speech without any major surprises and walked off stage without any boos or jeers.

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