Beyond the Bubble

Vargas Llosa claims Latin America is a step closer to democracy and equality

Latin America is improving and undergoing transformative democratization, Mario Vargas Llosa, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, said in a conversation Tuesday with visiting lecturer in the Program in Latin American Studies Enrique Krauze Kleinbort. The two discussed the wide scope of culture and politics within Latin America.

Vargas Llosa, who is also a visiting lecturer in the Lewis Center for the Arts, explained that comparing the Latin America of today with that of 20 or 30 years ago offers signs of these momentous changes within Latin American history.

“Latin America is improving. We have more democracy; we have large consensus on what kind of economic policies we need to develop and become modern and successfully fight poverty,” Vargas Llosa said, adding that the transformation of most Latin American nations in recent years has been formidable. “Poverty has diminished; in statistical terms, the poverty level is still large, but the way which the middle classes have been grown in the country is fantastic.”

Vargas Llosa cited Uruguay’s economic success as a model for the rest of Latin America. He said that the country has seen very liberal social reforms, including gay marriage and gay rights. “Not liberal in the American sense,” he added to the audience’s laughter.

Despite the promising improvements in the last few years, both Vargas Llosa and Krauze acknowledged one of the largest obstacles to Latin America’s full democratization is corruption. 

“The tradition has a way of misunderstanding natural laws as ‘do whatever you wish,’ ” Vargas Llosa said.

He added that Latin American intellectuals have had a substantial impact on the vulnerability of governments on the continent. This is because the general population relied on intellectuals to adopt governmental policies that best suited their interest, but when these policies failed the government was opened to corruption, he said. 

“Common people were trying to discover in their own way what would be the best way to bring about democratization … Intellectuals were influential, but they promoted the wrong [policies],” Vargas Llosa explained. Even critical thinkers, he said, could “fail miserably” in their fight.

Krauze, however, downplayed the influence of intellectuals on the common people, saying that very few intellectuals spoke in favor of what the common people wanted. 

Vargas Llosa also pointed to Latin American attitudes toward the law as an obstacle in the development of the region. “We [Latin Americans] don’t feel the need or the moral obligation to respect the laws,” he explained. “We just follow the laws because of its mandate. It’s a tradition that is strong in Latin America.”

The lecture, titled “Politics and Culture in Latin America,” was part of the Spencer Trask Lecture Series, which brings distinguished scholars to deliver public lectures at the University and was co-sponsored with the Program in Latin American Studies.

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