Vargas Llosa: Trump represents ‘racism of the stone ages’

Writer Mario Vargas Llosa (right) and columnist Andres Oppenheimer discuss Latin American issues in Charleston, S.C.
Writer Mario Vargas Llosa (right) and columnist Andres Oppenheimer discuss Latin American issues in Charleston, S.C. Confidencial, Nicaragua

Nobel Prize in literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa was interviewed by the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer on Oct. 3 before media leaders at the Inter American Press Association’s annual meeting in Charleston. Following are excerpts:

Let’s start with the 2016 U.S. elections. Donald Trump is still leading the polls. Are you at all scared by the Trump phenomenon?

No, I’m not scared at all because I don’t think there’s the slightest possibility that Trump could become the Republican nominee. That’s absolutely implausible, and even more so if he runs as an independent. The United States is a profoundly democratic country, and someone who represents so profoundly antidemocratic ideas as Trump can’t become president. But it’s sad to see that a figure like him, using racist demagoguery, has been able to draw enthusiasm from a sector of society, even though very minor, that identifies with the idea that immigrants are murderers, rapists and robbers who are attacking a pure, healthy, candid and legal society. It’s the ancient racism of the stone ages, which unfortunately is still around, even in the most advanced societies.

Well, let’s suppose that Trump doesn’t win the primaries. Will he influence the Republican Party in any way on immigration issues?

The Republican Party is already very tilted to the right, even if Republicans understand that if they want to win the general election, they will have to shift to the center. If the party sticks to extremist positions and alienates itself from the majority that determines who will win the election, they’ll be losing an election that they might otherwise have won.

The pope’s visit made big headlines. Although it was a successful trip, many people criticize Pope Francis for not having met with Cuban dissidents, and for having visited Fidel Castro at his home. Do you agree with that?

I lament the fact that there weren’t any dissidents, of course. But I believe that the pope is on a long-term political mission. This visit was clearly negotiated with the Cuban government, and he clearly made the commitment of not meeting with members of the opposition. And he probably agreed to that thinking that he’ll be compensated with some type of thing, perhaps relating to the Catholic Church’s operations in Havana. He was willing to run the risk of being criticized, as he has been, for not meeting with the dissidents because he expects some type of political compensation.

Ricardo Hausmann, a well-known Harvard economist, criticized the pope for his statements criticizing capitalism. Francis had said in Bolivia that “this economic system is no longer tolerable …”

That’s an old stance of the Catholic Church. It’s not an idea that this pope has come up with on his own. The Catholic Church’s traditional policy has always been along those lines. It has never defended capitalism. It has supported it in practice, yes, but never in theory. I don’t think it’s just the pope, but the entire Catholic Church is profoundly wrong on this. Capitalism comes hand in hand with freedom and democracy. That’s a reality that the Church has always resisted. [Since ancient times] it has said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Within the next few weeks and months, there will be key elections held in Argentina, Spain and Venezuela. Who do you think is the best candidate in Argentina?

There’s no doubt: If I were Argentine, I’d vote for Mauricio Macri. He’s the only one who represents an alternative to Peronism, which has been Argentina’s tragedy. Argentina was a first-world country when three-fourths of European nations were Third World nations. And what happened that turned Argentina into an underdeveloped chaotic nation that goes from crisis to crisis? It’s Peronism.

However, the candidate leading the polls is Daniel Scioli, a pro-government Peronist.

Well, persevering its errors is an Argentine tradition. And a Latin American tradition, as well.

Venezuela will have key legislative elections December 6. The government has said that it won’t allow electoral observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) nor from the European Union, but only visitors from UNASUR.

That’s a revolting cynicism. Because it’s a way of saying, “I’m not going to allow free elections, because if I do, I’ll lose them.” They’re basically shouting it out. They don’t want observers from the OAS! They’re afraid of the OAS, the most useless institution of all! When has the OAS stood up for democracy? Never! And Venezuela is scared of the OAS! Clearly, they’re saying, “I will rig these elections because it’s the only way I can win.” Right? The only way Maduro can win is with large-scale fraud because his unpopularity is rampant. The country is falling apart.

What would be your advice to the Venezuelan opposition?

I wouldn’t give them any advice. I have only admiration for the Venezuelan opposition. They have an extraordinary courage. Their leaders are in prison, they have to deal with electoral scams, they’re kicked out from Congress, jailed, killed if it’s necessary. And they’re there, fighting bravely and without receiving the support they deserve from the international community. We don’t have to give them advice. We have to pay homage to them.

Has there been any change in international apathy, especially in Latin America, toward Venezuela?

In Latin America, it’s an absolute shame that democratic governments don’t mobilize against a growing dictatorship such as that of Venezuela. At least a group of former presidents have spoken out, with a lot of courage, in favor of democracy. But at the governmental level, apathy is more prevalent, there’s hypocrisy, a lack of bravery to take a clear stance in favor of democracy.

Here’s a question that’s a little more personal. You’re 79 years old, you’ve won a Nobel Prize, you could be spending your time traveling the world collecting awards and making tons of money on the lecture circuit. And yet, you go to Venezuela, to Argentina, where government leaders insult you and activists throw objects at you. Why do you continue involving yourself in such quarrels? What’s driving you?

I want to be alive until the very end. I don’t want to turn myself into a living statue. I’ve always felt sorry for people who lose their illusions and who abandon themselves to a routine of simple survival. I hold on to my illusions and keep very busy. That has always been my way of living, and I want to keep it that way until the end.

In recent months, you’ve been the subject of big headlines in gossip magazines because of your personal life and your new relationship (with Isabel Preysler). Did you feel mistreated by the press?

Well, I’ve lived The Civilization of Show Business (title of one of his most recent books) in person. I think the experience I lived, in the midst of the worst type of gossip, confirmed journalism as entertainment, as a diversion; yellow journalism is not a marginal phenomenon anymore. It has carved a space for itself in even the most serious newspapers. Nowadays, serious papers want to survive, their readers demand to be entertained, and they make more and more concessions toward gossipy journalism. For example, The New York Times, in an article about one of my novels, said that an entertainment magazine in Spain had paid me $850,000 to reveal intimate details of my sentimental life. If these lies can make it to the Times, which is supposed to be a serious newspaper, what can be expected of other publications with lesser reputations? There is no longer a clear frontier between serious journalism and yellow journalism.