Let down by the “Chilean model” for which he was an unrelenting propagandist for over 30 years, the Hispanic-Peruvian author published an article this Sunday past that completes the process of moral decay of his political ideology.
Bereft of any referential figures he can point to in the region, in his pitiful intervention, Vargas Llosa could not think of anything more appropriate than to extol the Colombian narco-politicians Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque as examples that other Latin American countries should try and emulate.
Lies and other nonsense
The arguments he presents in the article in question are a hodgepodge of lies and nonsense that exceeds even what we are accustomed to from him. What’s more, an overzealous prosecutor might even deem them to be advocating crime, such is the manner in which narco-trafficking is criminalised by nearly every country in the world. It is clear that the years do not pass in vain and that the writer’s progression towards insanity continues to spiral out of control, especially when he casts his gaze over Venezuela and its neighbours. I say this because the reason for Sunday’s opinion piece was Iván Duque’s promise to regularise the situation of Venezuelan migrants residing in Colombia.
This initiative deserves to be applauded, and hopefully it becomes a reality. Despite a degree of uncertainty that calls for caution, Duque’s announcement was all it took to trigger the unhinged response from the Peruvian, who wrote nothing less than, “no other (country) has been freer, more civil and more democratic during this period” than Colombia. Here, he is referring to the era that begins with the Bogotazo in 1948 and runs until the present.
With the fury and the myopia of the born-again evangelist, he assures us that while the guerrillas killed, kidnapped and perpetrated all kinds of terrorist attacks, “civilized Colombia (he says) had a democratic political life, with a free press and clean elections, except for the brief interval of the Rojas Pinilla military dictatorship between 1953 and 1957”. The consequence of such a favourable political and social climate, Vargas Llosa attests, was nothing other than the facilitating of the activities of Colombian entrepreneurs, who “have caused the country to advance to levels that are the envy of the rest of Latin America”.
On granting identity documents to nearly one million Venezuelan migrants, they will be able to “access jobs, as well as social security and education, in Colombian institutions”. This will be possible presumably because the local population is not sufficient to satisfy the demand for labour in Colombia and that those who do not find work know that their wellbeing is guaranteed by the ample coverage of social security existing in the country, as well as the broad coverage of its free education system at all levels.
However, real-world data does not substantiate the crazy ideas of the author of La Casa Verde (The Green House). In fact, according to the official statistics, the unemployment rate in Colombia between September and November 2020 stood at 14.6%, an increase of 4.8% percentage points compared with the corresponding quarter in 2019. Under these conditions, it is unlikely that Venezuelan migrants will find the paradise of employment that Vargas Llosa is promising them.
On the other hand, social security is a lesser-spotted species in Colombia, which only a minority are able to enjoy; public education, especially at the university level, is simply out of the question for the majority of the country’s natives. Indeed, most of the country’s university students are enrolled in private institutions, and public universities are not free, although the fees are means-tested and vary depending on each student’s background.
While extolling Duque’s attitude towards the migrants, the novelist distils his vitriol for the man who was an idol of his for many years, Sebastián Piñera, drawing attention to the difference between the attitude of the Colombian president and “that of the Chilean government, which has just deported many Venezuelans”. No one can guarantee that Duque’s promise of regularising the migrants’ status will be kept.
The putative sons of a hitman
Yet Vargas Llosa has a selective memory and neglects to mention an important example that cannot be ignored: the legalisation of the status of some 4 million undocumented residents in Venezuela, a significant proportion of which were Colombian. These people lacked identity documents; they lived in the hills on unnamed streets and unnumbered ranches, and thanks to Hugo Chávez, they became Venezuelan citizens. This mass process was called “cedulación”(“cédula” is the name given to identity cards in some South American countries), and it was subsequently followed up by an immense social housing construction programme, an expansion of health care services throughout the country (the “Programa Barrio Adentro”) and an enormous boost for education. Neither of these three things appear on Iván Duque’s agenda.
The Lima Group, Creole governments and imperialist enablers
An unrepentant liar, Vargas Llosa hides what he knows because the objective of his opinion pieces is not to enlighten or inform the public but rather to lie, to defame people or processes that he rejects and to support his conservative “friends” both in the region and outside it. Or, to use the same language as him, to exalt his “putative sons” in Latin America, who are greater in number than we would like, although their numbers are currently dwindling. That is why he incites the leaders of the Lima Group to imitate Duque and to do what he says that he wants to do: “legalise the presence of tens of thousands (or millions) of Venezuelans that have reached their shores… these exiles could find legal employment, access the health care system and have their children access public schooling, which they are currently prevented from doing”.
Could they? Really? A cursory glance at the social indicators in Colombia proves that such a goal is essentially impossible because the previously mentioned unemployment figures in Colombia, added to the hidden jobless population and the historic lack of attention paid to health care and public education will almost certainly frustrate the novelist’s lofty goals. A comprehensive debunking of Vargas Llosa’s preachings is provided by a recent official report from the United Nations, based on the official statistics from the Colombian government, in which they assert that there are some 8 million people who have been displaced from their habitual places of residence due to paramilitary violence, drug trafficking, land appropriation and the armed conflict. Colombia is the country with the highest number of displaced people in the world: 7,816,500 at the end of 2018, surely the result of the “prosperity” and “democracy” that the novelist has praised with such enthusiasm. Will Colombia be able to guarantee for its Venezuelan migrants what it has been shown as being incapable of doing for its own people?
Whitewashing a murderous government
The homage paid to a “civilised Colombia” can only be described as a hallucination, a delirium that throws a blanket of silence over the brutal violations of human rights in the country. A recent report from the office of the public prosecutor, an organ of the Colombian state, signalled that “753 social leaders were assassinated between 2016 and 2020” (573 during Duque’s presidential term) and that in addition to this “there are 4,281 victims of violence in Colombia”.
Is this the government that Vargas Llosa proposes as no less than a “model example” in Latin America and the Caribbean? Is the novelist of a sound mind? Can the word “democracy” be applied here, or can a regime of repression and violence be proposed as an ideal to emulate, such as the Colombian regime, which has sown its entire territory with mass graves and, under Uribe, perpetrated the crime of the “false positives”? Thousands of impoverished, illiterate and unemployed peasants who were recruited by the army, then disguised as FARC or ELN insurgents and murdered in cold blood to then be presented before the press as proof of the efficacy of the anti-guerrilla warfare in Colombia, while their family members desperately searched for them. Is this the model to imitate?
A mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OHCHR, proved that “defending human rights in Colombia continues to be a high-risk activity. In 2020, 133 homicides were reported of individuals defending human rights”. Can a public intellectual such as Vargas Llosa, so attentive to the vicissitudes that trouble South America, ignore something that many media outlets have been reporting on regularly?
Uribe, the narco
That is enough on the subject of violence and repression. To finish, let us examine the links between drug trafficking and the much-admired Álvaro Uribe, a supposed victim of the smear campaign by the omnipotent Latin American left-wing. A document in the U.S. Department of Defense, initially redacted in September 1991, declassified in 2004 and leaked to the press shortly after, had the following as its main subject:
This report provides information on the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the cartels for security, transportation, distribution, collection and enforcement of the narcotics operations in both the US and Colombia. These individuals are also contracted as “hit men” for assassinations by the cartel leaders.
At number 82 on that list, at the end of page 10, Álvaro Uribe Vélez appears, described by the report writers in the following manner: “A Colombian politician and senator, dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US. His father was murdered in Colombia for his links with the narcotics traffickers. Uribe has worked for the Medellín cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviria. He has participated in Escobar’s political campaign to win the position of assistant parliamentarian to Jorge (Ortega). Uribe has been one of the politicians, from the Senate, who has attacked all forms of the extradition treaty”.
Naturally, after the discovery of these ties between Uribe and narco-traffickers, the U.S. government closely followed the progression of his political career; at the right moment, a CIA operative stationed in Bogotá presented themselves to him and said something that might have gone something like this: “Hello, Álvaro. Welcome to the firm. You work for us now! You can refuse if you so wish, but in that case, you will wind up rotting away in a maximum-security prison for the rest of your life.”
Uribe’s adulation for the White House, and that of his successors, each of them accomplices of the Colombian narcos, must be understand from this reality. It is not just because they are oligarchs and reactionaries: these are people who bear the load of huge rule book on their shoulders and who must obey the commands of the U.S. government without making a noise. If it tells them to attack Chávez or Nicolás Maduro, they do it; if it asks them to organise a concert/invasion of Venezuela from Cúcuta, they do it; if it orders them to send their troops into Ecuadorean territory in Sucumbíos and obliterate a guerrilla encampment, they do it; if it asks them to destroy UNASUR, they comply with the order without making a noise. None of them have a choice because they know that they are out on “conditional liberty”, which their owner in the north can interrupt at any time and imprison them in a dungeon for the rest of their days. Narco-politicians bound by such rules are easy prey for any extorsion that the White house decides upon.
Is it just Uribe? No. In March 2020, Agencia EFE reported on “the storm that began to form around the Colombian President Iván Duque and his mentor, the Senator Álvaro Uribe, for an alleged purchase of votes in 2018 with the help of a purported frontman for narco-traffickers”, José Guillermo Hernández, nicknamed “el Ñeñe”. The newspaper where Vargas Llosa publishes his pablum, El País, reported in its edition on 11th March 2020 that “the narco-trafficker and frontman was assassinated in May 2019 in Brazil; the former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe chimed in, saying that ‘the murder of José Guillermo Hernández is very painful; he was killed in a holdup in Brazil where he was attending a cattle fair.’ The homicide occurred in the middle of a vendetta between narco-traffickers, according to the investigation. Beginning a few months ago, multiple photos have circulated on social networks showing President Duque, senators and important representatives from the Centro Democrático party, founded by Uribe and the main platform of the current government, in the company of “el Ñeñe”.
These criminals are the ones who Vargas Llosa, in his moral decay, proposes as models for Our America. It is the logical conclusion to his defence to the hilt of capitalism and neoliberalism, and of his protection of the interests of his cronies, such as the hyper-corrupt emeritus King Juan Carlos or the serial liar José María Aznar, as well as a large part of the Spanish and Latin American bourgeoisie.
Lie and lie until the end, trusting that something will take root in the consciousness of his readers. Vargas Llosa is mistaken, and it must be a bitter pill to swallow. It must also be despairing, in the midst of the shipwrecking of his political projects, to be forced to cling onto two bandits like Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque. As a passionate reader of his novels, filled with charming and admirable characters, I feel an intense sorrow for that non-conforming young man from San Marcos and the Cahuide cell of the Partido Comunista Peruano who, due to the irreparable corrosive effects of time – to be clear, not irreparable for all – was converted into a barbaric representative for the right-wing, including its most discredited narco-politicians.
He should feel shame at proposing such nonsense, motivated by his visceral, incandescent hatred for those who fight for a better world based on humanism, solidarity and the happiness of the majority.