A capital absent in the Colombian programming as Guest Country of Honor in this atypical Book Fair 2021 was Héctor Abad Faciolince. The author of The oblivion that we will be (2006) was one of the consecrated writers but ignored by the Government of Ivan Duque in the 17 days of celebration. Despite this, Abad Faciolince has been at the fair. He has signed books and has chatted with his readers thanks to the invitation to travel to Spain at the Hay Festival Segovia – to close it with Fernando Trueba because of the adaptation of his book to the cinema – and specifically to the El Retiro booths, for decision of its publisher Alfaguara (Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial).
Héctor Abad Faciolince feels happy to be able to meet his Spanish readers and faces this first day at the Méndez bookstore booth with enthusiasm. “There is always a good excuse to come to Spain and being the Book Fair, more. I have been a bookseller, librarian, I have translated books and I have written others. Coming here is a pleasure,” he explains to this newspaper. “For me it is a real honor that the Duque government has not invited me. I will be doing something right.” Abad has recently undergone heart surgery: “My cardiologist told me to get together with good people for my health. And they are not.”
The writer laughs and then frowns: “Not even in Uribe’s time there were these lists of writers who could be invited and those who could not.” He speaks clearly: “They have set up a circus. If they had invited us, we would not have accepted it. They would have remained as a pluralist government, and not as inept and clumsy, which is what they are.” And he closes before continuing to attend the woman who is waiting with her book under her arm: “That the Government of Spain has decorated Iván Duque It sounds like a laugh, but it seems like people like those ridiculous things. “
The last weekend of the Fair he did double duty since the bookstores were eager to welcome him. On Saturday he will do it in the booth of the Alberti Bookstore, where his mythical bookseller Lola Larumbe admits that it was “impossible to justify certain absences”. “Colombia wanted a ‘white’ fair and fortunately no one is neutral. A country with neutralities would be horrendous, colors are needed,” he adds. Alberti’s booksellers collect quite a few copies of Abad Faciolince because they expect that your audience come. The author of What was present He will also visit the representations of the Sin Tarima, Visor and La Central bookstores.
“Colombia, Diversa y Vital” is the slogan chosen by the Iván Duque government delegation for the country’s participation in the Fair. But, precisely, “diverse” is just what it has not been. It may even seem like a word rhetoric or twisted. The alarms went off in early September when the Embassy – and three days later at a press conference – announced the Colombian writers who would travel to Madrid. The absences screamed badly. “And the most recognized, read and awarded? Why don’t they come?” Asks the Colombian journalist Winston Manrique.
Neither Piedad Bonnett, nor Fernando Vallejo, nor Laura Restrepo, nor William Ospina, nor Pablo Montoya, nor Héctor Abad. “All those who have been critical of Duque,” says Manrique. Colombia was in the global spotlight due to the disproportion of force it showed trying to control and dismantle the National Strike, which lasted four months and 25 days. Many intellectuals showed their rejection, some took to the streets and others wrote from the newspapers. “Dissident writers, no matter how good and recognized and read they were in Spain, were not on the official list,” says the journalist who first pointed out the absence.
It was another journalist, Jesús Fernández Úbeda, who asked “about the ideological variety” to the Colombian ambassador in Spain, Luis Guillermo Plata. This, without measuring the wave of rejection and protests that it would raise, affirmed: “One does not want a literary fair to become a political fair. Neither for one side nor for the other. I like García Márquez because I like it, no because it is from the left or from the right, or I like Neruda because I like what he transmits to me without asking me about his ideology. ” And the magic word that no one would forget during these 23 days: “They have tried to have very neutral things, where the literary side of the work prevails.”
Upon reading these statements, Winston Manrique published on his consecrated literary website WMagazín that “the Government of Colombia has just written a sad and undeserved page in the history of literary, cultural and political management. The portrait of Colombian literature is very incomplete because political sectarianism has prevailed.” Manrique has been attending the Colombian media – he lives between the two countries – because he has caused a lot of stir and rejection in the country. “Writers give us tools to understand what is happening; both in their books and in opinion columns. So Colombians find it intolerable to exclude certain authors for demonstrating against the government.” Manrique has set up on his own website —reprogramming the acclaimed absences— some online meetings among three of the “most prestigious excluded” writers with three new voices. “Politics must respect dissent because to differ is a symptom of democratic health,” he says.
As a result of that “having very neutral things” that the ambassador blurted out, different Colombian writers declined the invitation to participate in the event. This is the case of Juan Luis Mejía, Margarita García Robayo or Melba Escobar. Escobar signs in a tribune of El País on September 7 that “The ambassador’s statements suggest that the selection of authors who will attend the fair was defined based on political affinities to the Government, or at least that those who have explicitly been his critics were rejected. It is very difficult don’t read it as a form of censorship. ”
Ambassador Luis Guillermo Plata, who has declined to speak to elDiario.es about the issue, also signed a letter on September 7: “I was wrong. Unfortunately, the way I used my words distorted the ultimate meaning I wanted to express.” He continues: “I want to state that it was not my intention to qualify the authors as neutral, and I acknowledge that my use of the word ‘neutral’ has lent itself to interpretations contrary to what was my intention.” He concludes: “I wanted to refer to ‘impartiality’ when selecting authors to participate in the Book Fair.”
Isn’t impartiality the same as neutral? Bring impartial authors with respect to what or who? Can you be impartial about something? Or impartial or neutral is the soft way to say in favor of the Government? These are the main questions that ran like wildfire through the two streets of the Fair. The controversy is served and 28 bookstores in Spain join forces and issue a statement against “the censorship of important names”. Under the title “Colombia’s literature is not its government. We lack its people,” they state: “We have learned Colombia from the magical realism of Gabo, from the social denunciation and feminist commitment of Elisa Mujica or from the crude letters of dozens of signatures of men and women who have crossed the seas with their literature. But we have apprehended it even more from the voice of its people, migrant bodies, forced exiles fleeing institutional violence, victims of governments such as that of President Iván Duque, heir to the worst Uribe tradition, that of false positives, mutilated bodies, drug trafficking, extractivism and paramilitary killings. ”
A few days later, contrary to what was initially planned, President Iván Duque on an official visit to Spain (days 15, 16 and 17) did not come to present his book Orange Economy. Although the official car on Friday the 17th passes in front of the park with a delegation waiting for it to celebrate the “Barranquilla Carnival in El Retiro”. President Duque does not get off for “security reasons,” as reported at the time. On the other hand, the press officer of the embassy, María Angélica Ustategui, indicates that “she did not visit the Fair due to scheduling reasons.”
Social networks burned under the common denominator – and emblem – # RealismoTrágico to denounce “the whitening” that the Fair and the visit of President Iván Duque (decorated by the Government with the Great Cross of Isabel la Católica) made of the “brutal social repression by the Government of Colombia for the popular uprising (National Strike) with a balance of more than 300 disappeared and more than 70 dead protesters”, explains Silvia Ramírez del Colombian collective La Parcería, based in Madrid.
The UiPA Platform (Insurrectionary Unit for Action Art) called a demonstration in the Lavapiés neighborhood, as well as the reading of “non-neutral literatures in Madrid”. Dances and posters with the message “SOS Colombia” were the protagonists in Ambassadors Street during the afternoon and night of Thursday 16. And La Parcería has celebrated on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 what they have called “Stand 321. Colombia guest country. What he could not see at FLM21 “, giving space and offering micro to excluded Colombian artists (critics or outside the ordinary cultural circuits).
From the Traficantes de Sueños booth, they are openly critical of the Colombian president. Blas Garzón, a member of the collective that runs the bookstore, points out: “The ambassador’s statements regarding neutral literature make it clear what kind of representation they wanted to have. But the good news is that it has been turned around and has made possible a debate in around neutrality, even beyond the cultural sphere “. The controversy “has served as a loudspeaker and denouncement of the criminal policies that are being protected by the Colombian State”, since the mobilization of Colombian migrants and exiles during these days has resignified an event that was intended to be white and has been stained . For Garzón, the wick called “false neutrality” has made it possible during these days “to speak of other realities as well as to denounce the injustices that were committed during the National Strike.” And books oblige, or lead, to that: disagree, comment and debate.