July 4, 2020

The hard arrival of Vargas Llosa to Guatemala | Culture

Mario Vargas Llosa presents 'Hard Times' in Guatemala City. In video, images of the presentation. AFP | VIDEO: EFE

Two septuagenarians with a cane are seen for the first time at the exit of the theater. The first, Mario Vargas Llosa, has just published Hard Times, about the fall of President Jacobo Árbenz in 1954. And the second is the son of the president of Guatemala overthrown by the CIA. One arrived in the Central American country to present the novel and the other, after a long time, returned from exile, to which he left with 10 years of his father's hand, to thank the Nobel Prize set his eyes on him and dedicate 354 pages to tell that he was a good man. That he tried to make Guatemala a different country.

The fatigue, after a long trip from Guadalajara (Mexico) to Guatemala City, did not prevent the two from getting excited remembering to the colonel of Quetzaltenango who came to power after free and fair elections and he challenged the United Fruit Company, but he ended up being exiled and humiliated by both the gringos and Fidel Castro.

The writer Mario Vargas Llosa and Jacobo Árbenz, son of the former president of Guatemala

The writer Mario Vargas Llosa and Jacobo Árbenz, son of the former president of Guatemala

Aware of the historic moment the Minister of Culture of Guatemala, did the impossible to sneak between those two men who enjoyed listening. It was the epilogue to an intense day.

Is playing at home Mario Vargas Llosa present in Guatemala Hard Times, his latest novel? If the book sinks its roots and questions the current political and economic model of the country, the question is at least controversial. And, at most, a provocation.

A strange atmosphere flew over Guatemala with the arrival of the author. If for Balzac the historical books are the private life of the nations, Central America, one of the most violent and unequal regions in the world, received a shock to talk about the past that was not.

Vargas Llosa set out on Tuesday to claim in his land as "an act of justice" to former President Árbenz. Three months after the worldwide launch of Hard Times, about the coup against the colonel they accused of communist and the murder of his successor, Carlos Castillo Armas, the writer said he felt "very identified with this beautiful and tragic country", where this story arises that goes around the world , 65 years later.

The reception in the Central American country was divided between the right that lives in the cave and described Vargas Llosa as “communist” for rescuing the controversial figure of Árbenz and those who are suspicious of the writer, whom they read every Sunday in this newspaper with liberal proposals that They raise the eyebrow at those who live in a beaten land until they are exhausted by economic despotism with electricity, cellular or gasoline rates typical of Europe

The schizophrenia found a certain measure between those who feel that, finally, a stage emerges – the Cold War – and a character – Árbenz – as silenced and deformed inside Guatemala as followed from the outside and who even fell in love with Ernesto Che Guevara, who spent several months in Guatemala trying to know the direction of the agrarian reform of Árbenz. "At that time the students of the San Marcos University, where I was studying, we devoured what was happening in Guatemala and the democratizing attempts of Árbenz", the writer acknowledged before a crowded Miguel Ángel Asturias Cultural Center in the capital, where almost 2,000 people listened in In the middle of a hypnotic silence.

That the wounds in the Central American country remain open is confirmed by the repudiation of Francisco Marroquín University, to whom Vargas Llosa dedicated part of his thanks. La Marro, as one of the liberal temples in Latin America is known and in whose library the Nobel spent many hours preparing Hard times, refused to host the presentation of the book arguing that the figure of Colonel Árbenz is still controversial in the country. 353 pages were not enough to convince the trainers of the cubs of the economic and business elite of Central America that the colonel of Swiss origin was not a communist who wanted to take the land from the rich.

His crime, says Vargas Llosa, was to try to imitate a democracy like that of the United States, taking advantage of the enormous flow of votes he achieved in free elections. A massive support for which any president of Guatemala would kill today, for example Alejandro Giammattei, who will take office in January, after winning an election in August in which 42% of the population voted.

Among other grievances that offend the Central American elite in the four years that Jacobo Árbenz was in power is the elimination of forced labor that punished the indigenous peasantry. He also incorporated labor rights into the Constitution and signed his sentence when in 1952 he launched an agrarian reform that allowed the expropriation of uncultivated farms. A measure that did not like the United Fruit Company, which owns the most productive areas of the country and one of whose shareholders was John Foster Dullles, Secretary of State of Dwight D. Eisenhower and brother of the director of the CIA Allen Dulles.

Would Guatemala have been very different? "The young people would not have enrolled in the different guerrillas and we would not have 270,000 dead," Vargas Llosa insisted. "And Fidel Castro would not have been radicalized and would have put himself in the arms of the Soviet Union," the author presumed.

"Here there was no analysis, but reactions," an important Guatemalan bookseller ironizes when defining the cascade of columns and reactions. Ideological clashes aside, few Guatemalans doubt that they are before one of the great books to understand recent Guatemala. One more written by foreigners in love with these lands, such as that of New Yorker Francisco Goldman The art of political murder or the book by Jean Mari Simón Eternal spring Guatemala, eternal tyranny, about the civil war.

After 65 years of the fall of Árbenz, there is a defeated generation that confirms that things could have been different and for that it has only to open the newspaper.

This same week, the current president Jimmy Morales guaranteed impunity by mooring a new position as a deputy of the Parlacem, which guarantees him four more years of immunity when he leaves office in January. On Tuesday, the country's main newspaper, Free PressHe dedicated page three to an interview with Vargas Llosa and in the following page four, a story gathered that six out of ten children suffer from famine and that departments such as Verapaz, where child labor is the currency of habitual exchange, malnutrition is so serious that there are dozens of children with stunted limbs because they never taste the eggs or do not even know what the chicken tastes like. The defeated confirm each day that newspapers are, in fact, history books.

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