The following is a 2003 interview between Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer and newly crowned Nobel winner Mario Vargas Llosa.
Mario Vargas Llosa, one of Latin America's biggest writers of all time, has always been one of the least ``politically correct'' intellectuals in the region.
He broke ranks with Cuba decades before his colleagues on the left discovered that Fidel Castro was a dictator, denounced Mexico's previous semi-authoritarian government as ``the perfect dictatorship, `` and most recently lashed out against former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori when most of Latin America was continuing to tolerate his autocratic ways.
You can agree or disagree with Vargas Llosa, but you cannot take his opinions lightly. He has always gone against the conventional wisdom of the day in Latin America, and he has been right more often than not.
Earlier this week, after his weekend visit to South Florida to speak at the Miami Book Fair International, I taped a television interview with Vargas Llosa, 67.
Among the highlights:
Q: You recently returned from a two-week reporting trip to Iraq. Can President Bush bring democracy to that country, or is that a crazy illusion?
A: To think that Iraq will one day become a democratic country is not a utopia. At this point, the methods to bring about democracy are debatable. Only in very exceptional cases can one accept democracy to be brought about by an army, but it has happened in Germany, for instance.
Q: But in post-war Germany, there were virtually no killings of American soldiers. Are Iraqis against the U.S. presence there?
A: Most Iraqis are happy that the Baath party and Saddam Hussein have fallen. That was one of the conclusions I arrived at during my trip. It doesn't mean that they are happy with a foreign occupation, but I do think that there are, nowadays, some possibilities of a modernization and democratization that weren't there during the Baath dictatorship.
Q: Do you think Bush and his allies truly believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
A: I think the governments knew that there was no definitive evidence, but they thought it was the most effective way to ``sell'' the war. They made a mistake. It would have been ethically and politically more acceptable to say that this was a bloody dictatorship comparable to [Germany's Adolf] Hitler or that of [Russia's Joseph] Stalin, which was not only destroying the people of Iraq but was also a terrible threat to its neighbors.
Q: You are now spending a few months in Washington, as a visiting professor at Georgetown University. From what you see in America, do you think Bush will be reelected?
A: I have the impression that U.S. public opinion is moving away from that massive support for Bush's policies toward a more critical stand. For the first time, one can nowadays see a possibility that Bush can be defeated.
Q: A few years ago you made big headlines by proclaiming that Mexico was ``a perfect dictatorship.'' Is Mexico in a never-ending political transition now?
A: Fortunately, I was wrong. It wasn't so perfect. From a perfect dictatorship, it changed to an imperfect democracy. And that is a great progress. There is freedom of expression, political freedoms . . . [Mexican President Vicente] Fox has not satisfied the big expectations that were placed on him. The difficulties he has faced have been huge, but there has also been a shortage of energy, of leadership, to carry out the reforms. That's what is keeping the country paralyzed.
Q: How would you describe Argentina's President Néstor Kirchner?
A: I would describe Kirchner as a demagogue. I don't agree with the [Argentine government's] perception that [former President Carlos] Menem's policies were ultra-free market reforms. They were not. They were a smoke-screen for huge corruption and influence peddling, which naturally had very negative results. And that frustration has moved the Argentine people to turn from the Menem demagoguery to the Kirchner demagoguery. I'm afraid that the results will be equally catastrophic.
Q: And Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva?
A: I used to perceive him as a populist, a dangerous demagogue. [But] he has changed significantly. If Lula becomes Brazil's Tony Blair, that would be a welcome phenomenon. It would be about time for Latin America, but it remains to be seen.