CARACAS – Peruvian novelist and pro-free market intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa declined to appear on Hugo Chávez’s weekly TV and radio show after it became clear there would be no direct debate with the leftist Venezuelan president.
Vargas Llosa and Mexican intellectuals Jorge Castañeda and Enrique Krauze had accepted an invitation to appear Saturday on Chávez’s “Hello President” show, but only if they could have a direct exchange with Chávez.
But on Friday night the Venezuelan leader rejected those terms, throwing in a verbal jab for good measure.
“I’m in the big leagues. You’re in Triple-A,” Chávez said, using a baseball analogy. He added that Vargas Llosa, a former presidential candidate, “has to become president first” before the two can debate.
Chávez said, however, that the doors remained open for the three to come on the show and have a debate with leftist intellectuals, with the Venezuelan president serving as moderator.
“Vargas Llosa, don’t be afraid, we won’t be disrespectful ... not us. Welcome to Venezuela,” Chávez said, adding that he had never offered to engage directly in debate but only to provide “the space and microphones of ‘Hello President,’” which is marking its 10th anniversary.
Chávez, who acknowledged the great literary talents of the author of novels such as “La guerra del fin del mundo” (The War of the End of the World) and “La ciudad y los perros” (The Time of the Hero), said during a special four-day edition of his weekly television show that if Vargas Llosa agreed to debate with socialist intellectuals “he would be pulverized, he would become cosmic dust.”
Vargas Llosa, meanwhile, shot back Friday night, saying that Chávez’s “mocking” and “insulting” attitude was in the tradition of Latin America’s strongman past dating back to the 19th century and that the leftist president showed his invitation “was never serious.”
Vargas Llosa, Krauze and Castañeda were in Venezuela to take part in “The Latin American Challenge” forum organized by a conservative, Caracas-based think tank.
Krauze said Friday that since debates between free-marketeers and socialists are seen “daily” outside Venezuela, he and his two colleagues “wouldn’t want to steal time” from Chávez’s program, preferring to confront the president himself rather than proxies.
“It would be very interesting for the life of the Venezuelan citizen (and) very healthy for the political life of Venezuela” to see Chávez – famous for his fiery, rambling oratory – “listening to the opinions of others and not just expounding his own,” Krauze said.
Krauze, Castañeda and Vargas Llosa have expressed concern during their visit over continued threats to press freedom in Venezuela.
Globovision, which due to government action against the opposition-run media is the only channel on Venezuela’s public airwaves that is critical of Chávez, faces possible sanctions in connection with an ongoing probe by Venezuela’s communications regulator, Conatel, into the network’s alleged violation of rules and standards.
Chávez said last week during a visit to Argentina that some media in his country are carrying out “media terrorism” and did not rule out the government taking “a decision” against those companies.
A fiery leftist who first took office in 1999, Chávez won a referendum earlier this year allowing him to run for office indefinitely and says he plans to stay in power until 2021 if necessary to firmly install “Socialism of the 21st Century” in Venezuela.
Chávez is popular among many poor Venezuelans for using the country’s oil wealth for social programs, but reviled by the middle class and the wealthy as a dictator who wants to turn the country into Cuba-like communist state.