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  HOME | Latin America (Click here for more)

Alvaro Vargas Llosa Says Latin American Leaders Threaten Democracy

By Mercedes Bermejo

MADRID – Peruvian intellectual Alvaro Vargas Llosa said in an interview with Efe Tuesday said that “the greatest threat” to democracy in Latin America comes from its presidents, who once in office try to change the rules in order to remain in power permanently.

The intellectual argued for institutional reform that will bar these practices and will also establish the separation of the state from economic power in order to combat poverty in the region.

Vargas Llosa spoke with Efe in Madrid, where he was to present “Las Lecciones de los Pobres” (Lessons from the Poor), a work that includes five studies of successful business projects developed by people from abjectly poor environments in Peru, Argentina, Nigeria and Kenya.

The journalist and columnist, son of writer Mario Vargas Llosa, recalled that the big problem used to be military uprisings, coups d’etat and revolutionary insurrections, in other words, “movements from outside of power.”

“The problem today is that people attain power by democratic means and, once elected, begin to denature the system in order to remain in power.”

He gave Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an example, but said that “he’s not the only one, there are many, including on the right, as in the case of Uribe,” who, while not “in the same bag,” is following the same trend.

Vargas Llosa said that the challenge for the continent is to consolidate institutional mechanisms that would permit citizens to react against abuses of power while avoiding situations like the one in Honduras that, following the “exemplary” reaction of civil society to the violation of constitutional rules, the deposed president (Manuel Zelaya) was “taken in his pajamas and sent on a plane into exile.”

Vargas Llosa also considered necessary “a major reform of the state that would allow the incorporation of the market economy into the poorest sector of the population and would democratize the idea of private companies in order to extend their benefits to the greatest number of people.”

Such a reform is necessary, in his judgment, because almost all the usual responses to poverty have an anti-business attitude.

With an eagerness to show that there are a vast number of business owners who “hold the key to future prosperity” in developing countries, Vargas Llosa chose examples from Latin America and Africa to illustrate that potential and “demolish some myths, such as the private company being a preserve of the elite.”

One case relates the experience of Peru’s Añanos family in marketing a soda called Kola Real, similar to Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, that “democratized” the consumption of carbonated soft drinks by offering a product similar to the international brands but at a very low price.

Another example is a clothes-designing industry launched in Nigeria by women of little or no education who used their ingenuity to make a living and create wealth where once there had been only poverty.

Among the premises adopted by the journalist and columnist when it came to choosing examples for “Las Lecciones de los Pobres” was that the projects must not owe their success to practices linked to corruption.

Because, he believes, in the region there is “a heritage of political corruption that has a terrible influence and that feeds populism, which is one variation of Latin American authoritarianism.”

Nonetheless, the intellectual observed progress in the region with regard to the fight against poverty, giving as examples Chile and his own country.

“Peru 20 years ago was a country in ruins with a failed economic populism, and today is a country making impressive progress. It hasn’t resolved all the problems by any means, but it has become an example to follow with the reduction of poverty by a third,” he said. EFE

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