Media Blog

Vargas Llosa on the Death of Hugo Chávez

“It is to the long and illustrious tradition of the Caudillos that Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías truly belongs.” So begins an important account of the legacy of the recently deceased Venezuelan leader.

In majestic prose appearing in the Spanish newspaper El País earlier this month, Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa attempts to explain the subconscious roots of Hugo Chávez’s enormous appeal. This requires a lyrical and artistic understanding. Echoing Karl Popper’s Open Society, Vargas Llosa continues:

“In all this we see the fear of freedom — the fear that comes to man as a legacy from his primitive past, from the world before democracy and before the individual, when man was a material and gave over his free will and his initiative to a demigod, who made all the important decisions about his life.”

He knows whereof he speaks. The author traced the same psychological threads in his book The Festival of the Goat, profiling Dominican strongman Rafael Trujillo. Just what might we expect from such a figure?

“At the crossroads between superman and buffoon, the Caudillo makes and unmakes at his discretion, inspired by God or by an ideology that almost always mixes both socialism and fascism — the two forms of collective super-statism.”

And how will we recognize the Caudillismo when we see it? One clue is its style.

“The Caudillo communicates directly with his people, through demagoguery, rhetoric, and vast spectacles and scenes of magical-religious importance.”

 Vargas Llosa’s remarkable article, still available only in Spanish, is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand both Hugo Chávez and the seismic changes wrought in Latin America by this historic figure. The author also has a message for the wider world: “Although more visible in Latin America, this line of the Caudillos continues to loom everywhere, in France and in the other mature democracies.”

It’s a timely observation. After attending Chávez’s funeral, France’s minister for overseas territories told a French radio station that the world needed “more dictators” like him. There have also been calls by left-wing French political parties to name a Parisian street after the late leader.

“Neither Chávez nor any other Caudillo can appear without a climate of prior skepticism and disgust such as existed in Venezuela in February 1992,” adds Vargas Llosa.

In these days of European strife, where clear-minded reform and leadership are urgently demanded, Vargas Llosa’s poetic insight has relevance and resonance reaching far beyond the confines of the Latin American situation he describes.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Building a National American Conservatism

It seems like just yesterday that I undertook my first campaign for public office. I knocked on virtually every door in the small city of West Miami in my bid to be elected to its city commission. It was during that campaign, on the front porches and in the living rooms of the families I would ultimately ... Read More

Confirm Pompeo

What on earth are the Democrats doing? President Trump has nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo, eminently qualified by any reasonable standard, to be America’s 70th secretary of state. And yet the Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have perverted the advice and consent clause of the Constitution into a ... Read More

The Mournful, Magnificent Sally Mann

‘Does the earth remember?" The infinitely gifted photographer Sally Mann asks this question in the catalogue of her great retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington. On view there is her series of Civil War battlefield landscapes, among the most ravishing works of art from the early 2000s. Once sites ... Read More
PC Culture

People Are Losing Their Minds Over Starbucks

We can all easily imagine circumstances in which a manager of a coffee shop or restaurant might properly call the police to ask them to remove loiterers. These are places of business. There’s nothing wrong in principle with calling the cops on non-customers who are taking up space. And there’s nothing wrong ... Read More
PC Culture

The Dark Side of the Starbucks Stand-Down

By now the story is all over America. Earlier this month, two black men entered a Starbucks store in Philadelphia. They were apparently waiting for a friend before ordering — the kind of thing people do every day — and one of the men asked to use the restroom. A Starbucks employee refused, saying the restroom ... Read More

Save the Eighth

There are many things to admire in Ireland’s written constitution. Most especially, the text includes, since a popular referendum in 1983, the Eighth Amendment: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to ... Read More
White House

The Comey & Mueller Show

It has been a good week for President Trump. Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz provided indisputable evidence that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe lied at least four key times and was fired by the attorney general for cause -- and that Mr. Trump had nothing to do with it. McCabe and ... Read More