Mario Vargas Llosa is a renowned Peruvian novelist, the author of such works as The War of the End of the World (1984) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1978). Now, at 54, he is also favored to be elected president of Peru in the April 8 election, defeating the socialist government of President Alan Garcia. Maclean’s Correspondent Mark Budgen interviewed Vargas Llosa in English recently on his campaign plane as he flew from the northern coastal town of Piura to Lima, the capital:
Maclean’s: Why have you given up your private, much-praised career as a writer for the public, noisy life of a politician? Vargas Llosa: Because we are living in an emergency period in Peru. The country is in a big mess. We are facing the most difficult economic crisis in our history but, paradoxically, this crisis has created the possibility to make radical changes in modernizing the country.
Maclean’s: But why not put the power of your pen behind someone else?
Vargas Llosa: Well, if you were an English or a French writer in 1939, and you were facing war or an invasion, you had to act, you had to give an immediate response in the world of action. And that’s the case now in Peru. The destruction of the whole fabric of Peruvian society is so advanced that we may never again have a chance like this.
Maclean’s: You are leading the Democratic Front, a centre-right political coalition. But, for many years, you were a socialist. When did your views change?
Vargas Llosa: In the Sixties, when I visited Socialist countries and discovered what was the real socialism. I went to Cuba many times, so I saw how the revolution there, which we thought would bring justice and freedom, was completely hijacked by the totalitarian vision. And what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968 was a shock for me. At that time, I started to cut links with Cuba and the Communist community.
Maclean’s: Are your planned reforms designed primarily to decrease government intervention in the economy?
Vargas Llosa: Yes. We want to do this in a creative way, trying to use free-market policies not only to grow, but also to increase social justice and equal opportunities in Peru.
Maclean’s: What are the major elements of your program?
Vargas Llosa: We want to privatize the whole public sector. We think the state should promote, not produce. The state has been involved in practically everything—land, fishing, hotels, mining, street markets, even cinemas. And all of them are broke. But we want to do this in such a way that we can disseminate private property among the poor. We will give titles for land to the peasants. We will give the workers in state-owned companies the possibility to become shareholders. And what I think is most exciting is to [mobilize] the underground economy in Peru, which is the largest in Latin America, equal to 60 per cent of our GNP. This has been created by the poor without resources, without financial support. It’s popular capitalism and it’s illegal, but it also shows something very encouraging—a very creative popular instinct for production, for working independently from the state. If we give formal incentives to these informal entrepreneurs to work within the law, that will create a tremendous energetic movement in the creation of wealth. Maclean’s: What about foreign investment? Vargas Llosa: We will open up the country absolutely, no restrictions, total free movement of capital.
Maclean’s: Will there be a large social cost involved in this reform?
Vargas Llosa: Yes. In the first year, it will be very hard. Our program will demand big sacrifices from everybody. These should be attenuated with a program of social support for the poor that we think will cost $823 million per year for three years. After that, we think we will reach a sustained level of growth. Maclean’s: How do you want the Canadian government to help?
Vargas Llosa: We want Canada to help us to attract investment, bring Canadian firms to Peru to work with us in beneficial terms. But we will need some initial support in order to establish in Peru these same kinds of conditions and mechanisms that have permitted Canada to become one of the most advanced and civilized countries in the world.
Maclean’s: So you will need financial support in the first years of your program?
Vargas Llosa: Absolutely. But also medicines and food.
Maclean’s: What do you plan to do about cocaine production and drug-trafficking?
Vargas Llosa: In collaboration with the consuming countries, we will try to increase the cost of production by repression. But, at the same time, we must give the peasants economic incentives for crop substitution.
Maclean’s: Peru has been fighting a costly guerrilla war against the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement for 10 years, with no apparent end in sight. How will you suppress those insurgencies?
Vargas Llosa: If I win the election, I will personally take on the responsibility for the fighting by mobilizing the civilian population as well as the military. If Shining Path wins the war, millions of Peruvians would be sacrificed by these fanatics. Everybody in Peru is menaced and everybody should fight. Maclean’s: Are you yourself afraid?
Vargas Llosa: If you are a Peruvian today, even if you are not a politician, you are menaced. Maclean’s: In this atmosphere, are you able to do any writing? Vargas Llosa: Not much. I try to work. I seclude myself for one or two hours a day at least, but it’s more and more difficult. I try to have some influential work, because politics can be absolutely damaging for the intellectual life—it is very pedestrian. Maclean’s: That might be a discouraging mission for many politicians.
Vargas Llosa: But it’s true, it’s true. You understand why so many politicians become so stupid? They think that when they enter politics, they are going to dedicate their lives to ideas, fighting for causes, for visions, for some moral ideal. They discover that 90 per cent of their time is spent manoeuvring and intriguing—very sordid activities.
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