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Nobel Laureate Saramago Warns of Danger After Bush Reelection
Published on Saturday, November 27, 2004 by the Inter Press Service
Nobel Laureate Saramago Warns of Danger After Bush Reelection
by Humberto Márquez
 

CARACAS - U.S. politics over the next four years will be rooted in patriotism and religion, an ”explosive combination” that will require Latin Americans to ”arm themselves with strength, courage and bravery,” according to Portuguese writer José Samamago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Saramago spoke to writers and journalists this week in Caracas, and used the occasion to express his views on what a second term under U.S. President George W. Bush will mean for the region.

”Things will undoubtedly be very bad for Latin America,” the writer predicted. ”You only have to consider the ambitions and the doctrines of the empire, which regards this region as its backyard,” he said.

At an earlier speaking engagement in Bogotá, Colombia, Saramago called Bush ”the biggest liar on the planet.” He added that if the U.S. president ever decides to focus on the region, Latin America should tremble with fear. ”I could say the same about Africa, but I don't want to create an international panic,” he joked.

Turning his attention to the rest of the world, Saramago told his audience in Caracas that the United States will never leave Iraq, ”because it needs to control the Middle East, the gateway to Asia. It already has military installations in Uzbekistan.”

He also predicted, however, that the situation will become more complex when new competitors emerge to challenge U.S. power, such as China, India and perhaps Brazil.

”I am a person with leftist convictions, and always have been,” said the 82-year-old writer, adding that whenever he addresses the subject of international politics, ”I always ask two questions, and only two: How many countries have military bases in the United States? And in how many countries does the United States not have military bases?”

But he asked the journalists in Caracas a third question, to illustrate his point. ”Can you just imagine what Bush would say if someone like (Venezuelan) President Hugo Chávez asked him for a little piece of land to install a military base, even if it was way off in Alaska, and he only wanted to plant a Venezuelan flag there?” The question provoked an outburst of laughter from his audience.

Saramago was in Venezuela ahead of an international congress that will be held next month, a gathering of intellectuals in solidarity with the process of political and social reforms being undertaken by Chávez, which the president refers to as a peaceful ”social revolution”.

”It's not that I'm pro-Chávez, nor do I believe in strongmen or messiahs, but Hugo Chávez is someone who wants to make changes, and he has found the way to reach straight into the hearts and minds of the Venezuelan people,” he stated.

Saramago also had harsh words of criticism for the Venezuelan opposition. ”For someone like me, it is difficult to understand these people who democratically take part in elections and a referendum, but are then incapable of democratically accepting the will of the people. It is an insult to common sense, and I personally cannot comprehend it.”

The writer recalled that Chávez and his associates have won a majority of votes in eight elections over the last six years in Venezuela. These include the presidential recall referendum on Aug. 15, when voter turnout was exceptionally high and 59 percent of those who cast their ballots wanted Chávez to remain as president of their country.

Venezuela ”has had a highly troubled recent history,” noted Saramago, adding that he hoped Chávez would be able to bring ”this unique experience” to a successful conclusion, despite the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean are now facing ”four complicated years, which will be marked by tensions and neo-colonial aspirations.”

Chávez was unable to meet with Saramago, as he is on a presidential tour to Russia and the Middle East. However, Venezuelan public television provided viewers with a unique interview with the Nobel laureate conducted by Vice President José Vicente Rangel, formerly a prominent investigative journalist.

Saramago, who had just been in Rosario, Argentina to take part in the 3rd International Congress on the Spanish Language, emphasised that he speaks about politics ”willingly and deliberately.” He also noted that his most recent novel, Lucidity, is ”openly political, unlike the previous ones,” which include Baltasar and Blimunda, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and The Caves.

Lucidity is about an imaginary city (the same one in which his 1995 novel Blindness was set) where the majority of voters decide to cast blank ballots. Saramago stressed that he isn't promoting this kind of political stance, but he does believe in the need for a ”regeneration” of democracy.

Currently, ”it is economic power that determines political power, and governments become the political functionaries of economic power,” he maintained.

What can writers do to confront this situation? ”Not much more than any other citizen, because if they could change things, they would have already done so. Personally, what I try to do when I write is to get people thinking,” he said.

”I wouldn't like to leave this life without at least knowing that I tried to do something,” he added.

As to what should be done, ”I don't think there is anything more effective than demanding and keeping a vigilant watch over rigorous respect for human rights.”

© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service

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