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
”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,”
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
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
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
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
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service