Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.
“Admonitions to a Special Person”
Sometimes it can be illustrative to look at the present from the perspective of the past. It can also be devastating. I’m currently reading the biography of Octavio Paz by Christopher Domínguez Michael, Octavio Paz en su siglo (Aguilar, 2014). And just when I was about to write once again about the crisis in Venezuela, I found that in Chapter 3 Domínguez Michael recounts Paz’s conflictive relationship with a certain type of intellectuals, specifically those “bards, novelists, ideologues, men of science – who gave, sold, or rented to totalitarian power an almost infinite catalogue of alibis, offered just the same by those who remained blind or ignorant before crimes of scandalous public knowledge” (42). Isn’t the same thing happening in Venezuela? Don’t we hear every so often, from the mouths of student leaders, professors, professionals, and intellectuals, that Nicolás Maduro is a victim of imperialism and the power-hungry Venezuelan oligarchy? It is strange to note, in consequence, how this government is repudiated by its own people. And in the streets, no less. Doesn’t that sound like a true popular revolution? How can we understand an oligarchy composed of seven and a half million people who vote against their own government? Who is truly orchestrating a coup? Those who defend democracy, or the armed forces who fire against unarmed civilians? There’s no reason to shake the tree if the apples are already falling off ripe.
I continue reading the biography by Domínguez Michael. At this point it is unnecessary to recall Neruda and his ode to Stalin or the passionate and often violent differences unleashed in Latin America by the Cuban Revolution. The horrors of totalitarian revolutions have been justified too many times by those who thought they would be the first defenders of democracy, liberty, and human rights. This note is not the best place to lay out a catalogue of the horrors that certain intellectuals have shamelessly justified, whether out of ignorance, interest, complicity, or personal benefit. The fact is that supporting a military regime (whatever its political alignment) indicates not only political blindness but also immorality.
I think of the biography’s title, and the meaning of reading Paz’s life with the 20th century as a backdrop. It’s a deceitful image, almost as if to make us believe we had moved past the 20th century and all its barbarity. This is not the case. Totalitarianism is still present in the 21st century, and its monstrosities take on new forms every day. One of them is the so-called Bolivarian Revolution of the 21st century. There’s nothing revolutionary about this business financed by barrels of oil rather than the true support of the people. Even so – come hell or high water – there are those, outside and within Venezuela, who still persist in justifying this revolutionary crusade, which is nothing but a narco-state, and now a boldfaced military dictatorship. To reject Maduro’s government is, at this point, an act of common sense. Perhaps some have not yet noticed Chavismo’s perverse fascination with military boots and rifles? (Bear in mind, not all critics of the left are supporters of the right.) It’s not about that, but rather about unmasking those supposed revolutionaries who are so enamored of military headquarters, those who have little or nothing to do with the democratic, tolerant, and pluralist left that we sorely miss in Latin America. I insist. It’s not about standing against the left but about standing against a dictatorship that claims to foster a falsely socialist revolution. I doubt a man like Allende would have recognized Maduro as a democrat, much less as an equal. Those of us who lived for sixteen years under Pinochet know better than most how to recognize a dictatorial regime and its victims. Like many other Chileans, half of my family was exiled in Mexico. They could eventually have ended up in Venezuela, like many of my compatriots. For that reason, I also speak in favor of Venezuela; without that country’s generosity, thousands of Chilean exiles would have suffered a different fate.
The situation is complex and it will require a great effort to overcome. The first step is to abandon infantile posturing and stop accusing those who think differently from ourselves of being fascists or golpistas. Intolerance and totalitarianisms cannot and should not win. I believe now is the time for Chavistas to stop deceiving others and deceiving themselves. If there is now a revolution in motion in Venezuela, paradoxically, it is the revolution of the people who are tired of the abuse, the corruption, and the terrorism of the state. The people who say “No!” and who are even now being murdered in the streets by the Bolivarian National Guard. They can no longer hide the truth, and the truth disturbs, exposes, denounces. And so it should be no surprise that Chavista intellectuals are made so uncomfortable by the truth when it’s written by the people in blood and desperation.
Today, on Sunday, July 30, 2017, as I write this column, Venezuela is shaken by a spiral of violence in which more than a dozen members of the opposition have already died (including children) in the protests against the installation of the Constituent Assembly. As I said in another issue, two of our friends and colleagues on the editorial team of Latin American Literature Today are Venezuelan, and we are committed to the restitution of democracy in Venezuela. We know all too well that Latin America has a long history of dictatorships and totalitarian governments of many different colors. For that reason, it is necessary and urgent to occupy this space to support our brothers and sisters in Venezuela in their fight for democracy.
This has been a personal reflection. But not so personal.
Nonetheless, I think it’s necessary to clarify one point. As a journal, our commitment is not to politics but to literature. You won’t find propaganda or political apologies in the digital pages of LALT, but spaces for literary creation and reflection. But nor can we look to one side given the gravity of the events that are taking place on our continent. For better or for worse, we are children, and often victims, of our times. And so, we are pleased to announce in this issue the creation of a new space dedicated exclusively to indigenous literature from Latin America. In this issue, LALT’s readers can find interviews of indigenous poets from Chile and Mexico. We sought to unite the continent through the writings of poets who originate in opposite geographic extremes of Latin America. In this dossier, the Chilean poet Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra talks with the Mapuche poet and activist Elicura Chihuailaf. Not only this, but two excellent translators worked to help the work of other poets flow into English. Clare Sullivan translated the work of Enriqueta Lunez of Chiapas and Hubert Matiúwàa of Guerrero, who write in Tzotzil and Méphàà respectively. For her part, Wendy Burk translated the Mapuche poet Graciela Huinao, whose original language is Mapudungun. LALT’s Managing Editor Arthur Dixon also contributes to the dossier, translating poems by Mapuche poet Leonel Lienlaf. We have included each of these poet’s work in their indigenous language, offering a trilingual version accessible to Spanish- and English-speaking readers. We hope that this space will be permanent in LALT, and that in the near future we will be able to gather other voices of other indigenous peoples who inhabit the territory we now call Latin America.
Another important dossier in this issue is dedicated to the outstanding Mexican writer Cristina Rivera Garza. Sarah Booker and Aviva Kana have transferred four magnificent stories by the author of Había mucha niebla o humo o no sé qué into English. Another interesting element of this issue is the essay by the two translators reflecting on their translation process. LALT is, among other things, a bilingual journal, and our translators, through their tireless work, open the doors through which we can read each other across the Río Grande.
Another author of the issue – almost a signature feature of LALT, I dare say – is the Cuban writer Yoss. Here we present a set of his early stories, along with videos of the author himself reading excerpts from his work in Havana: an audiovisual collection prepared especially for this issue of LALT. Two authors of the Bogotá 39, Brenda Lozano and Jesús Miguel Soto, also occupy an important space. They are the first from the list to appear in LALT, but they won’t be the last. Also in this issue, we open a space for science fiction, this time under the guidance of the Chilean writer and director of the press Puerto de Escape, Marcelo Novoa, who offers a mind-bending historical display of the richness of Spanish-language sci-fi in a tightly-packed synthesis. It is difficult to summarize this new issue of LALT. I could add to this succinct synthesis a long list of poems, stories, and interviews of contemporary Latin American writers.
And so LALT moves forward, promoting literature, and not only in Spanish. We are very happy to open a space for literatures written in the indigenous languages of Latin America. We know that each time a language dies, a sensibility and a way of seeing the world die along with it. We hope this digital space called Latin American Literature Today can be, at least, a modest archive of these voices from our past, which are not only a part of our common history, but also a part of our memory and our present-day culture. Sometimes we must look to the sky and listen to the song of the rivers to understand the true form of our faces.
I began this note writing about Venezuela. I don’t know what will happen next, now that Maduro’s self-coup has finally consumed itself. All I can say for now is that Venezuela is not alone. We let loose our third issue more despairing and dispirited than ever, but still trusting in the knowledge that all nightmares must eventually come to an end, and that all oppressors must someday get their comeuppance.
Translated by Arthur Dixon