Populisms revive censorship against writers

Three cases in less than a month: the persecution and arrest warrant issued by the prosecutor’s office of the Daniel Ortega regime against the Cervantes prize Sergio Ramírez; the veto of the government of Iván Duque to a group of writers whom it removed from official representation at the Madrid Book Fair, as well as the purge of the Ministry of Culture of Pedro Castillo, which dismissed the presence of at least nine authors in the Peruvian delegation in the
Guadalajara Book Fair
. The facts speak for themselves.

The desire for control over independent discourses reappears under the wing of the new populisms, but also in the territory of the canonical satrapies that still remain in force.

foot, including Cuba. The phenomenon of censorship does not have a unique form, but it does have an authoritarian constant typical of openly dictatorial regimes such as that of Daniel Ortega, who undertook it against Sergio Ramirez after the publication of ‘Tongolele did not know how to dance’, a book about Nicaragua and the end of the dream of the revolution, whose copies were collected and seized by the government.

“It is a novel that reveals the abuses and human rights violations that occurred in the streets of Managua and other cities in the country in 2018.” said Ramírez, who now faces forced exile after being accused of having committed eight crimes, including conspiracy.

Censorship 2.0

The harassment of political power against intellectuals and creators who disagree with or depart from the official script is not a new phenomenon. Shostakovich lived an ordeal after Stalin banned ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district’, considering that the Russian woman was not represented in that opera in his opinion ‘vulgar and depraved’, Toscanini experienced firsthand the persecution of Mussolini’s fascism when he refused to play the ‘Giovinezza’ at the Teatro alla Scala and episodes such as the imprisonment of Heberto Padilla or the persecution of Reinaldo Arenas remain fresh in his memory.

Almost a century after the European fascism of the 1930s and after the military dictatorships that devastated Latin America in the second half of the 20th century, there is a rise in the authoritarian spirit, which acquires sophisticated and contemporary versions thanks to the amplifying mechanism offered by the new technologies. To the old passion of power to silence social networks are added as a battlefield, a place where those who dissent or try to introduce a nuance in the current brawl are laminated and pulverized. The stoning dynamics that characterize platforms like Twitter invigorates the dogmatism of those who, in the name of a group, a language or an identity, seek to impose a seamless truth.

The Duque case

“Daniel Ortega’s persecution of Sergio Ramírez is bordering on Stalinism,” says writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez, who has no doubt about a resurgence of censorship punctuated by new demagoguery. «Part of the primer of the new populisms is to identify the intellectual world as an elite that must be fought, because it is not connected with the people. It is clear that the role of writers is especially uncomfortable for authoritarian spirits, because they do not control them.

Vásquez, one of the most important contemporary writers in Colombia, declined to participate in the Madrid Book Fair after the government of Iván Duque vetoed, among others, authors such as Héctor Abad Faciolince or William Ospina. The decision, which the Duque government justified as a mechanism to design a “neutral” delegation, had more segregation and misfortune than neutrality.

The phenomenon of censorship is modulated according to the nature of the power that seeks to exercise control, and it is precisely for this reason that both the repertoire and the intensity and scope of its arbitrariness vary. The accused owes his punishment to the independence and implicit opposition in his trials and public positions, as the Colombian writer Santiago Gamboa believes on the occasion of the recent controversy at the Madrid Book Fair. “In Colombia there is harassment against writers, not because of literary work or books, but because of critical opinions against the government expressed by certain authors,” says Gamboa, who also identifies a regional escalation of the phenomenon.

Lists in Peru

The current Peruvian president, Pedro Castillo, not only came to power in confusing and eventful elections, but has also inaugurated his term in the midst of controversies that plague his cabinet, to the point of inaugurating a government crisis when he has neither fulfilled nor even the hundred days. Castillo, who has become the most unpopular Peruvian president at the beginning of his term in the last 20 years, has launched an offensive against those who criticize him, especially in the field of journalism and culture.

To mark territory, Castillo has chosen one of the most important literary events, the Guadalajara Book Fair, of which Peru is the guest country. The list with the 60 names of the chosen writers was made public before the change of government, but that did not prevent a new one from being drawn up. As soon as he took office, Ciro Gálvez, Castillo’s Minister of Culture, announced that he would review the official delegation to show greater cultural diversity in the country.

The new selection by Castillo raised the number to 69 participants and eliminated seven authors, among them, the narrators Renato Cisneros, Cronwell Jara and Jorge Eslava, as well as the writers Katya Adaui, Karina Pacheco and Gabriela Wiener, who claimed to have been vetoed for their feminist positions. So far, about 30 participants have resigned due to the discretion and sectarianism of the resulting delegation.

López Obrador against all

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made every effort to rewrite the history of the conquest and demand reparation from Spain, even with the collaboration of the Pope. However, its offensive in the historical and cultural sphere has directed its objectives directly against the academic cloisters. Just ten days ago, the Mexican prosecutor’s office indicted 31 scientists from the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt), whom it accused of embezzling 244 million pesos during the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto. The measure has set off alarms in different institutions. UNAM has raised its voice to point out the seriousness of what happened and writers such as Alberto Ruy Sánchez have harshly criticized the “Stalinist” and authoritarian nature of López Obrador’s accusation.

Attempts to control and intimidate are compounded by a polarization amplified by new technologies, as the Mexican writer Ana García Bergua believes, who identifies radicalization as both a regional and global phenomenon: “The invisibility of moderation has examples such as that of Sergio Ramírez, who is an example of the evident and reprehensible censorship from power, but to that is added the presence in the networks of a kind of blind crowd that does not think, does not read, but rather reacts. This massive reaction pays the insult before the dialogue.

Does the South also censure?

The brawl and tension spread like an oil slick, even more amid the pandemic and the reduction of freedoms put in place to control it. One of the countries that has also had to overcome episodes of this type is Chile, recently shaken by street protests and which is now on the verge of a constituent. That political process punctuated by social unrest, and the undercurrent of a revision of Chilean democracy, has led to marginalization according to the ideas that are defended, as the writer Carlos Franz explains to ‘ABC’.

“As the political tension is amplified, the censorship has unraveled. In the name of very generous and supportive causes, there are groups that demand and try not only to impose forms of language, but also ask for punishment for those who do not abide by them. Today Chile is also an example of intolerance in the name of tolerance ”, explains the author of ‘Santiago cero’ and ‘El lugar Donde esta el Paraíso’.

The Argentine writer Selva Almada has a very different vision of the position of the writer to express opinions and dissent according to certain topics or public debates. “I do not have the feeling that freedom is threatened,” he points out. «In Argentina we write and nobody tells us anything. I know the case of Sergio Ramírez, and without a doubt it raises concern, but I personally do not feel pressure from the State or society to touch on certain issues, nor the specter of authoritarianism or the policy of cancellation. I don’t live it like that in my country.


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