By Bolivian author Juan Claudio Lechín, La Paz, Bolivia
(translated from the Spanish by Katy)
Two years ago, Venezuela agreed to be the guest of honour at the 2006 La Paz book fair. Upon their arrival, I watched as they set up their stand, and approached them to inquire about a great friend who was supposed to arrive. One of the people in charge, a Ms. Claudia Pérez, told me he would arrive on the 16th. I asked for, and received, the prices of several books. They were standard market prices.
I was beginning to enjoy listening to the delectable sounds of the Venezuelan accent, when some political wire crossed somewhere and, all of the sudden, the guests left the fair with no explanation. A trio from the “Cenal” gave a press conference like the ones we gave at “la Central” in the 70s. The hysterical mob was captained by Ramón Medero (president of Cenal) arguing, with his index engaged in passionate agitation, that this Bolivian fair (one that Venezuela has attended for the last 10 years) represented the “commercialisation of the book.” Imagine that! The representatives of a State that by way of “commercialising” oil receives 150 million dollars a day, throwing in the face of the poorest country in the Americas how they “commercialise” books. What a paradox. All of Bolivia’s millionaires added together do not reach a quarter of Cisneros’s fortune. But the moral scolding to their Bolivian fiefs did not end there.
The bully accused the fair of being “for the bourgeoisie” and that they were with the people, thus taking his equipment to a parallel, insignificant fair that they had previously promoted. Moments later, one of his subordinates, a diplomat by the name of Mr. Bracho, said that, aside from all this, they had not been given enough space to sell the 45,000 books they had brought with them. How embarrassing, I could not believe such an outrage.
The third standard-bearer of “bolivarian” double standards is a man with the face of an anaesthesiologist, official author of this theatrical regime. I met him once at the Cuiabá fair in Brazil. His mysteriousness and bird-like glare made me fear him like you would fear in inquisitor, and in spite of my personal history with Venezuela, I only dared cross a few polite words with him. His name is Luis Britto García, and I never thought one year later he would come to Bolivia to partake in this carnival of Pol-Pot-ian insult, something he did not do in Brazil where, like everywhere else, books are commercialised.
He assured the crowd that “books must be instruments of liberation.” Age has not taught this cave-dwelling man that books are sometimes vehicles of liberation, and sometimes vehicles of oppression (like the one inflicted upon us), fantasy, entertainment, education, etc., but they always remain that: just a vehicle. Books are not an ideological tool but rather a communicational one.
I believe the real goal is to drive Bolivian publisher and importers bankrupt, so that the market can be handed over to subsidized Cuban publishing houses that pay their workers pennies like the cheapest of all oppressing imperialists, and that edit only what the regime wants.
The Cenal did not officially announce their withdrawal to their hosts, the Bolivian Book Chamber, whose members decided to take the high road and announce to the press that, in spite of everything, “Venezuela continues to be our guest of honour.” If rudeness and contempt have reached the minor details, I must assume that Venezuela has already penetrated all that is important in my country: State intelligence, armed forces, energy resources, electoral council, constitutional assembly and the like.
I have been invited to the Caracas Book Fair this November. I wish to say to Venezuelan public opinion that I will not be in attendance. I will not be a participant in any sort of tribute to these bullies.
I regret to have to let the Venezuelan people know of the rudeness of their government toward a country whose only fault has been to receive Chávez with open arms, to hug him, let him speak and bask in his narcissism for hours on end. But he was a Trojan horse with an occupying project. No. It’s not you, the extroverted, friendly, kind, talkative, generous Venezuelan people who authored this embarrassment: it is him and them, the usual lot, those that have been overcome by their vanity, those that have been made imbeciles by absolute power. We Bolivians are a bucolic people, we put up.
But the day comes in which we blindly tear through the oppressors and, like in Jesús de Machaca, we end up eating their bodies. Please excuse my tone, but as the poet Vallejo says: “I want to write but the only thing that flows is foam.”