EspañolStanding tall behind the podium before the Italian crowd, famed Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate author Mario Vargas Llosa spoke with confidence and fervor. He was surrounded by ideological friends.
“It is only liberalism which promises the liberty of the individual,” he expressed in smooth Peruvian Spanish. “Faced against corruption, incompetence, and autocratic governments, it is liberalism which guards these principles of human rights we hold so dear.”
The crowd cheered.
Of course, they were sympathetic to his message. Here was one of the most famed Spanish-language writers calling attention to classical-liberal values, emphasizing the immense human progress that free economies and free individuals have realized.
Faced against corruption, incompetence, and autocratic governments, it is liberalism which guards these principles of human rights we hold so dear.
On October 13, Vargas Llosa received the Bruno Leoni Prize at the 10th Anniversary dinner of the Bruno Leoni Institute, a free-market think tank, in Milan, Italy. The audience was made up of approximately 540 influential Italian businesspeople, politicians, high-society intellectuals, and student activists.
The Italian students who invited me, themselves great fans of Vargas Llosa, were quite surprised by the booming presence of a man known more in Italy for his written words than his performed rhetoric. His pronouncements were saturated with optimistic outlooks for the current age.
“There are so many people, institutions like this one fighting for individual liberties,” he said. “These are liberal principles and liberal ideas. Even in a time of so much fanaticism, left and right, religions and terrorism, the world is more free and people are remembering the liberal principles which have brought us such prosperity and freedom.”
He touched on his former sympathies with radical Marxism, carried out to devastating effect in so many countries in the world, including in Latin America.
“Communism was a total oppressor of people,” he said. “And what has taken its place has been a greater liberty, both personal and economic, and liberalism is what we must thank for that. We have to think that humanity has never been more free. We have never had so many individuals living free from oppression and autocratic regimes.”
“Never before has the continent of Latin America lived in a freer time than today. Never before have Latin-American countries been free from the hands of dictators and autocrats. We have one in particular which is the opposite: Venezuela. But for the grand majority of the continent, they are government by democracy and the idea of human rights,” said Vargas Llosa. “Never before have we had so much peace and such a low level of violence.”
In his novels and public life, Vargas Llosa has always been at the forefront of criticizing policies initiated by governments.
He lost a hard-fought battle to win the Peruvian Presidency in 1990 against Alberto Fujimori, seeking to push forward privatization to make Peru a more competitive economy. Fujimori was ousted a decade later for corruption and human-rights abuses.
We need not only personal and individual liberty, but also economic liberty, to empower individuals in the market.
I was able to meet Vargas Llosa briefly and thank him for his captivating stories and speech. He was humble, reserved, and kind.
His remarks on the European Union were particularly fascinating to me, especially as someone uprooted from North America to Europe.
“We have the European Union, one of the great liberal experiments of our time. We have a free continent where liberties are secured and guarded.” The crowd erupted with proud cheers.
“We need not only personal and individual liberty, but also economic liberty, to empower individuals in the market,” he said as he ended his speech. “We’ve never experienced a better time than right now, the moment in which we are living.”