Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Summary: Books, Boats & Wine

Today’s entry deals with a variety of topics including a controversy over the Buenos Aires book fair, the powerhouse Chilean wine industry, and the latest developments in the Navimag ferry saga.

Banning the Nobelist?
Buenos Aires’s annual Feria del Libro, due to take place next month, is the Spanish-speaking world’s largest book fair, and a wonderland for lovers of literature (the photo below is from the 2007 event). It’s not just for Spanish speakers - there are publisher representatives and literary figures from around the world. Invariably, there’s a high-profile keynote speaker from the literary world and, this year, it will be Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Unless, that is, Aníbal Fernández would have his way. Argentine President Cristina Fernández’s cabinet chief considers Vargas Llosa to be anti-Argentine and told the Cámara Argentina del Libro that he would not be the appropriate person to open the fair. According to Buenos Aires Herald columnist James Neilson, Aníbal Fernández (no relation to the president) has described Vargas Llosa as “a true example of the most reactionary rightwinger that has ever been seen.”

What has Vargas Llosa done to deserve such condemnation? According to the acerbic Neilson, the novelist committed the unpardonable sin of moving from a youthful leftist idealism (when he enthusiastically supported Fidel Castro) to a more conservative adulthood. In 1990, he even campaigned for the Peruvian presidency as a free-market “neoliberal,” a dirty word among Argentina’s Peronists (and some other sectors as well). Of course, compared to his victorious opponent Alberto Fujimori (currently imprisoned for human rights violations and corruption), Vargas Llosa looks pretty good today.

As Neilson points out, the novelist has consistently spoken out against dictatorship, censorship and xenophobia, but many of Argentina’s populists see him as an apologist for organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, which they blame for Argentina’s failure to achieve its potential. Foreign investment, presumably leading to economic exploitation, is their bogeyman.

This is not the first time Vargas Llosa has run into problems with the Argentines, but the most notorious previous instance took place under the sadistic military dictatorship of 1976-83, which banned his comic novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for supposedly being anti-Argentine. According to the novelist, quoted in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, "I have an absolutely marvelous decree signed by General Harguindeguy, who was then interior minister, explaining how I had offended the Argentine people..."

This time, at least, President Fernández has had the good sense to tell her cabinet chief to shut up and leave the Feria del Libro to the literati.

Chilean Economic Imperialism?
While on the subject on international foreign investment and acquisitions, it’s worth noting that Chile’s wine giant Concha y Toro has expanded its overseas operations by purchasing California’s Fetzer Vineyards, one of the United States’ ten largest producers. Does this mean Chilean domination of the international wine market or, perhaps, control over the US economy?

Navimag Update
According to Navimag product manager Adrien Champagnat, the damaged ferry Evangelistas is presently undergoing drydock repairs at Talcahuano, the port of Concepción. “At the moment,” he writes, “the return of the Evangelistas is predicted to be March 25, but it could be a little later.” That means that, for the rest of the high season, the smaller Puerto Edén will continue to operate on the route.

Meanwhile, he adds, the Navimag Cruceros experiment of shifting the Mare Australis cruise ship (pictured above) from the Fuegian Fjords to the Castro to Laguna San Rafael route - directly competing with the established Skorpios company - has been “a total success, but I don’t know yet whether we’ll have the Mare next season. I think so…but we’ll figure that out in March.”


Daniel Buck said...

Bravo Presidente Fernandez.


Kiel Fergen said...

Of South American (Chilean) writers who have spoken against the dictatorship, Pablo Neruda should also be mentioned. Great writer and poet. Without talking too much about him you should also take a trip to San Antonio to visit his house there. Shaped and decorated like a boat.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Kiel, I'm a little confused by your comments here. Neruda indeed opposed dictatorships, but he died shortly after Pinochet's coup, and three years before the one in Argentina. Also, his houses on the Chilean coast are in Valparaíso and Isla Negra, not in San Antonio.

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