A Fish in the Water, by Mario Vargas Llosa
Throughout most of Spanish America, from Argentina to Mexico, the people of one country after another proudly and fatalistically lay claim to having the basest politicians, the most egotistical entrepreneurs, and, sooner or later, the harshest military and guerrilleros. This pessimistic conceit shapes civic attitudes and even civic conduct. The more Latin Americans believe that their particular sociopolitical system is beyond redemption, the more the gente decente—the decent people—come to equate civility with apathy. They may eschew state handouts and bribes, and they may try not to harm others in the course of their business affairs, but they also never take personal risks for something greater than self or family.
This was Peru’s condition in the late 1980′s, when the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa—internationally famous and at the peak of his creative powers—assumed the leadership of the Freedom Movement, a mass of “decent people” exhausted by the statist demagoguery that had passed for public policy under the presidency of the socialist Alan Garcia. Against the protestations of his wife, Patricia, an implacable voice for common sense (and later for conscience), Vargas Llosa took a risk for community. He became a presidential candidate.
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