Tuesday, June 28

The “neutrality” of the Colombian government sparks a controversy at the Madrid Book Fair | Culture

A worker during the assembly of the booths for the Madrid Book Fair, on September 1.
A worker during the assembly of the booths for the Madrid Book Fair, on September 1.Juan Carlos Hidalgo / EFE

Colombia’s participation in the Madrid Book Fair starts with controversy. The guest writer list had drawn some criticism, nothing unusual in any name selection. However, it has been the words of the Colombian ambassador to Spain that have turned the meeting into a political issue of the first order. Luis Guillermo Plata assured that “neutral” authors had been sought, which implied that the critics of President Iván Duque, with the popularity on the ground after the protests that spread throughout the country and were repressed by the police , they had not been taken into account. The ambassador managed to anger in a single sentence those who had not been chosen, but even more those who already had a ticket and a hotel in the capital of Spain.

The first to react to the ambassador’s words were two of those selected, the writers Melba Escobar and Margarita García Robayo. Escobar presented his irrevocable resignation to participate in the event on Monday through a letter sent to the Foreign Ministry and has written a platform in EL PAÍS where he explains his reasons. “The ambassador’s statements suggest that the selection of authors who will attend the fair was defined based on political affinities to the Government, or at least that those who have explicitly been its critics were rejected. It is very difficult not to read it as a form of censorship, ”Escobar writes.

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García Robayo, a Colombian author who lives in Argentina, has made her participation subject to a discussion at a table about neutrality in literature at the fair. In it, you want some of these writers to participate, who have not been invited at first. “I join my colleagues who see in this gesture a sign of exclusion and lack of respect for the writers that we were summoned to imply that we do not have political thought, and that our works are neutral, that is to say, innocuous. It is a sign of profound ignorance of our work ”, explains the writer by phone.

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The controversy has been simmering, until the Colombian participation has exploded and muddied. One of the first to question the Government’s selection method was Daniel Samper Pizano, journalist and writer, on the portal losdanieles.com. “Curiously, all the notorious absentees have written against the Government or have criticized it in the press or in statements,” explains Samper Pizano on WhatsApp. “And as for what the list was drawn up taking into account its quality, it is not for a government to proclaim itself a literary judge. I do not doubt the quality of the writers that will come, but the sales figures and the national criticism of those rejected destroy the literary argument and the political one remains standing: sanctioning the ‘non-neutrals’, something that offends, first of all. everything, to the guests ”. He misses names like Piedad Bonnet, Laura Restrepo, Fernando Vallejo, Héctor Abad or Santiago Gamboa.

The digital cultural magazine WMagazine, for his part, assured in an article that the Government has awarded “political sectarianism”. Among the authors who refused to attend on their own accord are Evelio Rosero, Tomás González or Juan Gabriel Vázquez, three highly prestigious authors. Pilar Quintana, whose work The dog It has been translated into 14 languages ​​and this year it won the Alfaguara Novel Prize, it has not even been selected. “If they had invited me, I would have said no, as I did a few months ago when they invited me to other events. I am not part of the official delegation, ”Quintana wrote on Twitter.

Duque’s popularity plummeted this year due to his insistence on passing a tax hike during the pandemic shortly after the lockdown ended. The demonstrations against it spread throughout the country. The police response was brutal to appease them in cities that became out of control of the authorities.

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The list for the fair could generate discomfort among those who had not been chosen and, of course, some criticism from certain sectors, but its composition itself could be defended from one side or the other, even using the names of those who had rejected to go. More, if one takes into account that the most relevant authors do not always attend the fairs. In the final list appear relevant names of Colombian letters such as the poet Darío Jaramillo Agudelo, Jorge Franco or Escobar herself, one of the authors most translated abroad. The spark that lit the prairie was the concept of neutrality, which implied that those elected had not been critical of the government during the crisis.

It was a way to target those authors. The matter bothers Juan Esteban Constaín, a journalist and writer who is among those chosen. Constaín doubts at the moment whether to go to Madrid. “I believe that there are clamorous and unacceptable absences on the list and if they are for political and ideological reasons it seems to me a shame and a sadness because the fair was a magnificent opportunity to exalt the variety, richness and vitality of Colombian literature and culture. ”. The author of Alvaro, A worthwhile biography of a conservative politician, he is convinced that Plata’s statements have been disrespectful and unfortunate, especially with those who accepted the invitation “in good faith.” “It is implicit that it has to do with our supposed neutrality, which is also a value that does not exist in literature, all literature is the very negation of neutrality.”

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The ambassador has apologized through a statement. “I was wrong. Unfortunately the way I used my words distorted the meaning of what I wanted to express. You, as professionals of the word, well know that sometimes we choose them hastily and that can lead to misunderstandings ”, he writes. The controversy, however, has already started to roll. The doors of the Book Fair will open in three days with the rarefied atmosphere.

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