This is the first of two posts by Gustavo Faverón Patriau that first appeared on his blog Puente aéreo. Peruvian novelist, critic and Assistant Professor of Romance Languages at Bowdoin College, Patriau has analyzed the discourse of censorship in recent Bolivian legislation. How can we understand the decree that gives the Federal Government the power to prohibit the reproduction of any text that it deems racist or discriminatory in any way?
It has appeared to me that this serious and precarious step toward the moderation of the written history of yet another country has not much entered the public discourse of the anglosphere, which in mind is a mistake. I’d like to thank the author for allowing me to translate this article, and for those curious hablantes nativos, I encourage you to read the article on Puente aéreo.
Presiding over the Past
A couple of weeks ago, President Evo Morales ratified the so-called Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination in Bolivia.
Shortly thereafter, the Minister of Education, Roberto Aguilar, suggested that certain works that make up part of the “cultural patrimony” of Bolivia should be read in school only under special “guidance.”
Finally, just a few days ago, the Vice-Minister of Decolonization of Bolivia, Félix Cárdenas, observed that books like the canonical novels Raza de bronce, by Alcides Arguedas, and La niña de sus ojos, by Antonio Díaz Villamil, would no longer form part of the Bolivian secondary school curriculum on account of their being racist.
I’ve read this news in the web page of the newspaper La Prensa. Curiously, the comentarios on the article are redacted because the newspaper is afraid that publishing them could cost them their license to operate: the same law ratified by Morales contains, in Article 16, the following decree:
“Article 16. (Mass media). Any media outlet that authorizes and publishes racist and discriminatory ideas shall be susceptible to economic sanctions and the suspension of its license to operate, subject to regulation.
Just quickly reading that paragraph gives you an idea of the paradox in this law: the defense of one right is carried out at the expense of another: the newspaper cannot publish any user comments because, if it were found guilty of racism, it would be subject to the worst sanction of all, the loss of its license. The real and immediate consequence is the nullification of any chance to debate.
If the Bolivian government, for now through the Vice-Minister, considers that Raza de bronce is a racist text, then the newspaper La Prensa, or any other mass media outlet, would also be subject to sanction if it publishes the very text of the novel on its pages.
The logic behind this is not to read these texts with a “special guidance”: the logic is to redact them from reality, to make them disappear, even though the Minister of Education has referred to them as part of Bolivia’s “cultural patrimony.”
Let’s suppose that something like this were to happen in Peru. What works from our tradition might be considered racist? At a first glance, it wouldn’t be hard to find some or tons of racism, or at least to allege that some or tons of it exists in the works of Ricardo Palma, José Riva Agüero, Ventura García Calderón, Enrique López Albújar or Clemente Palma, among so many others. Erase them from memory and tradition? Make them disappear? Censor them? Prohibit or limit them because they express a segregationist or marginalized mentality or some form of scorn towards the indigenous majority?
Not long ago, in the most inarticulate article of those published on Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Prize, writer Dante Castro accused him of being racist, as many others have done in the past, only for the sake of scandal, the evidence for which we prefer to see instead of invent. To my knowledge, Castro has never proposed that reading Vargas Llosa should be off limits. This much is clear. But the apparent mentality of the new Bolivian legislation does just this… Can anyone imagine what would become of teaching Peruvian literature if the work of Vargas Llosa and the other authors I mentioned was outlawed?
In fact, the other ridiculous post-Nobel statement came from none other than Evo Morales, who with his customary intolerance repeated his habitual tired lecture against Vargas Llosa. Will Vargas Llosa be prohibited in Bolivia? Will everyone who can be accused of racism, rightly or wrongly, be prohibited? Who is the legislator, the commissioner, the universal critic, the arbiter who will decide which texts can be published and which cannot?
We can speculate all we want, but to cut out Díaz Villamil or Alcides Arguedas from the Bolivian secondary school curriculum (and we must note that the Vice-minister would also remove this from higher education) is to rewrite not the interpretation, but the real facts of Bolivian history, to repress its past and to distort it beyond all recognition.
It is not to restructure the cannon or reformulate the perception of society; it is simply to perform a crass aesthetic surgery that removes not the uncomfortable birthmark that is was supposed to, but the organ that lies beneath it: Bolivia has indeed been formed by the ideas of Arguedas; whether we like it or not, the terrible mark of his social Darwinism is real, and the only way to counter it is to study it.
My general impression is that the Bolivian government’s intention is to derail a positive tendency and turn it into a form of repression: racism should be combated but not by imposing censorship and authoritarianism or by promoting the disappearance of the past and ignorance to history.
When it comes down to it, if today someone can read Wuata-Wuara or Raza de bronce and believe that the scorn towards and demonization of the indigenous is justifiable, the greater problem is no longer in those novels, but in the mentality of those who allow themselves to be convinced of this. These are the people who must be educated, and this must be done not by hiding from them ideas that one may judge devious, but by debating them and demanding proof.
Translated by Joseph Mulligan.
You can read the original article in Spanish here.