Mario Vargas Llosa, et. al. copped out, refusing to attend a debate this morning on President Chávez's weekly television show, Aló Presidente.
I posted the initial story a few days ago and immediately started looking for more details, hoping to write a longer analysis after the event. Chávez had initially proposed to host a debate between "intellectuals who support capitalism, and intellectuals who support socialism," given the fact that two high-profile conferences (representing each tendancy) were taking place that week in Caracas.
Mario Vargas Llosa, world renowned author of the 'boom' generation and outspoken champion of neoliberalism and the Peruvian aristocracy, was quickly identified as the most prominent representative of the right's team.
However, immediately after accepting the invite, Vargas Llosa started adding on conditions, eventually demanding that he and Chávez debate personally rather than the panel-style discussion the Venezuelan president had initially proposed to moderate. In the end, the Peruvian and his cohort simply refused to attend.
This is a shame, but rather indicative of the Venezuelan right's inability to actually battle Chávez on issues and ideas. The reason the opposition, as I have argued numerous times in this blog, have failed to make inroads against the consolidation of Bolivarian hegemony has been, quite simply, that they have absolutely no vision for where to take Venezuela, and no legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of the Venezuelan population.
The debate that wasn't also illuminates another misrepresentation of the Venezuelan right. That is, far from the stale slogans they have cut-and-pasted from their National Endowment for Democracy™ coloring books onto webpages and picket signs, Chávez's willingness to host such a debate seriously undermines opposition claims that 'freedom of expression' is being curtailed in Venezuela.
This has happened before. The scenario goes:
1. the opposition cries 'censorship,' 'there is no free speech in Venezuela';
2. the government promises them (and in some cases, has given them) the ability to state their case ON NATIONAL TELEVISION AND RADIO in cadena nacional, meaning by law every broadcaster must put them on the air, live;
3. the government, however, adds the condition that rather than an infomercial, this will be a debate. That is to say, the opposition will get to say their piece, but they have to defend their position;
4. the opposition runs away;
5. Simon Romero at the New York Times reports the following day that Chávez is opening up a gulag somewhere in the Llanos where kittens are ground up into nuclear fissile material that he intends to use in a sneak attack on Israel.