Vargas Llosa in Mexico City in November.
Mario Vargas Llosa listens during the presentation of his new book "El Heroe discreto" in Mexico City November 28, 2013. Reuters/Henry Romero

Mario Vargas Llosa, whose 1990 barb characterizing the Mexican political system as a “perfect dictatorship” has remained lodged in the psyche of the country’s political class, thinks that Mexico has put itself in the right direction. In an interview with CNN, the Peruvian novelist and one-time presidential hopeful said he believed the country had made considerable progress in the 23 years which had elapsed since his comments. “Today Mexico is a democracy, and for 70 years it wasn’t,” he said. “It was a country practically governed by a single party, although there were certain appearances of democracy. Today there’s not appearances – it’s a reality.”

The author of novels like “La ciudad y los perros” (“The Time of the Hero”), “La casa verde” (“The Green House”) and “La fiesta de los chivos” (“The Feast of the Goats”) had come to Mexico in 1990 on the invitation of fellow author Octavio Paz, and referred to the ruling Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) in his “perfect dictatorship” comments. That same party is back in power after a 12-year absence. But in the interim, as Vargas Llosa would have it, the country’s political life has begun a process of transformation.

“Mexico is a free society,” he continued, “where there’s free political contests, free elections, a right to criticism exercised by the press which is very visible there. It might be a very imperfect democracy, as are all democracies across the world, but I also think that it’s a country which is headed in the right direction in spite of the problems. I think the same goes for many countries in Latin America – unfortunately not all of them, but it seems to me that for many of them that is happening.”

That optimism is reflected in his new novel, “El héroe discrete” (“The Discreto Hero”), published in Spanish in September. Vargas Llosa calls it “much less pessimistic than my other novels where it describes Peru; in a certain way it’s even optimistic, because it shows a society which has a lot of problems, but also a society in progress.”

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