Elogio a la libertad: Entrevista a Guillermo Sucre / Daniel Fermín

In Praise of Liberty: An Interview with Guillermo Sucre

“Literature has always been a revelation of great human or social problems.” “The intellectual should stand against all dictatorships. And what we have is a form of dictatorship,” assures the writer Guillermo Sucre.

[Photo: N. Rocco]

Guillermo Sucre (Tumeremo, 1933) knows about dictatorships: he was detained twice by the regime of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. On 23 January 1958, when the caudillo fell, the Venezuelan writer was in a Ciudad Bolívar prison alongside the journalists José “Chepino” Gerbasi and Ramón J. Velásquez. Today, at 80, the author fights for democracy with the word, with books such as La libertad, Sancho: De Montaigne a nuestros días, which was recently published by Fundación Valle de San Francisco and Cooperativa Editorial Lugar Común.

The essayist’s new work is a compilation of essays by writers who suffered political or religious conflicts in specific periods. The Frenchman Étienne de La Boétie, who wrote “Discourse on Voluntary Servitude” (“It is not necessary to pulverize the colossus but rather to stop sustaining it and you will see it fall from its own weight and break into pieces...”); the Dutchman Baruch Spinoza who said, in his Theologico-Political Treatise, that the “the most violent State will be the one in which each person is denied the freedom to saying and teaching what he thinks...”; the Venezuelan Mariano Picón Salas, who during the Pérez Jiménez era analyzed the word “revolution” in a text; or the Englishman Isaiah Berlin, who in “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West” warned: “that subjection to a single ideology, no matter how reasonable and imaginative, robs men of freedom and vitality.” All were selected with a commentary by Sucre himself, who wrote the prologue.

The volume of essays, that gathers texts from eight writers, was born from the courses Sucre gave for the Certificate in Liberal Studies at the Fundación Valle de San Francisco. The professor would share the work of the authors who are in the book with his students. “I began to realize there was an intelligent democratic consciousness in those writers Not a frivolous democracy but a profound and creative one (...) It’s good for young people to connect with a variety of thoughts, although it’s also clear that I’m not going to include a tribute to a dictatorship or a caudillo,” said the winner of the 1976 National Prize for Literature.

Guillermo Sucre believes that Venezuela today is close to being a totalitarian regime. Upon reading this book one inevitably finds similarities with the country’s current situation. One asks if history repeats itself or if human beings never change. And La libertad, Sancho is a way of marking a stance. “It’s like a silent but well-organized protest by means of authors with an important philosophical value (...) We don’t have complete freedom here, it’s a partial freedom (...) Picón Salas said that one must always maintain a certain amount of skepticism and hope.”

It was Michel de Montaigne who wrote that regarding the liberal arts, one must begin with the art that makes us free. Fiction, according to Sucre, can bring us closer to that freedom. “Literature has always been a revelation of great human or social problems. With the rise of revolutions, there emerges a committed literature that transforms revolution into an absolute truth that can’t be criticized. And literature is the exact opposite: a search for diverse points of view. Miguel de Cervantes, for example, writes in praise of liberty. He says we don’t owe it to anyone but that instead it’s a product of ourselves. Man by nature is a free being.”

The Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, another one Sucre cites, said that utopian thought becomes malignant when it’s in the service of tyranny. The same happens with writing as an instrument of power. “I think it loses its richness. The writer diminishes his work because it lacks that type of neutrality, of impersonality, that an author must have in order to see reality in all its aspects,” added Sucre, who warned that one must be careful not to go to extremes (“One can become a fanatic. All extremisms, on the right or on the left, lead to dictatorship...”).

The Role of the Writer

La libertad, Sancho includes phrases that should be cited by more than one politician or thinker today. Another example to highlight: Albert Camus, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, said that the writer cannot be at the service of those who make history but rather of those who suffer it, that the task of his generation, in postwar Europe, was not to remake the world but to prevent it from coming undone. The task of the intellectual today continues to be the same as then: to resist or preserve. “Whoever tries to change the world arrives at failure. (...) Without freedom there is no morality. The intellectual should stand against all dictatorships. And what we have is a form of dictatorship. The last elections revealed that this is a very divided country. There’s no transparency. An intellectual has to stand against forceful regimes in which a military influence is very evident,” said Guillermo Sucre, who before the elections of 7 October 2012 wrote an article entitled “Democratura. Chávez, el camino de la dictadura” [Democra-tatorship: Chávez, the Road to Dictatorship].

There was a time when the Venezuelan essayist had drifted away from political activity. With the arrival of so-called 21st Century Socialism, he once again manifested his position. “Starting in 1998, I confess that I do act with a certain concern for the country’s fate. (...) People should have an interest in politics so that it’s not resolved by only a few. You don’t necessarily have to be an activist, but you should have an awareness of what’s happening. (...) Freedom implies a responsibility. I can’t use it to harm someone else. Freedom is what makes judgment and morality possible and it gives us a fuller sense of life. You have to struggle constantly. Thinking that we attain freedom and it lasts forever is false. Eternal is what totalitarian regimes try to become.”

—And if today you were the same age you had in the days of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, how would you defend freedom?

—I would do the same thing as before. I would have been at the university, at the protest they held recently. But you also have to use your intelligence and skills. You have to have a clear mind, a certain serenity so as to not be clumsy and become hysterical.


Venezuela Today

• Regarding the current Government: “Everything comes down to threats, to fear. This is a militaristic Government and that’s reflected in the country’s budget: it spends more in the Ministry of Defense that in those of Public Health, Education or Agriculture.”

• Regarding freedom of speech: “Censorship or self-censorship exists. The opposition newspapers have to publish the information the Government disseminates, but the newspapers aligned with the Government never publish what the opposition states.”

• Regarding politics before the arrival of Hugo Chávez: “Until 1998 there were discrepancies between all the political parties, but there was a shared truth, which was to be opposed to a dictatorship.”

• Regarding political prisoners: “Freedom implies there will be no unjust prison sentences, and in Venezuela there are unjust prison sentences. Judge Lourdes Afiuni was only recently granted conditional freedom, which is shameful. There should be a type of amnesty for those prisoners.”

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 7 July 2013 }

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