Literary prize for Mario Vargas Llosa sparks backlash in Dominican Republic

Politicians and pundits in the Caribbean country are unhappy about the Peruvian Nobel laureate’s comments about a law that stripped thousands of citizenship

The decision to grant a literary prize in the Dominican Republic to Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa has prompted protests from politicians and pundits, angered by what they say has been the Peruvian writer’s “disrespect” of the Caribbean country.

A group of Dominican and foreign academics chose Vargas Llosa, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010, as the recipient of the Pedro Henríquez Ureña literary prize in April.

But Gustavo Montalvo, the Dominican minister of the presidency, said in a statement that the prize would be inappropriate because of the author’s comments about a controversial Dominican court ruling on immigration in 2013 that stripped thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic – mostly of Haitian origin – of their citizenship.

Montalvo said that while he did not question Vargas Llosa’s literary merits, it would be inappropriate to give him a prize because of his “aggressive and false comments about laws and their application in the country.”

In a 2013 article published in the Spanish newspaper El País, Vargas Llosa called the ruling by the Dominican constitutional court that stripped many ethnic Haitians of their Dominican nationality a “legal aberration” inspired by Hitler-era legal sentences that denied Jews German citizenship.

Montalvo called Vargas Llosa’s attitude toward the Dominican Republic “disrespectful and offensive”.

At the time that Vargas Llosa’s article was published, many Dominicans staged protests in the country burning copies of the author’s book Feast of the Goat, based on the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who governed the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961.

The publication of the novel in 2000 was not entirely well received in the Dominican Republic because many felt it painted the country in a dim light.

In a letter to the Dominican minister of culture Vargas Llosa said he was grateful for the prize. “The fact that, despite that incident, I am given this prize, speaks well of the democratic, tolerant and open spirit that luckily seems to prevail in the country.”

Dominican author Junot Díaz, whose novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the 2008 Pulitzer, was also heavily criticised for speaking out against the constitutional court’s decision and what he called the persecution of immigrants – mainly Haitians – in the Dominican Republic.

He was called “anti-Dominican” by the Dominican Republic’s consul in New York, who also stripped Díaz of the order of merit award given to him in 2009.


Sibylla Brodzinsky

The GuardianTramp

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