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Books and management (IV): Resilience and management of crisis in Mario Vargas Llosa's 'La fiesta del chivo'.


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Javier de Navascués

Full Professor of Spanish-American Literature. School de Philosophy y Letras. University of Navarra

Mario Vargas Llosa visited the Dominican Republic for the first time in 1975 to make a documentary for French radio and television. There he learned about the many stories that took place during the terrifying government of General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the man who had ruled the country between 1930 and 1961, the year in which an assassination attempt ended his life. Impressed by facts so fascinating that they seemed to be taken from fiction, he set out to write a historical novel essay . After three years of work, he gave birth to "La fiesta del chivo". The plot was inspired by the biography of the dictator from his political beginnings to his assassination and the events that followed immediately afterwards. The details of his violent death, together with the vicissitudes of the protagonists or witnesses, real or fictitious, of what happened in the most famous tyrannicide in Latin America, is the subject of this memorable novel.

"La fiesta del chivo" appeared for the first time in 1990. Despite the prestige of the author at the time, his new novel managed to surprise us with the extraordinary quality of its intrigue and the perfection of its characters. Through a structure of parallel stories, a trademark of the house, Vargas Llosa unraveled an unbridled intrigue that concluded with an apotheosis ending. Everything was in that book: through historically impeccable documentation, a hundred destinies intertwined, marked by unusual suspense and violence. One could also guess the author's passion for politics. Although Vargas Llosa had just failed in his project bid for the presidency of Peru, this book was, in a way, his reflection on the evils of authoritarianism and the need to govern with intelligence and democracy. This was the only way to understand how he could focus on such a sinister individual as Trujillo and the gallery of bizarre characters that accompany him.

But there is one among them that stands out B: Joaquín Balaguer, partner in the real life of Trujillo and, after his death, president of the Dominican Republic on several more occasions. Throughout the narrative lines that "La fiesta del chivo" weaves, Joaquín Balaguer is, at the beginning, a blurred and almost ridiculous figure. In the midst of a court divided between the psychopaths and the enchufados, he belongs to the second class. He is the weakest, the most inoffensive of all. They call him "the puppet president", because he acts as Trujillo's straw man. Who can fear anything from this chaste bachelor, fond of poetry, methodical and orderly in his habits? That is why, when chaos breaks out after the assassination attempt, no one notices the silent man who remains in a corner while the assassins and relatives roar for revenge. However, that is Balaguer's shining moment. With an incredible skill , he sidesteps the suspicions that hover over him during the witch-hunt and, little by little, asserts his authority to confront the bellowing of the mindless military and the greed of the family members. Vargas Llosa, with a masterful hand, begins to embroider the protagonist of a seemingly secondary character, who reveals himself as a true statesman.

Many things have been said about "La fiesta del chivo". But perhaps Vargas Llosa's greatest success in one of his most complete novels, if not the best, is the creation of Balaguer, a mysterious, hermetic individual, whom everyone despises for his quiet character, but ends up respecting for his intelligence to manipulate everyone without anyone laying a hand on him. His intentions are noble, or at least that is what the reader wants to believe. He is such a reserved individual that even the readers of the novel wonder what really moves him. But there is no doubt about his courage or his serenity in the most difficult situations.

Nor does Balaguer forget the pragmatism imposed by circumstances: he has to ignore the atrocities committed behind his back by Trujillo's henchmen while he talks to one and all to destroy the dictatorial regime from within. Only in the end, when he manages to peacefully eliminate all his rivals, will he be able to decorate the survivors of the repression. With prudence (because he is aware of his initial weakness), Balaguer dismantles the repressive apparatus created by Trujillo, recomposes relations with the Catholic Church, approaches the United States and ends up winning over public opinion. His idea, as he repeats over and over again when he is owner of the status, is to lead the country to democracy.

Although the historical reality was somewhat more complex, the novel leaves President Balaguer with a "happy" ending, illuminated by the flashes of the international press. Here, then, is the lesson that concludes the dangerous evolution of a civilized politician in a hostile environment. Only thanks to firmness combined with prudence, and (of course) a pinch of good luck, this gray hero, Joaquín Balaguer, manages to defeat his enemies.