San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Saramago Receives Honorary Doctorate, Blasts CAFTA

PORTUGUESE author José Saramagofired volleys at the United States, theCatholic Church, and the state of democracyin the world today during three days ofpublic appearances in Costa Rica thatended June 25 at the National Theater.Though most of his novels are not necessarilypolitically inclined, the barb-slinging1998 Nobel Prize-winning author wascalled on to opine on issues from free-tradeagreements to free elections. Costa Ricanpublic officials and members of the intelligentsia,from Minister of Culture GuidoSáenz to former Universidad Nacional(UNA) rector Sonia Marta Mora, as well asmembers of the press, swallowed with asmile Saramago’s incendiary, sometimesironic and often vitriolic assessment of theworld’s current state of affairs.He told the press on June 23 that one ofhis concerns is the absence of real counter movementsthat would respond to thestrong wave of political, economic andsocial events in Latin America. Rather, hesaid, he sees a strong submission of society,especially to subjects such as theCentral American Free-Trade Agreementwith the United States (CAFTA).Winding up his CAFTA attacks in hisspeech June 25 at the National Theater,where he accepted an honorary doctoratefrom UNA, he said, “CAFTA is theweapon the United States needed to dominateLatin America… In two or three generations(the region) won’t be able to followits own destiny.”He told the press that Latin Americahas to work on democracy.“Democracy has to be reinvented,” hesaid.Costa Rican journalists largely overlookedhis literary accomplishments,though a few questions were asked abouthis upcoming novel “La Muerte Intermitente”(“Intermittent Death”), aboutwhich he revealed nothing, and hisacclaimed novel about infectious blindness,“Ensayo Sobre la Ceguera” (“Blindness,”now translated in English).Carlos Lépiz, the UNA vice-rector foracademics, read the citation for the honorarydoctorate, and remarked, “His worksnow are the patrimony of all humanity…(He has) deconstructed myths. The worldhas improved, he thinks, but not for everyone…(He is) a profound critic of war.”Sáenz called him “that great man, thatprince of letters.”At the press conference two days before,Saramago commended Venezuelan PresidentHugo Chaves, Brazilian President LuizInácio Lula da Silva and Cuban dictatorFidel Castro as “personifications of undergroundmovements,” and said “writers,philosophers, musicians, artists and the presshave the power to reveal hidden truths.”On religion, he confessed his disbeliefin God, and chastised the Catholic Churchfor its over-concern for the soul and itsdoctrines of bodily punishment, such asfasting and self-flagellation.“The contradiction is that God supposedlymade the body as well as the soul,” he said.

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