September 2011

Juan Gabriel Vásquez


microinterviewed by Jesse Tangen-Mills

This issue features a microinterview with Juan Gabriel Vásquez, conducted by Jesse Tangen-Mills. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the author of The Informers and The Secret History of Costaguana. This year he was awarded the Alfaguara Prize for his novel The Sound of Things Falling, which recalls the violent ascent of the drug trade in Colombia at the end of the twentieth century. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and children.

THE BELIEVER: Should governments be working to crack down on drug production? Can there be a local solution to an international problem?

JUAN GABRIEL VÁSQUEZ: I wouldn’t want to oversimplify the issue, but my high-school economics teacher was very clear about the principles of supply and demand. Let’s agree on something: nothing has ever prevented human beings from consuming drugs. They will do whatever it takes to get drugs if they want to take drugs (or can’t prevent themselves from taking drugs). So cracking down on production doesn’t do much more than reduce the supply; the demand, however, remains the same. Result? Higher prices, and therefore higher income for the mafias and more power in their hands. This has been confirmed empirically over the last decades.

BLVR: As a Colombian, I’m sure you’ve felt the stigmatism of being from a country renowned for its drug violence. What has it been like traveling and living abroad as a Colombian?

JGV: It has always been problematic, to say the least, and often humiliating. But everything got worse after 9/11. I remember my feeling of deep disappointment when I traveled to New York in April 2002, after having been to the U.S. once a year since I was seven, and was sent to what I have since called The Room. You know (no, you don’t): the immigration officer looking at his mysterious dark screen where he’s getting secret information about you; a security guard soon coming to escort you to a place where you wait for forty-five minutes, sitting beside a young Arab who is handcuffed to the chair; a door opens, and you catch a glimpse of plastic gloves. Later I asked why I was treated this way, and they explained to me that there’s another Juan Gabriel Vásquez somewhere, only he’s a Mexican drug dealer. It really surprised me that the most sophisticated security system in the world cannot tell us apart. Well, that’s not all: since 2002, I have been to the U.S. once a year on average, and although since 2005 I have used my Spanish passport, each time I have been sent to The Room.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Jesse Tangen-Mills is a writer and translator in Colombia.

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