Arturo Uslar Pietri, one of the world’s leading Spanish-language writers and Venezuela’s best-known novelist, has died. He was 94.
Uslar Pietri, also a statesman, died Monday in his Caracas home of a heart attack.
His most celebrated works included “Las Lanzas Coloradas” (The Red Lances), “El Camino de El Dorado” (The Road from El Dorado), “La Isla de Robinson” (Robinson’s Island), and “El Laberinto de Fortuna” (The Labyrinth of Fortune).
The writer’s historical novels, short stories and essays over six decades were rich in similes and metaphors--his country’s wars for independence as metaphor, for example, for the political and social chaos there after the death of Simon Bolivar. Uslar Pietri was one of the first writers to apply the term “magic realism” to Latin American fiction, melding realism with wondrous events.
Yet he could also summarize the entire history of Venezuela, he told The Times in 1995, in nine succinct words: Columbus discovered it. Bolivar liberated it. Oil rotted it.
“Oil riches,” he added sadly, “sank us.”
Among his honors were the prestigious Mergenthaler Prize, two National Prizes of Literature from Venezuela and Spain’s prestigious Asturias Prize for Letters.
For 50 years, Uslar Pietri also was a leading columnist and political analyst for the Caracas newspaper El Nacional.
He wrote from an insider’s knowledge of government, having served as minister of education, interior and treasury in the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Caracas, he was the son of a general and civil administrator and earned a doctorate in political science at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, where he taught briefly.
Uslar Pietri was a member of a civilian government that was overthrown by Venezuela’s military in 1945. He went into exile in New York, where he continued writing and taught at Columbia University. When democracy was reestablished in 1958, he returned to Venezuela and served as a senator from a small independent party, running for president in 1968.
After an attempted coup in 1992 by Venezuela’s current president, Hugo Chavez, Uslar Pietri was a leading critic of pervasive corruption and the reluctance of Venezuela’s leading political parties to reform the political system. Chavez ultimately was elected president in 1998, and Uslar Pietri later criticized what he called the left-leaning Chavez’s authoritarian rule.
A widower, Uslar Pietri is survived by a son, Federico.