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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  January 31, 2022 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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this is bbc news. we'll have the headlines and all the main news stories for you at the top of the hour, as newsday continues straight after hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk with me, zeinab badawi. my guest is somebody who can claim to be one of south america's best—known global icons. she knows the continent well. born in peru, raised in chile, she was also schooled in bolivia and has lived in venezuela. isabel allende is not only an acclaimed novelist, she's also known for her political writings.
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her uncle was salvador allende, the chilean democratic leader who was ousted in a coup by general pinochet in 1973, forcing isabel and herfamily to flee to neighbouring venezuela. her books have been translated into more than a0 languages, including her latest novel, violeta. how does she use her own life to inform her work, and how does she interpret political trends across latin america? isabel allende, in california, welcome to hardtalk.
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now, i can see your book there, your latest one, violeta, behind you, and it depicts an old woman, violeta, writing a letter to her grandson. now, your... camilo. your book came out at a time when we were all experiencing covid, and it's set in 1920 when the spanish flu has just arrived in latin america. 18 million people killed, of course, in that pandemic. so why did you want to write about the spanish flu? is it because of covid? i didn't! really, i didn't. i wanted to write about a woman who was born in the same year that my mother was born, and that is 1920. and then i realised that what they call the spanish influenza had arrived in the southern part of the continent at that time. and if the woman lives 100 years, as is the case in the book, of course she would die with covid.
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so the idea of having these two pandemics as bookends to the story was sort of poetic. yeah, but you do see parallels. i mean, you mention in violeta the fact that violeta, when she has a baby, that she can't have a wet nurse come to be... she can't be fed by a wet nurse, rather, violeta, when she's born, because people won't let her in because of the pandemic. and she's got a goat tethered in the garden and she's fed, you know, from the milk of that goat. so you've got parallels there about the sense of isolation and keeping people out that, you know, we've experienced in covid. they were very similar because they were both respiratory illnesses and they were fatal, very contagious, and the only precautions that people could take were masks and isolation, social distancing. and the vaccines came much later. so there are analogies,
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of course. right. and, i mean, obviously, the number of people killed — the spanish flu, 18 million. covid, about six million. so this theme of loss and grief and pain is something that you're often drawn to in your writings. you know, if you're thinking about a book like a long petal of the sea and in the midst of winter, these themes of exile and loss keep on recurring. why are you so drawn to them? i think that every author draws from memory, experience, and of course we steal other lives for our books. but why do we choose those subjects and no other subjects? because they matter to us. and, in my case, i have been displaced all my life. so for me a sense of place is very important. that appears always
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in my books, and i write about violence, death, love, exile, loyalty, organicjustice. those are the themes that keep coming back. you've said in the past that writing, and i'm quoting, "is like meditation or prayer. writing is exorcism. "it deals with the demons of the past." so is there a sense that you write in a way which helps you overcome your own demons? is it therapeutic? i don't think of it that way, but i like to explore those events that were like crossroads in my life that forced me to take a direction that i wasn't planning, and changed my life. for example, when i was very young, my father
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abandoned the family. so i don't have fathers in my books. i can't even imagine a father. exile and displacement is present because of the military coup in chile. love is always in my books because i've been married three times. and if i live long enough, i might marry a fourth time. i don't know. laughter does your husband know that? maybe... i don't know. maybe he won't be listening to this interview, i hope? no, he won't, he won't, hopefully. so, i mean, yes, you mentioned the fact that your father, as you put it, left your mother stranded with two babies and pregnant. you said... three babies, yeah. yeah, and pregnant. you said, "he went out to a party and never came back." how has that affected your perception of men? i have no idea. i have been in therapy many times, explored that aspect, and i cannot give you an answer because i had father substitutes. i had my grandfather, who was a huge presence in my life during my early childhood.
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and then i had a stepfather who was a wonderful man. and so i don't know, but i think that one aspect of my personality is that i am ferociously independent. i think that comes from seeing my mother being so dependent and so vulnerable. when her husband abandoned her, she had no resources of her own, so she had to go back to her parents' house. i have never trusted that a man will support me or protect me, or do anything much for me! so in a way that has been good for me. it has given me a lot of independence. oh, so you say there, then, that you wanted to escape the dependency that your mother had on the patriarchy, if i can put it that way, yet you married at 19 to an anglo—chilean engineer, you had two children with him, and you said in an interview in 2000 that you "served him
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like a geisha girl." and yet you also say you wanted to be independent. it's quite hard to put the two together, no? no, because i mean independent economically, so that i could leave any moment. and the fact that i served him like a geisha, that was the time. that's how we were raised. we were supposed to make our husbands happy. but that didn't mean that i didn't work. i had, like, threejobs. and, still, i was very... a very good wife, as you would put it then. today i wouldn't do any of that, of course. but times have changed. yeah. i mean, you wrote in the soul of a woman during the pandemic about your trajectory, about your life as a woman. and i wonder whether you have progressively become more assertive, more of a feminist. i mean, you mention in violeta one character who says, you know, "she talked about women's rights that i didn't "even know existed."
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and women are getting the vote for the first time in this era to vote in an election. and, you know, somebody�*s canvassing and encouraging them to go and get the vote. i just wonder if you think, in terms of south america, your own continent, whether you feel that women are increasingly asserting themselves on the political and social agenda? women movements in latin america — and i say women's movements and not feminist movements — have been very powerful, always. women have been organised, and they have fought for their rights in many countries for decades. so that is not something new. the feminist issues arrived in latin america 10 or 20 years later. so of course we were for a long time, like, back, and still, in many countries. for example, there is no abortion or family planning.
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in some countries, you can go to prison if you have a miscarriage because it is suspected to be an abortion. in countries like chile, we had divorce in 200a. it was the last country in the world to get divorce. so we are not up to the times. but women have been struggling always, and now they participate in politics. and in chile, we are seeing something extraordinary, a real effort to have gender parity. we have a new president, gabriel boric, who is 35 years old. and ijust saw a picture of his new...of the ministers. 1a women and ten men, all young with their beards and their masks, and jumping around and dressed in... with flip—flops. it's just lovely. so that has changed. so, i mean, do you see that trend across the continent? because not only boric — a left—of—centre, left—wing
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candidate winning — but also you've seen in peru a left—wing president come to power there, pedro castillo, and predictions that other countries may also swing to the left — costa rica, possibly brazil. do you see this kind of leftward trend on your continent? there are both forces, the extreme right and populist leaders and the centre—left moving in. so there is a force for progressive politicians, and another one that represents that 40% that is always present of the conservatives. so does that mean that latin america is fairly polarised? because there is, as you say, a large swathe of the population... i mean, in chile, the conservative candidate got 46% of the vote, which is quite substantial. are you seeing an increasing polarisation
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between left and right? yes. yes, absolutely. in chile, there were two extremes, almost, during the election. and the candidate of the right played to the fear of people, the fear of immigration, the fact that security — to be safe in the streets — is very important, and the fear of communism, which nowadays seems a little ridiculous because there are very few communists left. but in chile, the communist party, which is very small, is very well organised and people are still afraid of the word. but you've got... i mean, ingrid betancourt, who of course is a former congresswoman in colombia, and of course was famously held hostage for six years by the farc guerrillas in colombia, is standing in the elections, the presidential elections. and she says that, you know,
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"you need the centre to hold a lot more in latin america." absolutely. she's against this kind of polarisation. you agree with that? absolutely. and i think that boric, the new president in chile, is playing to the centre. he understands that he has a programme, he wants things to get done and he needs the other 46%. so, look, you are one of the most famous latina women in the world. how far do you see it as your mission, through your writing, to explain and bring south america to the world, as it were? because a lot of your books are set in a country that could be anywhere in latin america, really, couldn't it? it's not a specific one. yeah. well, i don't see myself as having a mission. i love to tell a story, and the stories that i tell are always immersed in a social and political context. that's why i can't write romance novels because they happen in a sort of bubble.
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it's all about the passions and emotions of the protagonist. for me, what happens in the outer world is really important. so, in a way, even without me trying, latin america, the social issues, the political issues appear in my books, but it's not... ..a wish to influence anybody or deliver a message. i'm a writer of fiction. you're writing fiction, but you have the allende name, and of course your uncle was salvador allende — elected democratically, 1970, in chile, and then of course in 1973 removed in a coup by augusto pinochet. you believe that he committed suicide during the presidential siege at the time. there's some question as to whether he was killed or whether he took his own life. so the �*70s was a very repressive time, generally in south america, but especially in chile, where 3,000 people were missing or dead.
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and that's when you decided to pack your bags and go. butjust tell us how... what was it like living through such a repressive time? because it's clearly influenced your thinking and the way you write. well, i didn't stay for very long. i was there for the coup, and i was the only member of my family that remained in chile. my parents, my brothers, everybody, had to leave or were already out. and after a while i had to get out also, because i lived in fear, i was very afraid, and i didn't want... i just couldn't stand it any longer. at the time, the beginning of the coup was a surprise for everybody because chile was the longest and most solid democracy in latin america. and in 2a hours, everything changed.
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can you imagine, all of a sudden, in 2a hours, there's no more congress, no more... there's censorship for everything, there is nojudicial... independent judiciary. everything is controlled, everything, especially the poor, the intellectuals, thejournalists, leaders of any kind — student leaders, working leaders — and a sense that you could be arrested any moment and disappear. there was no habeas corpus, which means that they would not be forced to release you after a certain time. you would just disappear. and then they would say they never took you, they never arrested you. and that's, i think, the most horrible thing that can happen to a family... ..to the ones who are left behind. for example, some of the things that we have come to know later is that many young women who were arrested that were pregnant, they waited until they gave birth and then the babies disappeared.
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so in places like argentina, uruguay, chile, mothers and grandmothers are looking for disappeared children. so all that sense that the world had become hell forced me to get out... mm. ..with the idea that i would go back to my country very soon, because no—one expected the dictatorship to last 17 years. sure. but yet, you know, we were just talking a moment ago about polarisation in south american societies, and that polarisation existed in your own family because the allende side, of course, as you say, obviously, feared... you know, completely denied the coup, and yet you said your mother's side "celebrated pinochet�*s "military coup with champagne." yes, because my mother belongs to a conservative catholic
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family, an extended family. and of course some of the people in the family were more progressive and did not approve of the coup. but most of them did. most of them did. and the fact that pinochet stayed in powerfor 17 years cannot be explained without the fact that half the population supported the dictatorship. they wanted an authoritarian government, and that can happen again because people have a sort of nostalgia for that sense of security. they had the idea, "well, if i don't get in trouble with "the government, i can live safely and everything is fine "and i don't need to know what happens next door." right. you mention... you bring up the word authoritarianism there,
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but actually i have to put it to you that, obviously, pinochet — centre—right, army — but authoritarianism isn'tjust the domain of the centre—right in south america, is it? of course, it's also the left. i mean, you know, we've seen hugo chavez, his successor, nicolas maduro, in venezuela... absolutely. ..daniel 0rtega in nicaragua. you know, bianca jagger, the human rights campaigner, says of her native nicaragua and daniel 0rtega, "we can no longer support him." she says, "the leader that some have supported in 1979 in that revolution to realise that he is a murderous dictator and that people are being killed in nicaragua." so it's...authoritarianism knows no ideology, really, does it? exactly. that's why we have to move away from the extremes and get in the centre, because most people want to be there. but what is it about south america and the people's psyche, in a way, that they can't keep the military out of politics? as that's where the authoritarianism tends to come in.
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i mean, one brazilian writer, vanessa barbara, said, "at family dinners and in taxi cabs, you can hear talk of how things were better when the generals were in charge." you know, you hear that kind of comment made very often. and if you look at brazil today — for instance, bolsonaro, the president, is a former army captain. nine out of 22 of his ministers are from the armed forces. so, i mean, you know, would you venture to explain why the military still have such a prominent role in governing south american countries? well, because they have the guns. because they have the guns, they have been also backed by the americans. there is the school of americas in panama, where officers of south america, of latin america, were trained by the cia. so it's a very complicated thing, but the country that has no army since 19118 is costa rica, and costa rica is doing better than any other country, in that sense.
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so i wish we could either incorporate the armed forces into the civilian life or eliminate them. we don't need them. i mean, you mentioned the role of america, and of course your uncle, salvador allende, was removed in a coup that was backed by the cia. and you said in 2014 that america would never allow another socialist government to take power in south america. but that's not really the case, is it? i mean, as you said, we've seen left—of—centre governments come to power now. is that a view that you've now changed your mind about? well, the world has changed. and politics have changed, everywhere. during the time of allende, it was the time of the cold war. and when i said that the united states would have never allowed it, it was because it was part of that political... ..political struggle
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of the united states to contain the left in latin america. but now the cold war is over. things have changed. and the political situation has also shifted a lot. so you didn't find any inherent contradiction in living in a country — which has been your home for, what, more than 30 years? — that backed the coup that removed your uncle from power? you don't feel any discomfort? well, one thing is the government and the cia, and another thing is the country, the people. and i live in california, which is probably the most progressive state in the united states. i live among democrats. i don't think i have one republican friend. and i am very comfortable here.
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and i also have the feeling that because my books are sold here and i have a voice — i speak in public often — i can in a way represent what we are in latin america because people have the idea that latin america is the immigrants who come here, usually very poor, usually very vulnerable, and they are exploited in many ways. and often not very welcomed, yeah. not welcomed at all, unless they are needed for work, for menial work. and so... but there's another latin america, which is very complex and diverse, and that's what i'm trying to bring in. and...0k. well, finally, that's indeed what you do do in your books, which is bring that face of latin america, in all its various forms, to life. very quickly, you start a new book every january 8. why every january 8? discipline. otherwise i would be
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procrastinating forever. laughter but having a day to start forces me to be here onjanuary 7, ready for the next day. all right. so what are you currently writing, then? well, i cannot tell you because i never talk about the book in progress, but i finished another book that is being translated because i want my american editor to take a look at it. it's a very american story. so i'm always working on something. my goodness me. well, i hope there are many more books to come from you, isabel allende, for your many, many fans all over the world. isabel allende, in california, it's been a pleasure talking to you. thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you. goodnight.
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hello there. storm corrie continuing to bring some damaging gusts of wind during the overnight period and to start monday morning. met office warnings remain in force, for strong winds across more eastern parts of the country. and we'll also have an ice risk to start the day across northern scotland, some cold air digging in behind the storm as it moves out into the north sea. but you can see a real squeeze in the isobars still across eastern coastal parts of scotland, down towards the wash and norfolk, so the yellow warnings remain in force through this morning for further gusts of 50—60 mph. eventually, the strongest of the winds will pull away from the east coast, and then it'll leave a blustery day for all. after that icy start across northern scotland, temperatures will rise a little bit, but it's going to be one of sunshine and blustery showers. these showers again wintry over the hills of scotland, some of these showers also getting into parts of northwest england, the midlands, wales and southwest england. probably the best of any
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sunshine will be reserved for eastern england, but a fairly cool day to come and temperatures of 5—9 degrees, particularly when you factor in the strong northwest wind. as we move through monday night, we'll see a more substantial area of patchy rain pushing into western scotland, perhaps western wales, northwest england, tending to stay drier across eastern areas. but it will turn a bit murkier because we're starting to import some milder air from the west. lows of 4—8 degrees. and you can see that here on the pressure and air mass chart. into tuesday, it's a lot milder. it's fairly strong winds again from the west, but this air source coming in from the mid—atlantic. it will still be quite chilly and breezy across the far north of scotland, for the northern isles, with showers here. but elsewhere, some sunshine. more cloud for northern ireland, large parts of england and wales. could see a bit of murkiness, some drizzle, over western hills, but it's the temperatures that'll be notable on tuesday — in the low teens celsius for many. wednesday's another mild day, rather murky again, rather cloudy too. it'll be another breezy one. and those temperatures will range from around
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11 to 13 degrees. then some changes as we move out of wednesday into thursday. this cold front spreads southeastwards across the country and introduces much colder, fresher air which will reach all areas by the end of friday. so temperatures will be coming down on thursday, particularly across the north. into friday, could see some wintry showers across northern areas, although we'll hold onto some dry weather in the south.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore. i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines: as the diplomatic standoff continues — we report from the frontline in eastern ukraine, where government forces, have been fighting russian backed separatists. this is about more than the future of the ukraine. it is about a future shaped by nato and by the security of europe. battlelines are being drawn now in a new cold war. north korea is thought to have tested one of its most powerful ballistic missiles in years — the us urges pyongyang tojoin direct talks without preconditions. manchester united footballer mason greenwood has been arrested on suspicion of rape and assault following allegations on social media.

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