CARACAS (Reuters) - Peruvian author and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa vowed on Thursday to honor until death a pact with his late Colombian counterpart Gabriel Garcia Marquez not to reveal the mystery of their famous decades-old enmity.
The two Latin American literary greats were once friends, but stopped speaking to each other in 1976 when Vargas Llosa gave Garcia Marquez a black eye in a dispute - depending on who one believes - over politics or the Peruvian's wife.
"There's a pact between Garcia Marquez and myself (not to talk about it)," Vargas Llosa, 78, said at a meeting of right-wing intellectuals in Caracas when a journalist popped the inevitable question following the Colombian's death last week.
"He respected it until his death, and I will do the same. Let's leave it to our biographers, if we deserve them, to investigate that issue."
Vargas Llosa, who once ran for president in Peru on a conservative ticket, lamented the passing of his erstwhile rival, a friend of Cuba's Fidel Castro with left-leaning views.
Garcia Marquez had, he said, achieved what all writers aspire to: "That his work lives beyond him."
Vargas Llosa's presence in Venezuela is once again controversial given his ferocious criticism of former president Hugo Chavez and successor Nicolas Maduro's socialist rule.
On his last visit to Venezuela in 2009, he was held for several hours at the airport and criticized by Chavez for coming to "offend" and "provoke" Venezuelans.
Again, Vargas Llosa did not hold back, saying 15 years of socialism in Venezuela was a "pathetic failure" akin to Cuba and North Korea, evidenced by the highest inflation in the Americas and other weak economic indicators.
"What's happening in Venezuela is a radical anachronism," he said. "Venezuela has gone ever more backwards in the last 15 years and is approaching the most pathetic examples of economic, political and social failures like Cuba and North Korea, the last real exponents of socialism in the world."
He added, however, that he had no wish to provoke anyone in Venezuela, and was grateful to the country for giving him his first international award, the Romulo Gallegos prize, in 1967.
Vargas Llosa offered his support to students who have been protesting against Maduro since early February.
"I hope the dialogue is genuine and authentic, and enables the pacification of the country," he said of talks between the government and moderate opposition leaders intended to stem violence that has killed 41 people in the last two-and-a-half months.
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Andrew Hay