The Commandante Is Left Without Friends
The Commandante Is Left Without Friends / Ivan Garcia
Posted on May 2, 2014
When it comes to Gabriel García José de la Concordia Márquez (Aracataca,
Colombia, 1927) myth and reality merge. The first time he heard the name
Fidel Castro, Gabo believed, was in the Latin Quarter in Paris, in 1955.
It’s said that the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén spoke to him of an
inexperienced lawyer recently released from jail. He was called Fidel
and had assaulted a barracks in Santiago de Cuba. What isn’t known is in
what terms Guillén referred to Castro.
The author of Negro Bembón, convinced Communist and member of the
Popular Socialist Party (PSP), probably described the seditious man from
Birán as a petty bourgeois, a screw-up, or a baby gangster. At least
that was the PSP profile that fit the then unknown Castro.
One morning in April 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of the Bogotazo, the
bearded one, mythomaniac, published what was perhaps his best
journalistic chronicle, intending to demonstrate that a young reporter
who stubbornly insisted on kicking an Underwood typewriter, after the
death of Eliécer Gaitán in Bogota, was Gabriel García Márquez.
Castro, according to his chronicle, went to help him and solved the
problem in the easiest way: slamming it against the wall. In the many
late nights that Fidel Castro and García Márquez chatted with a thermos
of coffee in Protocol Residence No. 6, in Laguito to the west of Havana,
the Comandante always tried to sneak in his outlandish theories.
The Colombian, who only made revolution with a pen, out of courtesy,
didn’t contradict the guerrilla. Of far off Bogota, he only remembered
the literary circles, the editing of The Spectator newspaper, the whores
and the three nights and four days of partying drinking like a fish with
his friends, between vallenatos and boleros.
Gabo said that he first saw Castro at the airport in Camaguey, a
province 500 kilometers east of Havana. Be that as it may, the reality
is that the two men were friends.
In 1959, Gabriel made a living through journalism, and from Caracas made
landfall on the island, looking for fresh news about the Revolution.
García Márquez had not yet given birth to Macondo, nor Aureliano
Buendia. Some minor stories and a novella, Hojarasca, were his entire
With his friend Plineo Apuleyo he was a correspondent for Prensa Latina.
Later, already a giant, after his Nobel in 1982, when extolling magical
realism in Latin America and showing that Macondo wasn’t an invention,
but a continent that was born in real time after Rio Bravo and extending
to Patagonia, more than friends, Fidel and García Márquez were accomplices.
A couple of times Castro used his favors to send messages to Bill
Clinton. To Gabo’s residence on the outskirts of the capital, Castro
would arrive without warning. It’s said that the author of Chronicle of
a Death Foretold gave his writings to the Comandante to edit.
In exchange, the Cuban strongman offered the choice bits that a
first-rate journalist like Gabo knew how to use. Operation Carlota,
about the Cuban troops in Angola, or Shipwreck on Dry Land, about the
child rafter Elián González, were the fruits of these confidences.
Criticized by his adversaries for his friendship with an autocrat,
against all the storms, Garcia Marquez maintained his affection for
Fidel Castro. But he wasn’t too keen on the new caudillos and
revolutions of the 21st century. He kept his distance from Chavez, Evo
Morales and friends.
Gabo did not like clones. He preferred the original. And Castro, like it
or not, was. His death hit the island. Although there might be the
impression that people carried on. Trying to buy potatoes, milk powder
or engage in polemics about the end of the baseball season. But no. His
Ordinary Cubans had the privilege of reading his books at affordable
prices. The man from Aracataca always donated his copyright to Cuba.
When Love in the Time of Cholera was sold in Havana the lines to
purchase it were a block and a half long. In not a few of the slums,
three glasses of brown sugar, two packs of cigarettes and a can of
condensed milk (all luxuries in a Cuban jail), rented in prison News of
a Kidnapping or No One Writes to the Colonel.
Cubans saw him as theirs. He was a friend of Pablo Milanes and Silvio
Rodriguez. He had a retrospective collection of Cuban music. In December
1986, in San Antonio de los Baños, he inaugurated the International
School of Film and Television, a subsidiary of the Foundation of New
Latin American Cinema, his legacy in Cuba.
Fidel Castro loses another friend. In one year, God has taken Nelson
Mandela and Hugo Chavez. And now Gabo goes. A friend in every meaning of
The only known argument was a denial that Castro demanded when García
Márquez said that one afternoon under a blazing sun, Fidel arrived at
his house and after devouring a huge sea bass, without stopping for
breath, ate 18 scoops of ice cream.
Fidel Castro didn’t like it. And he asked that the page be amended. Gabo
didn’t do it. Like he didn’t ask him to correct the historical mistake,
wanting to introduce it in the scene of the Bogotazo riots.
The Comandante’s life was long ago. Partners and adversaries of the Cold
War are already in the other world. And he ’s still here, in the capital
of the Caribbean Macondo.
No one better than Gabo profiled a continent of loafers, the lit-up,
revelers and drunkards. Around here, whoever doesn’t know how to dance,
sings without crying on hearing a bolero or a ranchera, drinks a liter
of spirits without getting drunk , tells stories of whores and respects
only the wife of his friends, obviously, is not a native of Hispanic
A place where democracy is often a faded word that everyone manipulates
at will. The State, a hunting trophy. And watching the clock or half
hour appointments are things of gringos and Europeans.
García Márquez asked old Europe for patience. In a speech on receiving
the Nobel Prize in Literature, he recounted that democracy and its
institutions were established in Europe after 300 years of barbarism.
Switzerland, he said, is what it is today after centuries of mercenary
soldiers and crushing poverty.
The world lost one of its best Spanish-speaking writers. A reference for
journalists and for his readers. Fidel Castro lost more. Perhaps his
Photo: Havana, 3 March 2000. Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez
talk animatedly during the dinner for the Havana International Festival.
Taken from the Dominican paper Hoy.
20 April 2014
Source: The Commandante Is Left Without Friends / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba –