Our Own Brand of Socialism

Gabriel García Márquez on Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, and creating “a government which would make the poor happy.” The interview was published in the March-April 1983 issue of New Left Review.

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Do you remember where and when you read your first political texts?

In my secondary school in Zipaquirá. It was full of teachers who’d been taught by a Marxist in the Teachers Training College under President Alfonso López’s leftist government in the thirties. The algebra teacher would give us classes on historical materialism during break, the chemistry teacher would lend us books by Lenin, and the history teacher would tell us about the class struggle. When I left that icy prison, I had no idea where north and south were, but I did have two very strong convictions. One was that good novels must be a poetic transposition of reality, and the other was that mankind’s immediate future lay in socialism.

Did you ever belong to the Communist Party?

I belonged to a cell for a short time when I was twenty, but I don’t remember doing anything of interest. I was more of a sympathizer than a real militant. Since then, my relationship with the Communists has had many ups and downs. We’ve often been at loggerheads because every time I adopt a stance they don’t like, their newspapers really have a go at me. But I’ve never publicly condemned them, even at the worst moments.

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Photo credit: elespectador.com

Magic in Service of Truth

In the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez, imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape from it, writes Salman Rushdie while paying rich tribute to the author.

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But, to say it again: The flights of fancy need real ground beneath them. When I first read García Márquez I had never been to any Central or South American country. Yet in his pages I found a reality I knew well from my own experience in India and Pakistan. In both places there was and is a conflict between the city and the village, and there are similarly profound gulfs between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, the great and the small. Both are places with a strong colonial history, and in both places religion is of great importance and God is alive, and so, unfortunately, are the godly.

I knew García Márquez’s colonels and generals, or at least their Indian and Pakistani counterparts; his bishops were my mullahs; his market streets were my bazaars. His world was mine, translated into Spanish. It’s little wonder I fell in love with it — not for its magic (although, as a writer reared on the fabulous “wonder tales” of the East, that was appealing too) but for its realism. My world was more urban than his, however. It is the village sensibility that gives García Márquez’s realism its particular flavor, the village in which technology is frightening but a devout girl rising up to heaven is perfectly credible; in which, as in Indian villages, the miraculous is everywhere believed to coexist with the quotidian.

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Photo credit: Gamma Rapho

A Concert Of Magics

García Márquez’s great work, light and deep at the same time, has stayed with us, as have his ideas, his insights and his images, writes Ruchir Joshi

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Gabriel García Márquez has written about many things, love, memory, nostalgia, landscapes devastated by human greed, workers massacred by murderous corporations, memories of planned massacres wiped out by the rain of amnesia, whole seas belonging to a country sold off to other countries, and we can remember with pleasure or terror some image or insight of his. Today, two days after the laundry line of time flies him up and away from us, I keep thinking of the simple observation that is at the core of his fiction, the one he makes after spending time with a lot of power-hungry men: “A very powerful person, a dictator, is surrounded by interests and people whose final aim is to isolate him from reality; everything is in concert to isolate him.”

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Photograph by Andrej Palacko (Source)

The Solitude Of Latin America

Nobel lecture by Gabriel García Márquez delivered on December 8, 1982 

Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration. However, the navigational advances that have narrowed such distances between our Americas and Europe seem, conversely, to have accentuated our cultural remoteness. Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions? No: the immeasurable violence and pain of our history are the result of age-old inequities and untold bitterness, and not a conspiracy plotted three thousand leagues from our home. But many European leaders and thinkers have thought so, with the childishness of old-timers who have forgotten the fruitful excess of their youth as if it were impossible to find another destiny than to live at the mercy of the two great masters of the world. This, my friends, is the very scale of our solitude.

In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death. An advantage that grows and quickens: every year, there are seventy-four million more births than deaths, a sufficient number of new lives to multiply, each year, the population of New York sevenfold. Most of these births occur in the countries of least resources - including, of course, those of Latin America. Conversely, the most prosperous countries have succeeded in accumulating powers of destruction such as to annihilate, a hundred times over, not only all the human beings that have existed to this day, but also the totality of all living beings that have ever drawn breath on this planet of misfortune.

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Salaams Gabo

Gabriel García Márquez was a master weaver of tales, and a supreme architect of bridges, for through his tales he enabled the people of the North to see the South, writes Kavita Panjabi

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Marquez Brought to us lived the Struggles and resilience of ordinary people in a world as beleaguered as ours. His novels and novellas, stories, memoirs and journalistic writings opened up for us another world In Which We Could see ourselves, as we had never been able to in the pages of any novel western. We Understood the seriousness of the loss of memory culture under colonialism as stylized by him in the hilarious mock-amnesia plague, When people in Macondo begin marking all objects and animals With Their respective names, to a point When the cow has a sign hanging on it, indicating it was a cow That had to be milked and every morning to get the milk to be mixed with coffee to make coffee with milk! We thrilled, amidst our own Struggles for worker’s rights, at the fact That his depiction of the banana company massacre in One Hundred Years of Solitude actually served to restore to Colombian history books the suppressed knowledge of the 1928 United Fruit Company massacre of over a thousand workers. We saw Apu’s wonderment at the train in Pather Panchali reflected in the washerwoman of Macondo, who, seeing a steam engine pulling a train for the first time in her life, exclaimed That it was “Something frightful, like a kitchen dragging a village behind it . ” The political intrigues, cycles of violence, labor strikes, joint family disputes, delightful Between grandparents and grandchildren bonds, surreptitious passions and passionate activists jumped out of the pages of his books and echoed the realities of our own lives. 

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As a writer, I was interested in power, because it summarizes all the grandeur and misery of the human being.
Gabriel García Márquez

The Fantastic Novelist

The Telegraph, Calcutta Editorial

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No one will write to him any more since Gabriel García Márquez has moved to a space that he now occupies with his exemplars, Sophocles, Cervantes, Kafka, Faulkner and, of course, Borges. But what he himself wrote will continue to enrich the lives of all those who belong to that most select club in the world, the Readers Club. Any reader who encountered that unforgettable first line of One Hundred Years of Solitude (“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice”) knew immediately and almost instinctively that he was in touch with greatness. García Márquez brought magic to his craft. This is not only because he created — many would say revived and immortalized — the genre that goes by the name of magic realism but also because he was a master storyteller who conjured up tales from his own past and the past of the enchanted continent that he inhabited. Storytelling is almost embedded in the human condition — as García Márquez once memorably said, “Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.’’ Human beings love to tell stories and to listen to stories. García Márquez entered the wonderful world of stories and their retelling and revelled in it. His genius lay in the bond of trust that he created between himself and his readers: none of his readers bothered about the willing suspension of disbelief. He created a world that was his own but from which radiated memories, history, fairy tales, modes of narrative and above all the joys of the imaginary. The reader wandered with the writer in the labyrinth, happy to be lost in wonder.

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The more power you have, the harder it is to know who is lying to you and who is not. When you reach absolute power, there is no contact with reality, and that’s the worst kind of solitude there can be. A very powerful person, a dictator, is surrounded by interests and people whose final aim is to isolate him from reality; everything is in concert to isolate him.
Gabriel García Márquez in the Paris Review interview, 1981

Why Allende had to die

In a piece from the New Statesman published in March 1974, Gabriel García Márquez explores Allende’s record in Chile, his rivals’ dealings with the United States and the rise of his successor – the army general Augusto Pinochet.

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It was towards the end of 1969 that three generals from the Pentagon dined with five Chilean military officers in a house in the suburbs of Washington. The host was Lieutenant Colonel Gerardo López Angulo, assistant air attaché of the Chilean Military Mission to the United States, and the Chilean guests were his colleagues from the other branches of service. The dinner was in honour of the new director of the Chilean Air Force Academy, General Carlos Toro Mazote, who had arrived the day before on a study mission. The eight officers dined on fruit salad, roast veal and peas and drank the warm-hearted wines of their distant homeland to the south, where birds glittered on the beaches while Washington wallowed in snow, and they talked mostly in English about the only thing that seemed to interest Chileans in those days: the approaching presidential elections of the following September. Over dessert, one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if the candidate of the left, someone like Salvador Allende, were elected. General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.”

One of the guests was General Ernesto Baeza, now director of national security in Chile, the one who led the attack on the presidential palace during the coup last September and gave the order to burn it. Two of his subordinates in those earlier days were to become famous in the same operation: General Augusto Pinochet, president of the military junta, and General Javier Palacios. Also at the table was Air Force Brigadier General Sergio Figueroa Gutiérrez, now minister of public works and the intimate friend of another member of the military junta, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, who ordered the rocket bombing of the presidential palace. The last guest was Admiral Arturo Troncoso, now naval governor of Valparaíso, who carried out the bloody purge of progressive naval officers and was one of those who launched the military uprising of September 11.

That dinner proved to be a historic meeting between the Pentagon and high-ranking officers of the Chilean military services. On other successive meetings, in Washington and Santiago, a contingency plan was agreed upon, according to which those Chilean military men who were bound most closely, heart and soul, to US interests would seize power in the event of Allende’s Popular Unity coalition victory in the elections.

Click to read more on the New Statesman 

Image: The last known photograph of Allende alive, La Moneda Palace, 1 April 1973.

Children in Bogotá reading the first fragments of One Hundred Years of Solitude published in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador's Sunday Magazine in 1982.

Children in Bogotá reading the first fragments of One Hundred Years of Solitude published in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador's Sunday Magazine in 1982.

Fidel Castro has lunch with authors Gabriel Garcia Márquez (right center) and William Styron (right). Cuba, Las Terrazas. 2000.
Photograph: Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos

Fidel Castro has lunch with authors Gabriel Garcia Márquez (right center) and William Styron (right). Cuba, Las Terrazas. 2000.

Photograph: Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos

The Hack

Miles Corwin on Gabriel García Márquez’s breakthrough newspaper series in El Espectador, later published in book form as The Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor.

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In 1955, eight crew members of a Colombian naval destroyer in the Caribbean were swept overboard by a giant wave. Luis Alejandro Velasco, a sailor who spent ten days on a life raft without food or water, was the only survivor. The editor of the Colombian newspaper El Espectador assigned the story to a twenty-seven-year-old reporter who had been dabbling in fiction and had a reputation as a gifted feature writer: Gabriel García Márquez.

The young journalist quickly uncovered a military scandal. As his fourteen-part series revealed, the sailors owed their deaths not to a storm, as Colombia’s military dictatorship had claimed, but to naval negligence. The decks of the Caldas had been stacked high with television sets, washing machines, and refrigerators purchased in the U.S. These appliances, which were being ferried to Colombia against military regulations, had caused the ship to list dangerously. And because the Caldas was so overloaded, it was unable to maneuver and rescue the sailors. 

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Photo credit: elespectador.com

"He Gave Us Back Our History": Isabel Allende on Gabriel García Márquez

In an exclusive interview, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende remembers the life and legacy of late writer Gabriel García Márquez.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Isabel, one of the—obviously, one of the big influences on his life was not only his own family upbringing, but the political climate in which he grew up, from the time of the infamous La Violencia in Colombia, where over 300,000 people were killed in a civil war, to, later on, the drug wars in Colombia, the enormous dislocation of Colombian society. Talk about his political views and development and how he showed them through his literature.

ISABEL ALLENDE: He was always a leftist. And he became friends with Fidel Castro very early on during the Cuban revolution. He was adored in Cuba, and he lived there and visited Cuba many times. He formed the film institute in Havana. And his views, his leftist views, brought him a lot of trouble in Colombia. He couldn’t live in Colombia for a while because his life was threatened. He lived in Mexico. He lived in many other places. And he died in Mexico, actually. So, he’s not the only one, because many of our writers of that time lived in exile and wrote in exile, in Europe and in other places, because it was unsafe to live in their own countries. It happened also in Chile. A wave of Chilean writers left after the military coup, and they wrote in exile.

Click to read the full transcript on Democracy Now

Photo credit: elespectador.com

A person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.
Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez by Richard Avedon. New York, January 7, 1976.© The Richard Avedon Foundation.

Gabriel García Márquez by Richard Avedon. New York, January 7, 1976.
© The Richard Avedon Foundation.