Friday, April 18, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez and Fidel Castro: Birds of a Feather

[Unless they meet again in some Dantean latitude, Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez had their last meeting a month ago [July 2008] in Havana. By year's end, one or the other will be dead; perhaps both. Their mutual admiration society will not be disbanded, however. Both shall continue to live in each others "works:" the tyrant as the sycophant's inspiration and the sycophant as the tyrant's well-used tool. The following article, from 1988, explores the most embarrassing and revealing episode of García Márquez's association with Cuba, which began in 1962 when he was contracted as a propagandist for Prensa Latina, Castro's "news service." In his "Reflection" on their last meeting Castro credits García Márquez with saving his life during a state visit to Colombia in the 70s. Fidel asked the then Nobel Prize-winning author to accompany him in his motorcade and, supposedly, García Márquez encephalitic head blocked a markman's view of Castro's and saved him to tyrannize another 3 decades.]

By: Manuel A. Tellechea
The New York Tribune
Commentary Section, p. 9
September 27, 1988

Castro's Pet Author Lends his Nobel Credentials to Marxist Cuba

Gabriel García Márquez is the best known and most vocal of Castro's apologists in Latin America. He is also Latin America's greatest writer, according to García Márquez himself, most English-speaking critics and a committee of literary Swedes. How much the writer owes his reputation to the apologist, I will leave unanswered. It is clear, though, that the apologist precedes the writer and that both are now fused in the consciousness of the world.

This was demonstrated recently by so casual an event as the defection of García Márquez's personal secretary, which was reported on the front pages of many Latin American newspapers, and not, as one might have supposed, in the classifieds of the literary section. Defection? you protest. Men defect from governments, not from other men. Yes, that's exactly my point. García Márquez is perhaps the only man who lives in Cuba by choice, not compulsion. He lives, of course, in his own extraterritorial enclave which is not only a world apart but another world altogether: a one-man foreign legation representing all the useful idiots of Latin America, where liberty has been nominally decreed for those who most vociferously defend tyranny.

It was from this enclave that Antonio Valle y Vallejo defected. As García Márquez's personal secretary, he had been a daily visitor to his compound. No mere typist or glorified amanuensis, Valle was a professor of Marxist history and philosophy at Havana University and the Lenin Institute. He was also García Márquez's assistant at the Foundation of the Modern Cinema, which the Colombian founded and runs from Havana. And, yes, he transcribed and retyped García Márquez's manuscripts and may have offered a hint or two on the Marxist dialectic when needed.

Valle saw early on that his future did not lay as an exalted professor of lies or cinematographer by rote, but in the simple tasks that he performed for his friend and mentor. García Márquez was not unappreciative. He had his picture taken with Valle, a mark of the highest regard in Latin America. He inscribed Valle's copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude with a cryptic but telling dedication. Finally, came the reward for which Valle had long been hoping and waiting. García Márquez invited Valle to travel with him to Colombia for the Cartagena Film Festival. The magic realist had opened to him a door to another world, but Valle knew that he could not expect any help from him in realizing his defection. He could not guess, however, that his mentor would try to have him killed because of it.

On learning that Valle had gone missing,on his watch, so to speak, García Márquez phoned President Barco of Colombia and requested his assistance in locating him. As a personal favor to Colombia's preeminent son, Barco issued orders that placed his country's security forces at the orders of the DGI operatives that had accompanied the Cuban delegation to the film festival. Just as for an athlete or any other defector from Cuba capture would have meant forced repatriation and a lifetime of expiation in prison or the cane fields.

Valle sought refuge in the only place in Colombia that he trusted would not turn him over to his pursuers -- the U.S. embassy in Bogota; and, ironically, he was granted asylum on the basis of the cryptic but telling inscription in his copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude: "For Tony, the son that Naomi snatched away, with an embrace from his papa lost in the labyrinth of nada (nothingness), Gabriel '86." That dedication, by the way, is in itself an entire García Márquez novel and would alone justify the award of diplomatic asylum to Valle. Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to his God is a fitting parallel except that García Márquez's god would have had him go through with it.

García Márquez's ties to the DGI were well-known even before the defection of Antonio Valle, though Valle's defection provided rather squalid proof of it. Ricardo Bofill, whose curriculum vitae is almost identical to Valle's, was the first to denounce García Márquez as an informant for the DGI based on his own experience with him. A member of the Communist Party even before Castro came to power, Bofill was for many years chairman of the Marxist Department at Havana University, and as Cuba's leading Marxist ideologue had entry into the highest party echelons as well as García Márquez's charmed circle. Bofill was purged and imprisoned for "divisionism" in the 1970s (his sin was that he wanted Soviet planners to handle Cuba's economy directly, not through Castro, thereby removing one layer of insanity from a two-layer system). Bofill later re-emerged as the president of Cuba's unofficial Helsinki Human Rights Committee. It is interesting that Bofill still considers himself a Marxist and regards García Márquez as a betrayer not because the Colombian novelist is an ideological Marxist (which Bofill is also) but because he is a practical Marxist (i.e. one who turns abstract notions into hideous deeds and accepts unseemly rewards for his treachery).

García Márquez's unstinting hero-worship of Fidel Castro is a matter of public record, but less known are the rewards he has reaped from his association with him. The Cuban state press has published more editions of this foreigner's works than it has of any living or dead Cuban author. García Márquez has used the royalties he has received -- which, incidentally, were paid to him not for actual sales but the official press run -- to purchase and restore a 19th century palazzo in old Havana. He also owns a yacht and his own private beach and marina in Cuba.

Bofill charges that he has acquired these not through his literary work but because he furnishes the Cuban government with information on internal and external dissidents. In other others, he "sounds out" local writers on their views of the Revolution and reports their answers to the DGI. It is also alleged that he provides the DGI with information on Cuban authors and artists living abroad who have not officially broken with the Revolution but are privately critical of it. García Márquez's defenders have countered that he has on occasion assisted Cuban friends who have fallen afoul of the regime. No names are ever given of the beneficiaries of his intervention and he has never been a signatory to any petition on behalf of Cuban political prisoners or any imprisoned Cuban in particular. His conduct in respect to his closest literary associate in Cuba should give the lie to all who think better of him than he deserves.

It is true that García Márquez has enough money to live anywhere he wishes and buy anything he wants. But he wants to live in Cuba and in opulence. And that boon is not obtained just with dollars. As José Martí wrote 100 years ago, "Every tyranny has at hand one of those learned men to think and write, to justify, to extenuate, and to disguise. Sometimes it has many of them, because literature is often coupled with an appetite for luxury, and with the latter comes a willingness to sell oneself to whomever can satisfy it."


The following comment was not left here, but on, where it appears as a review of Fidel & Gabo: A Portrait of the Legendary Friendship Between Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Marquez, by Angel Esteban and Stephanie Panichelli [2011]. The author is one of many Castro apologists on the internet who recalls -- fondly, as he admits -- having jousted with me on Cuban forums in the past and wishes again to capture my attention, which he has in fact done. I rarely venture from these precincts now, and even here I am not a constant presence. But I am still nothing if not obliging to his ilk, because I know that I am right and suspect that their "better angels" also know it and require my help to free themselves from their thralldom to lies and certain unholy associations. Why else would they seek me out years after our last encounter when even the forum (Cubamania) where we crossed swords is long defunct, but not, alas, the gerontocracy to the service of which it was devoted? I can't reprogram them all one by one: too many of them and not enough of me to go around.

But I will make exceptions for those as Mr. Johnson who believe that Communism "isn't all it's cracked up to be" except when applied to our unhappy country. In his eyes, Fidel Castro's only crime is to "have hung onto the broken idealism right until the end." The only idealism that Fidel Castro ever espoused in his life was personal idealism, that is, the idealization of the self. That idealism is not broken. Sixty years of failures at the expense of his countrymen have not shaken in the least his faith in himself, because he has been able to escape the effects of his own folly and will likely be the only Cuban dictator to die in his own bed. "Broken idealism" is not Castro's legacy, but broken dreams and broken lives, broken everything in that vast madhouse where he has confined his people for more than 50 years, when, in fact, the solution to Cuba's problems required the confinement of only one man -- himself.

It is Mr. Johnson's ridiculous conceit that the enmity of his enemies (not the flattery of his friends) has empowered Castro and that except for it he might have relinquished power long ago. According to this theory, Chamberlain was right to appease Hitler and World War II was averted thanks to his profound understanding of the psyche of tyrants. A residual benefit of this policy, for the likes of Mr. Johnson, is that the tyrant's apologists and appeasers emerge as not only the real heroes but the real opponents of tyranny, because their flattery and credulity were successful in defeating or containing his plans and giving mankind "peace in our time."  (For those who consider comparisons to Hitler odious, let them remember that Castro came closer to blowing up the world than Hitler did).

Mr. Johnson also errs in assuming that the trade embargo has been instrumental in keeping Castro in power by providing a convenient excuse for all his failures. Tyrants do not acknowledge let alone justify their failures; certainly, this tyrant never has. The trade embargo has not prevented the U.S. from becoming one of Cuba's largest trading partners. Its sole remaining proscriptions are that Communist Cuba must pay with cash for what it buys and cannot borrow from U.S. banks. Is Cuba's sovereignty now dependent on borrowing from U.S. banks and is U.S. imperialism limited to refusing to extend credit to Castro & Co.? Is this the terrible "blockade" of leftist folklore? As an inhabitant of another island (England, that is), Mr. Johnson should know the real definition of a blockade.

Finally, it is not a gutted embargo nor a non-existent blockade that has kept Fidel Castro politically invulnerable for more than half a century. It is, rather, the Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact, which established the U.S. as the guarantor of Communism in Cuba and which the U.S. has never repudiated. If Mr. Johnson favored the immediate repeal of this blatant example of U.S. imperialism, I would believe (for once) that he really has the best interests of the Cuban people at heart rather than the interests of the regime. But since it's the regime that allows his wife and children (still Cuban citizens) to enter and leave the island at its pleasure, and the regime also which can revoke the title to his house in Cuba (as it has done to millions of expatriate Cubans who are not married to Britons), Mr. Johnson is hardly an unbiased or disinterested commentator on the Cuban scene. I may not have been to Cuba in 50 years, but at least my family and I are not hostages of the regime, as he and his unfortunately are.

For someone with Mr. Johnson's privileged entry into Cuban society, we would have expected more profound insights than "since 1988 the world has moved on a bit." Which is true as a generality, but not in the case of Communist Cuba. It has not moved, and that is precisely the problem (though not for Mr. Johnson). Neither through its own volition nor the world's propulsion has Cuba "moved on" since 1988 (or, indeed, since 1959). So everything that I have written about Cuba in that interim is as topical today as it was then. I don't even have to change a word. As for Raúl Castro's "reforms," which Mr. Johnson regards as emblematic of movement, Cubans are now allowed to sew buttons for a living; may rent a hotel room for a night with a year's wages; and may even own airplanes if they choose (though a certain class of Cubans has always had these at its disposal and on stand-by). These "reforms" only allow Cubans on the island to spend their own money (or, more likely, the money their relatives send them from abroad) on a greater variety of goods at the company store. Since Castro & Co. enjoys a monopoly on all material goods sold on the island, the state alone stands to profit from these "reforms." The profits it derives from fostering the erstwhile bogeyman of consumerism will be spent on modernizing and expanding its apparatus of repression, not providing the "glass of milk a day" which Raúl infamously promised all Cubans upon his dynastic ascension. If Cubans can make any money sewing buttons or selling croquettes (after buying the materia prima at Castro's retail stores), they might be able to afford an extra egg a month, and that will be Raúl's legacy of "reform."

Free elections and free markets are what Cuba needs, Mr. Johnson. Any other sort of "reforms" are not intended to lead toward them, but, rather, to forestall the day of the final reckoning between the tyrant and the people.


Birds of a Feather? Sounds more like a review from a dead duck

By Keith Johnson

Barely cold is the body of Gabriel García Márquez, and here we have reviewer Manuel A. Tellechea jumping on his soapbox to forge another sad morsel of political capital. But fear not, folks, this is just the same old re-hashed rhetoric from a quarter of a century ago. What Manny - as we used to call him on the Cuba travel forums - fails to mention is that his "review" is just a cut-and-past of an article that he first published in The New York Tribune in 1988, and again today on his José Martí blog at


Since 1988 the world has moved on a bit. Even Raúl Castro seems to be waking up to the fact the the communist dream isn't all it's cracked up to be and making some tentative moves towards a market economy. With Chavez gone from Venezuela, the number of people still living the dream will surely soon be down to just one.

A lot of people who should have known better got caught up in the socialist revolutionary fervour of the 20th century. Most of them eventually woke up to the reality as they saw the Berlin Wall and eastern bloc regimes falling one after another, and the smart ones quietly renounced their old beliefs and settled into the world of mainstream political thought. Some found it harder to do so, and a small number - including Fidel Castro - have hung onto the broken idealism right until the end. Where Gabriel García Márquez lies in this spectrum is a matter for the diligent reader to evaluate, but there will be opinions at both extremes as represent in the reviews here, and as ever the truth lies somewhere in between.

What Manny and the rabidly anti-Castro exiles in the US don't understand and will never accept is that it is their own vociferous hatred that has kept the Castros in power for over 50 years, by creating a clearly-defined enemy for them. A brief survey of history will reveal what a gift this is to any dictator, who can then thrive on the opportunity of making endless rhetoric against that enemy. Even more so in the case of Cuba, where the embargo has also provided a scapegoat for all the woes wrought on the Cuban people by the failings of the regime. Without the heat of anti-Castroism to fuel the revolutionary fire, it is reasonable to postulate that Fidel and Raúl might well have been long gone by now.

Manny has been notorious on travel forums for his attacks on anybody visiting Cuba for whatever, particularly Canadians. He considers all tourists to Cuba to be pedophiles, communists and apologists for a dictatorial regime. A sample of his invective can be found here:

I used to write as "Prospero" on that forum, and enjoyed much sparring with Manny there. I'm married to a Cuban, we have two small children and a house in Cuba, although we live most of the time in England. As far as I know, Manny hasn't set foot on the island himself in the last 50 years, but instead of trying to get visitors on-side and encourage them to use their trips to slowly subvert and chip away at the regime by opening the eyes of ordinary Cubans, he chooses to alienate the very people who could help his cause by throwing insults at them.

By advocating a policy of no travel to Cuba, the anti-Castros reduce the opportunity of Cubans on the island to acquaint themselves with the real world outside. Far from trade embargoes and isolation, it has been social and cultural exchange that has brought about the downfall of most dictatorial regimes, in recent years notably in the Middle East. One only needs to look at how such regimes try to control access to the Internet to see how much they really fear openness and information from the outside. Tourism brings these things with it, and as such it was only ever reluctantly embraced by the Cuban regime when Russia pulled out of its economic support for Cuba in the 1990s and there was no other option.

So Manny's hatred of someone like Gabriel García Márquez is only to be expected. Intelligent readers will study books like this and others, will examine how the social, political and cultural contexts have changed over time before making up their own minds, rather than buy into the over-blown rhetoric of one side or the other.

Fortunately younger Cubans on both sides of the divide are now beginning to see that breaking down the barriers is the real way to defeat totalitarianism. Soon when all the old men are dead communism can be laid to rest once and for all and the world can move on - at least until some other would-be revolutionary rediscovers it.