[Unless they meet again in some Dantean latitude, Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez had their last meeting a month ago 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
Gabriel Gárcia 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."