García Márquez’s Blind Spot
[F]or me and many other Latin-Americans, his undeniable literary achievement has been overshadowed by a moral failing: his long, intimate friendship with Fidel Castro and (far more important) his unflinching acceptance of the worst abuses of the Cuban regime.
Gabo, as he was affectionately known, once wrote that “all dictators ... are victims” — which he may have really believed. It’s a sentiment one finds throughout “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” published in 1975, the year he began to firmly establish a personal link (which he had long desired) with Castro.
In three famous dispatches (a journalistic series entitled “Cuba From Head to Tail”), García Márquez wrote of the “almost telepathic communication” he saw between Castro and the Cuban people and asserted “he has survived intact from the insidious and ferocious corrosion of the daily application of power” and “set up a whole system of defense against the cult of personality.” He called Fidel “a genius reporter” whose “immense spoken reports,” made the Cuban people “one of the best informed in the world about its own reality.” Soon after this, however, when Alan Riding of The New York Times asked him why he didn’t move to Cuba, García Márquez replied: “It would be very difficult to ... adapt myself to the conditions. I’d miss too many things. I couldn’t live with the lack of information.”
When he finally did get a house in Cuba, García Márquez began to share culinary adventures with Castro. Fidel’s Cuban master chef named a lobster dish “Langosta a la Macondo” in honor of Gabo, its great enthusiast. When questioned about his closeness to Castro, García Márquez responded that, for him, friendship was a supreme value. That may well have been so, but there was certainly a hierarchy to his friendships — with Fidel at the top.
In 1989, while García Márquez was living in his Cuban home, the murky trial of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and the brothers Tony and Patricio de la Guardia took place, resulting in death sentences for General Ochoa and Col. Tony de la Guardia, charged with drug trafficking and betraying the revolution. There was much opposition to the death sentence for General Ochoa, a hero of the Cuban victory in Angola over the invading army of the South African apartheid regime, and Colonel de la Guardia was a close personal friend of García Márquez. The colonel’s daughter Ileana, implored García Márquez to intercede with Castro to spare the life of her father. But he did nothing, and Ileana reported that he had even secretly attended a part of the trial, screened behind “a large mirror” in the company of Fidel and his brother Raúl.
In March 2003, Fidel suddenly ordered a massive show trial of 78 dissidents, sentencing them to between 12 and 27 years in prison, some for crimes as minor as “possessing a Sony tape recorder.” Shortly after, he had three men executed for trying to flee to the United States in a small boat. At a book fair in Bogotá, Colombia, Susan Sontag confronted García Márquez and, after first praising him as a writer, said that it was unpardonable for him to have said nothing against the Cuban regime’s actions. García Márquez’s public response to this and his justification in saying nothing restated one of his old arguments for his personal relation to Castro: “I cannot calculate the number of prisoners, dissidents and conspirators that I have helped, in absolute silence, to be freed from jail or emigrate from Cuba over at least 20 years.”
But if he actually did so, then why “in absolute silence”? He must have considered the imprisonments unjust. Instead of continuing to support a regime that committed such injustices, wouldn’t it have been far more valuable to issue a public denunciation and so help shut down Cuba’s political prisons?