Affectionately known as “Gabo,” Colombian novelist, screenwriter and journalist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was one of Latin America’s most iconic figures of modern literature. In 1982, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his collective work “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts.”
Forever inquisitive, critical and creative, Garcia Marquez was not only a key figure of literature in the region, but was an important figure in leftist politics. On what would be the writer's 90th birthday, teleSUR looks back at the some of the key events that shaped his political outlook.
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1. Early Political Education
As well as political events and family relationships that helped to shape a young Garcia Marquez and his ideas, his school education in Zipaquira, north of Bogota, also made a mark on his thinking. It was at this school that he first learned socialist teachings and was introduced to books by Russian Revolutionary Vladimir Lenin.
After graduating, Marquez recalled that he then believed that “good novels must be a poetic transposition of reality, and ... that mankind's immediate future lay in socialism.”
2. An Imperialist Massacre Close to Home
In 1928 – just around the time that Garcia Marquez was born – striking banana workers from the U.S.-based company United Fruit Company organized themselves to demand better pay and working conditions. The strike outside Cienaga in the country’s northeast was seen as communist activity that threatened the company’s interests.
Colombian troops then moved in to quell the strikes. After a brief warning, they opened fire on workers and families after they attended church. While there is no official death toll from the massacre, estimated range from 47 into the thousands.
The massacre shocked Colombia and was seen as key to inspiring revolutionary communist movements, such as the FARC. The impact on Garcia Marquez was significant, as he went on to adapt a fictional version of the event in his most popular novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
While Garcia Marquez´s father was a known conservative, the writer recalled in an interview with the New Left Review in 1983 how his progressive grandfather told him "about the massacre of the banana workers which took place in Aracataca the year I was born. So you see my family influenced me toward rebellion rather than toward upholding the established order.”
3. An Enduring Friendship with Fidel Castro
Garcia Marquez’s story is heavily linked to Cuba, its socialist revolution and the late leader Fidel Castro. Known as a prolific reader, Fidel was known to read and correct Garcia Marquez’s manuscripts before they were sent to be published.
While Garcia Marquez drew inspiration from Cuba’s revolution in his writing, the pair did not always agree. At times the novelist was critical of Fidel’s views, in particular surrounding the Cold War and his support for the Soviet Union. Despite some differences in opinion, it is said that the two maintained open conversations about Cuban politics and that Fidel was a frequent visitor of the writer's house when he was in Cuba.
Nevertheless, both enjoyed a strong personal friendship that persisted throughout decades. In 1986, with Fidel’s help, Garcia Marquez helped to create Cuba’s International Film and Television School, just outside of the Havana.
Describing Fidel in a piece published in Cuban media after the death of the late leader, Garcia Marquez wrote, "This is the Fidel Castro that I believe I know. A man of austere habits and insatiable illusions, with an old-fashioned formal education of cautious words and subdued tones, and incapable of conceiving any idea that is not colossal."
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4. Covering the Cuban Revolution as a Journalist
Following the Cuban revolution in 1959, media outlet Prensa Latina was founded with the help of Ernesto "Che" Guevara as a means for Cuba to give itself an international voice and offer a counterpoint to U.S government and media propaganda. Garcia Marquez first worked for the Prensa Latina office in Bogota, Colombia and also worked at its offices in New York and Havana.
After a falling out with the ideological direction of the news service, Garcia Marquez decided to resign as a means to continue his individual voice.
Speaking of his time at Prensa Latina, Garcia Marquez said that while “the Revolution took a difficult and sometimes contradictory course after the initial stormy upheavals, it still offers the prospect of a social order, which is more democratic, more just and more suited to our needs.”
5. U.S. Attacks on Cuba and His Family
While working in Prensa Latina’s New York Office, Garcia Marquez experienced first hand the volatile U.S. attitude towards Cuba, which came to a head with the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion.
In April 1961, a force of Cuban mercenaries supported by the U.S. and the “Gusanos” – rich white landowners who fled Cuba following the revolution – led a surprise attack on the island to oust the communist government by force. Within days however, the attack was quelled by Cuban forces.
The New York office was then closed in 1961 amid the severing of Cuba-U.S. relations. At the time, Garcia Marquez described being harassed by “Gusanos” and felt that being in the U.S. threatened his family. The writer called the U.S. the worst place to be at the time and subsequently left. The event stood out to Garcia Marquez as a key example of U.S. imperialism, which shaped his politics and writings on Latin America.
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