Gabriel García Márquez was a gifted writer but no hero
By Charles Lane, Thursday, April 24, 2:03 AM
Statesmen eulogized Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez,
who died at age 87 on April 17. "The world has lost one of its greatest
visionary writers — and one of my favorites from the time I was young,"
President Obama said; he called the author of "One Hundred Years of
Solitude" "a representative and voice for the people of the Americas."
Juan Manuel Santos, president of García Márquez's native country, hailed
him as "the greatest Colombian of all time."
The obituary of García Márquez that I would most like to read will never
be written. That is because its author would have been the Cuban poet
Heberto Padilla — who passed away 14 years ago. No one was better
qualified to assess the weird blend of literary brilliance and political
rottenness that characterized García Márquez's long career.
In 1968, just as "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was propelling García
Márquez to fame, Padilla published a collection of poems titled "Out of
the Game." Cuba's cultural authorities initially permitted and even
praised Padilla's book, despite its between-the-lines protest against
the official thought control that was already suffocating Cuba less than
a decade after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.
Then instructions changed: The Castro regime began a campaign against
Padilla and like-minded intellectuals that culminated in March 1971,
when state security agents arrested Padilla, seized his manuscripts and
subjected him to a month of brutal interrogation.
The poet emerged to denounce himself before fellow writers for having
"been unfair and ungrateful to Fidel, for which I will never tire of
repenting." He implicated colleagues and even his wife as
Intellectuals around the world, led by García Márquez's fellow star of
the Latin American literary "boom," Mario Vargas Llosa, condemned this
Stalinesque spectacle. Many cultural figures who had backed the Cuban
revolution soured on it because of the Padilla affair.
For García Márquez, however, it was a different kind of turning point.
When asked to sign his fellow writers' open letter to Castro expressing
"shame and anger" about the treatment of Padilla, García Márquez refused.
Thereafter, the Colombian gradually rose in Havana's estimation,
ultimately emerging as a de facto member of Castro's inner circle.
Fidel would shower "Gabo" with perks, including a mansion, and
established a film institute in Cuba under García Márquez's personal
The novelist, in turn, lent his celebrity and eloquence to the regime's
propaganda mill, describing the Cuban dictator in 1990 as a "man of
austere habits and insatiable dreams, with an old-fashioned formal
education, careful words and fine manners, and incapable of conceiving
any idea that isn't extraordinary."
To rationalize this cozy relationship, García Márquez offered himself as
an ostensible go-between when Castro occasionally released dissidents to
appease the West.
What Gabo never did was raise his voice, or lift a finger, on behalf of
Cubans' right to express themselves freely in the first place.
Far from being "a representative and voice for the people of the
Americas," he served as a de facto spokesman for one of their oppressors.
García Márquez went so far as to defend death sentences Castro handed
out to politically heterodox Cuban officials — one of whom had been
personally close to the writer — after a 1989 show trial.
One can imagine many motivations for this shabby behavior, some more
comprehensible than others. A youthful dabbler in Communist Party
activity in the 1950s, García Márquez belonged to a generation of Latin
American intellectuals for whom anti-imperialism was an ideological
given, as well as a badge of sophistication; perhaps he never outgrew that.
"Friendship" with men like Fidel Castro is hard to escape — though,
given the benefits he reaped from that relationship, tangible and
otherwise, it's doubtful García Márquez ever contemplated a break with
Fidel, even secretly.
Whatever their causes, García Márquez's Cuba apologetics will forever
mar his legacy. True literary greatness is a function of not only
narrative skill and linguistic creativity, which García Márquez
possessed in abundance, but also moral courage, which he lacked. Against
the multiple evils, social and political, that plagued his native
region, he bore witness too selectively.
Castro finally let Heberto Padilla leave Cuba for the United States in
1980. In his 1989 memoir, "Self-Portrait of the Other," the poet noted
that he sought García Márquez's aid for an exit visa but that the writer
tried to dissuade him from going, saying that Cuba's enemies might use
his departure for propaganda purposes.
Apart from that book, Padilla produced little. He bounced from one
college job to another before dying, a broken man, in Auburn, Ala. He
In truth, Heberto Padilla did not have half the talent Gabriel García
Márquez had. Still, some of us admire him more.
Source: Charles Lane: Gabriel García Márquez was a gifted writer but no
hero - The Washington Post -