Yesterday, Tuesday, I had a large pile of cables with news on the meeting of the most industrialized powers in Japan. I will leave the material for another day, if it doesn’t go cold. I decided to rest. I preferred to meet with Gabo (Gabriel García Márquez) and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, who are visiting Cuba until the 11th. How much I longed to talk with them, to recall almost 50 years of sincere friendship!
Our news agency, proposed by Che, had just been born and, among others, it contracted the services of a humble journalist of Colombian origin called Gabriel García Márquez. Neither Prensa Latina nor Gabo could have imagined that there would be a Nobel Prize winner in the middle; or maybe he did, with the “colossal” imagination of the son of a telegraphist in the post office of a small Colombian town, lost among the banana plantations of a Yankee enterprise. He shared his fate with loads of brothers and sisters, as was the custom, but despite that, his father, a Colombian who enjoyed the privilege of being employed thanks to the telegraph, was able to send him to school.
My experience was the inverse. The post office with its telegraph and the little public school in Birán were the only installations in that hamlet that were not the property of my father; all the other goods and services of economic value belonged to Don Angel, and, because of that, I was able to study. I never had the privilege of knowing Aracataca, the little town where Gabo was born, although he did Birán, from celebrating my 70th birthday with me there, at my invitation.
It was a similar stroke of fate that when a Latin American Students Congress was organized in Colombia on our initiative, the capital of that country was the venue of the meeting of Latin America states to create the OAS, following the guidelines of the United States, in 1948.
I had the honor of being introduced to Gaitán by Colombian university students. He supported us and gave us pamphlets of what was known as the Peace Oration, a speech given on the occasion of the March of Silence, the packed and impressive demonstration that wound its way through Bogotá to protest the rural massacres executed by the Colombian oligarchy. Gabo was on that march.
Germán Sánchez, our current ambassador to Venezuela, transcribes in his book Transparencia de Emmanuel textual paragraphs of what Gabo narrated about that episode.
Up to here, it was a matter of chance.
Our friendship was the fruit of a relationship cultivated for many years in which our conversations, always agreeable for me, amounted to hundreds. Talking with García Marquez and Mercedes every time they came to Cuba — and it used to be more than once a year —became an antidote to the heavy tensions under which a Cuban revolutionary leader lived, unconsciously but constantly,.
In Colombia itself, for the 4th Ibero-American Summit, the hosts organized a horse-drawn carriage excursion through the walled city of Cartagena, a kind of Old Havana, a protected historic relic. The Cuban State Security comrades had told me that it was not a good idea to take part in the programmed excursion. I thought that their concern was excessive, because given that there was too much compartmentalization, the people that informed me did not have concrete information. I always respected their professionalism and cooperated with them.
I called Gabo, who was nearby, and said to him jokingly, “Get in this car with us so they don’t shoot us!” and he did so. I added in the same tone to Mercedes, who stayed at the departure point, “You’re going to be the youngest widow. Don’t forget it!” The carriage left with the horse limping because of the heavy load. Its hooves slipped on the sidewalk.
Later I found out what happened there. Just like when I was in Santiago de Chile, where there was a television camera containing an automatic weapon that was pointed at me during a press interview, but the mercenary operating it didn’t dare shoot; they were in Cartagena with telescopic rifles and automatic weapons, concealed at one point of the walled city, but once again those who should have pulled the trigger lost their nerve. The pretext was that Gabo’s head got in the way, obstructing their view.
Yesterday, during our conversation, I remembered and asked him and Mercedes — the Olympic champion of information — about innumerable issues inside and outside of Cuba where we were present. The New Latin American Cinema Foundation, created by Cuba and headed by García Márquez and located in the old Santa Bárbara estate — historic for the positive and negative aspects of its antecedents in the first third of the last century — and the School of New Latin American Cinema, directed by the Foundation, located on the outskirts of San Antonio de los Baños, occupied a space in our meeting.
Birri, with his long black beard, now as white as snow, and many other Cuban and foreign figures, were part of that relation.
In my eyes, Gabo earned respect and admiration on account of his capacity for meticulously organizing the school without overlooking one single detail. Out of prejudice, I had imagined him as an intellectual full of marvelous fantasy; I didn’t know how much realism there was in his mind.
Dozens of events inside and outside of Cuba, at which we were both present, were mentioned. How many things take place over the years!
Two hours for conversing were not enough, as one can imagine. The meeting had begun at 11:35 a.m. I invited them to lunch, something that I have not done with any visitor at all in these close to two years. I grasped that I was really on vacation and told them so. I improvised. I was able to sort things out. They had their own lunch and, for my part, I kept to my diet in a disciplined way, without straying from it in the least, not to add years to my life, but productivity to my hours.
They had barely arrived when they gave me a little, pleasant gift wrapped in attractive and brightly-colored paper. It contained tiny volumes that were a little bigger but less elongated than a postage stamp. Each one had 40-60 pages, in tiny letters but legible. They are the speeches given in Stockholm by five Nobel Literature Prize winners out of those awarded in the last 60 years. “So that you have reading material,” Mercedes told me on giving it to me.
I asked for more information on the present before they both left at five in the afternoon. “I have spent the most agreeable hours since I got sick nearly two years ago,” I told them without hesitation. That is how I felt.
“There’ll be more,” replied Gabo.
But my curiosity would not be stilled. A while later, as I was walking, I asked a comrade to bring me the gift. Aware of the rate at which the world has changed in the last few decades, I wondered, “What was the thinking of some of those brilliant writers who lived before this turbulent and uncertain epoch of humanity?”
In chronological order, the five Nobel Prize winners selected in the small collection of speeches that I hope our compatriots will be able to read one day, were:
William Faulkner (1949)
Pablo Neruda (1971)
Gabriel García Márquez (1982)
John Maxwell Cohetes (2003)
Doris Lessing (2007)
Gabo didn’t like making speeches. He spent months searching for data — I recall — anguishing over the words he would say on receiving the prize. The same thing happened with the brief speech that he was supposed to give at the dinner offered after the Prize. If that had been his occupation, Gabo certainly would have died of a heart attack.
It should be noted that the Nobel is awarded in the capital of a country that has not suffered the ravages of a war for more than 150 years, ruled by a constitutional monarchy and governed by a social democratic party, where a man as honorable as Olof Palme was assassinated because of his spirit of solidarity with the poor countries of the world. For Gabo, the mission was not easy to fulfill.
Without the slightest whiff of being pro-communist, the Swedish institution awarded the Nobel Prize to William Faulkner, an inspired and rebellious U.S. writer; to Pablo Neruda, a member of the Communist Party, who received it in the glorious days of Salvador Allende, when fascism tried to seize Chile; and to Gabriel García Márquez, the genius and prestigious writer of our era.
It is not necessary to say what Gabo thought. Suffice it to simply transcribe the last paragraphs of his speech, a jewel of prose, on receiving the Nobel Prize on December 10, 1982, while Cuba, dignified and heroic, was resisting the Yankee blockade.
“One day like today, my maestro William Faulkner said in this place, ‘I refuse to admit to the end of humankind,’” he affirmed.
“I would not feel worthy of occupying this place that was his if I was not fully conscious that, for the first time since the origins of humanity, the colossal disaster that he refused to admit to 32 years ago is now nothing less than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”
Fidel Castro Ruz
July 9, 2008