Political Prisoners of the Empire  MIAMI 5     

     

C U B A

Havana. April 23, 2014

Gabo will never be alone

Gabriel Molina

When Fidel’s Reflection was published July 9, 2008, Gabriel García Márquez and his Mercedes Barcha were stunned by the Comandante’s great affection.

Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez  with journalist Gabriel Molina, and other Cuban reporters, during a visit to Granma International.
Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez  with journalist Gabriel Molina,
and other Cuban reporters, during a visit to Granma International.

“What Fidel wrote left me cold, frozen. I had the impression I had just met him yesterday. I had never seen him that way, so affectionate,” Gabo commented to some of his Cuban friends…

“He was affectionate, relaxed. He spoke with us about everything, about Birán, which we had visited with him before,” Mercedes said. “Yes, about a great many issues, with depth and clarity,” her companion of more than 50 years added, concluding, “I’m not going out on the street today.”

For good reason, after these words which reached perhaps millions of Cubans via the press, radio and television, it would have been overwhelming to be seen in public. Coming from some one else, this might appear to be an exaggeration, but it wasn’t. He recalled what had happened the previous day at the Hotel Meliá Cohíba.

Just past 3:00 pm, the restaurant was almost empty, an opportune moment for hotel management and workers alike to begin, as soon as we had placed our order, approaching the table where Gabo, Mercedes, Conchita Dumois and I sat. As people became more and more bold, we could not continue our conversation in regards to our third meeting with Angel Augier, about to celebrate his 100th birthday, having spent 50 years in solitude. The admirers of García Márquez brought books, pieces of paper and all kinds of souvenirs for him to sign and asked to take a picture with him. I admit that, at the time, I wanted to continue enjoying his brilliant conversation. He liked to talk about those times. I thought he might lose patience with the interruptions. But I was wrong; he was always this way, devoid of any elitist attitudes typical of celebrities. I would say he was truly delighted to interact with the modest people who overcame their shyness to approach a famous writer.

These moments brought to mind a day, 10 years earlier, when in Lenin Park a Spanish tourist approached us, asking to take a photo of Gabo. We agreed, on the condition that he send us a hard copy, which he did. This is the only image we have of those collegial meetings here in the 1960’s. Conchita Dumois, Jorge Ricardo Masetti’s unforgettable widow, took on the responsibility of building ties, getting Gabo together, almost every time he came, with the Prensa Latina staff, which was, in those contentious times, very close to Argentina. Gathering to discuss the present, and recall the past, were Ricardo Saenz and Joaquín Oramas, like Conchita now deceased; Juan Marrero and Marta Rojas, as well, although she did not work at PL.

Too many people are overwhelmed by success, especially when their accomplishments are not as spectacular or well-deserved as was the case with Gabo. I was never surprised that, even after not seeing him for years, he was always the same, or rather, even better. He preserved his authenticity.

Gabriel García Márquez became so famous that at times it was a burden. More than once anonymous writers circulated letters on the Internet, purportedly from Gabo, bidding farewell given his allegedly imminent death.

It is perhaps lamentable to lose one’s privacy, especially when you most need it, but Gabo showed that it was more important to know how to manage fame. At the Meliá, he continued to express his affection, wit and respect, as he did during our meetings with Augier.  Throughout our stay, he graciously accepted compliments with a surprisingly calm disposition, which encouraged the Cuban and Spanish workers there. Some bemoaned the fact that they didn’t have their books with them at the moment, and he promised to sign them some other time.

The following day, I asked him about that and he had already been back. I shouldn’t have been surprised. How could I have doubted it, given the innumerable demonstrations of his modesty I had observed, over the years.

Gabo was open, like any good Colombian costeño. His former alter ego in those adventures, led by Argentine Jorge Ricardo Masetti and his mentor Che Guevara, was Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza from Bogotá, who, despite the Latin-Greek connotation of his name, was as sociable as his friend, perhaps because his desk in the newsroom was next to mine.

When we spoke about five years ago about Masetti and the foundation of Prensa Latina, García Márquez told me he was fine with our salary, which was good, not just for Cuba, at the time. The country had broken the habit of paying journalists poorly, largely because of Che, we thought, who had suffered this indignity while covering the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico.

My companion, Ana María García, had the opportunity to confirm Gabo’s great curiosity and congenial demeanor, when she saw him for the first time, during the 1990’s in a store in Miramar. Upon recognizing him, it occurred to her to ask him what he thought of the Colombian football team’s performance in the World Cup competition, and if he would grant her an interview on the subject. It is well-known that he declined many interview requests. I heard him say once, “Crocodiles don’t eat crocodiles.”

Nevertheless, the idea was an original one. Gabo turned to Mercedes and commented that no one had ever asked him for an interview about sports, much less about a game in which the players “look like chicks running wildly after a ball.” The interview was held; we published it in Granma International and it was widely distributed in the French daily Sud Ouest.

In August of 2001, Granma International staff members were enchanted with his wit as he greeted them, before setting off with me to meet Augier in his Habana del Este home, climbing eight flights of stairs, since the elevator was out of order. During the trip, I continued to enjoy Gabo’s natural humanity. He liked to sing - doing so once in a Paris bistro to help cover his expenses – and he enjoyed sharing friendly conversation, good music and a few drinks. He loved boleros and wanted to compose, though he wasn’t happy with his efforts. He loved his native country’s vallenatos, saying once that “A hundred years of solitude is a 450-page vallenato.”

The García Márquez, who so impressed Fidel, was not just a great writer and journalist, adored around the world, but an extraordinary human being, who responded to Fidel’s affection in kind. I can personally vouch for this, recalling one of the last times we spent together compiling Conchita’s memories of PL for a book about Masetti. Fidel was in life-threatening condition, and García Márquez would stop every five minutes to wonder aloud about how Fidel was doing, seemingly forgetting that his own health was not good.

Thus the words Fidel wrote about him and Mercedes deeply moved Gabo. Allow me to quote some of the sentiments expressed, “I decided to rest. I would have preferred to meet Gabo and his wife Mercedes Barcha, who are visiting Cuba through the 11th.  How I would have liked to converse with them, to recall the almost 50 years of our genuine friendship! (...) I never had the privilege of seeing Aracataca, the small town where Gabo was born, although I did have the privilege of celebrating my 70th birthday with him in Birán. (...) Our friendship was the result of a relationship cultivated over many years, during which our conversations, always a pleasure for me, would number into the hundreds.  Talking with García Márquez and Mercedes, whenever they came to Cuba – and it was once a year – became a prescription for the severe tension which a revolutionary leader lived, unconsciously, but constantly.

“In Colombia itself, on the occasion of the 4th Ibero-American Summit, the hosts organized a car tour of the walled area of Cartagena (…) My compañeros from Cuban security told me it might not be convenient for me to participate in the scheduled tour. I thought it might reflect excessive concern, given the degree of compartmentalization, those who informed me were sometimes unaware of concrete facts. I always respected their professionalism and cooperated with them.

“I called Gabo, who was close-by and said to him jokingly, ‘Ride with us tonight, so they don’t shoot us!’ And he did. I added in the same tone to Mercedes, who stayed at the point our departure, ‘You’re going to be the youngest widow.’ I’ve never forgotten it. (…) Later I learned that what happened there was the same as what had occurred in Santiago de Chile, when a television camera containing an automatic weapon was pointed at me during an interview with the press, and the mercenary operating it did not dare to fire. In Cartagena, there were telescopic rifles and automatic weapons in place to ambush us in the walled area, but once again, those who were to pull the trigger wavered. The excuse given was that Gabo’s head was in the way, obstructing their view.” Going about the world with Fidel has its risks.

At the end of his article, Fidel wrote that Gabo did not much like giving speeches, but described as a gem the one he gave accepting the Nobel Prize, when he said, “We inventors of fables, who believe everything, feel it is our right to believe that it is not too late to undertake the creation of a different utopia.

“A new, sweeping utopia of life, in which no one can decide for others even the way they will die, where love is truly sure and happiness is possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

Not long ago, conversing with García Márquez and Mercedes, l said that in my opinion, he had rescued our name. They looked at me quizzically and said no more. I should have told them about the famous figure of my childhood, named

Miguel Gravier, who as a radio magnate was very well known. So well known that practically no one called me Gabriel, but rather Gravier or Grabiel, which bothered me to no end. I stopped telling people my given name, preferring to use my surname.

That’s why I said he rescued and dignified the name. As a result of his saga, everyone can pronounce it well. Now that he is sadly no longer with us, I can tell the story without fear that might appear self-flattering. It is in truth a simple, intimate and sincere tribute, because he rescued and dignified ethical journalism.

I know that García Márquez will never again be alone. One day he said he was one of those who are buried with their friends. I will take the idea farther, and say that his ashes will always remain in the air his friends breathe.

Gabriel García Márquez  and Fidel Castro.
Gabriel García Márquez  and Fidel Castro.

Gabriel García Márquez. Photo: abc.es.
Gabriel García Márquez. Photo: abc.es.

100 Years of Solitude, Gabo’s most renowned work.
100 Years of Solitude, Gabo’s most renowned work.

 

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