Tuesday, March 23, 2004

La Vanguardia's back-page interview today goes to Angel Esteban, who is a professor of Latin American literature at the University of Granada. He's written a book about the friendship between Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Colombian author Gabriel "Gabo" Garcia Marquez; here are some excerpts from the interview. The interviewer is Victor M. Amela.

Q. To what extent are Castro and Garcia Marquez friends?
A. For both of them, this friendship is worth much more than love.
Q. But I'm sure something could break it.
A. Nothing. Nothing could break it up.
Q. Nothing?
A. Only the death of one of the two.
Q. That friendship is that solid?
A. Gabo has already said he won't set foot in Cuba if Fidel dies before he does. And Fidel doesn't have any other friends left except Gabo.

Q. Gabo is against the death penalty.
A. Yes. But he shuts up when Castro imposes it. A short time ago, despite the executions in Cuba--criticized by Saramago, Sontag, and Grass--Gabo avoided criticizing his friend Fidel.
Q. And why did it take so long to establish that friendship between Garcia Marquez and Castro?
A. Although Gabo wrote sympathetically about Cuba, and tried many times to get into Fidel's circle, Fidel didn't trust him; he saw him as an intellectual who "watches the bullfight from the seats". He trusted Julio Cortazar and, above all, Mario Vargas Llosa.
Q. Vargas Llosa! Who would imagine that today?
A. Vargas Llosa was a very active revolutionary activist, capable of placing bombs.
Q. And what broke up the Mario-Fidel romance?
A. The case of the revolutionary Cuban poet Heberto Padilla: Fidel considered one of his books of poetry "counterrevolutionary", jailed him, tortured him, and forced him to recant in public in 1971. This scandalized comrades Vargas Llosa, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, and others, who signed letters protesting against this Stalinist attitude toward the revolution.

Q. Did Garcia Marquez sign too?
A. He dodged it. And in 1975 he traveled to Cuba and published "Cuba, from head to tail", a long report which describes the country as a perfect world of free and happy men.
Q. That was when he finally won over Fidel?
A. Of course; Castro ran to see Gabo at his hotel, and anointed him as his favorite intellectual, as his ambassador to the world. That is where this indestructible friendship was born.
Q. So Fidel Castro gains an invaluable propagandist, but what does Gabo get out of it?
A. An island. He's a hero in Cuba. He has a luxurious mansion in Siboney, free of charge, Beverly Hills-style, and a Mercedes picks him up at the airport, and nobody in Cuba has, like he does, access to the divine Fidel Castro, and he is happy strolling with him in a T-shirt and swim trunks.

Q. And doesn't he feel the slightest moral scruple about benefiting from a one-man dictatorship?
A. Fidel is his friend, period. For Gabo, that's above all else. Gabo deals with his scruples by making individual intercessions to get this or that dissident out of Cuba, and when he does this, he feels so powerful. He enjoys his only drug, power.
Q. Does power attract Gabo?
A. It fascinates him. And power is more powerful the more absolute and arbitrary it is. Observe that it is something that appears in all his books, it's an obsession.
Q. Are you insinuating some sort of psychopathy?
A. Gabo comes from a very poor family, and he himself didn't have a dime and was a nobody until he was forty. Being close to power makes him feel alive, makes him feel like somebody in this world.
Q. So why didn't he dedicate himself to politics instead of writing?
A. He could have been president of Colombia, but he didn't want to: logical, because that is merely a transitory power. It's better to deal with Torrijos, Mitterand, Clinton, Felipe Gonzalez, move in their circles, vampirize their power.
Q. Almost like a moth seeking flame.
A. Yes. And Castro, capable of holding that absolute, lifetime power over a people, is a brilliant, bewitching light. Blinding.

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