America’s new opening to Cuba should not blind us to the cruel history of the Castro era. We should not forget the human-rights heroes who have suffered in Castro’s prisons and spoken out internationally about his tyranny. Nor should we forget those prominent figures in the West who have betrayed the cause of freedom by befriending, defending, and brown-nosing Castro over the decades.
Take, for example, Gabriel García Márquez. During his lifetime, he was probably the most honored and most famous author in the Spanish-speaking world. He deserved immense respect for his writings: his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a beautiful piece of work, a true masterpiece. After his death in April 2014, however, he was celebrated by left-wing media around the world not only as a literary genius but as a great humanitarian, a sort of world-class hero of the human spirit. Recently, on the Oscar telecast, he was included in the “In Memoriam” segment alongside the likes of actors Mickey Rooney and Eli Wallach, presumably on the basis of his handful of obscure Spanish-language screenplays.
Only a few dissident voices dared breathe the ugly truth.
Armando Valladares, who described his years as a prisoner of conscience under Castro in the book Against All Hope, wrote after García Márquez’s death that the Colombian novelist had “put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba.”
García Márquez, recalled Valladares, “lived in a ‘House of Protocol’ with Blanquita, his teenage lover….The Nobel winner had a white Mercedes Benz, another gift from his friend Fidel Castro, and privileges in exchange for defending Castro’s dictatorship, all while he rent his robes denouncing Pinochet.”
Valladares’s gravest revelation was that García Márquez was “an informer for Castro’s political police” – in other words, a snitch, a fink, a double-crosser. Valladares cited the case of Cuban dissident Ricardo Bofill, who, during a visit by García Márquez to Havana, entrusted him with “documents relating to several Cuban artists.” Shortly thereafter, Bofill was arrested – and “displayed on the table right next to Castro’s secret-policeman…were the very documents which Bofill had given García Márquez.”
Bofill, whom Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova describes as “a peaceful human-rights activist inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.,” ended up spending “12 years in Castro’s prisons—thanks to Gabriel García Márquez.” In 1968, two major Spanish newspapers, ABC and Diario 16, reported on this betrayal, and stated flatly that García Márquez had informed on several Cuban writers and artists, whose trust in him – as a colleague who they assumed would agitate for their human rights – landed them in prison.
“Some of his friends and defenders have said that García Márquez interceded for my freedom,” wrote Valladares. “This is absolutely untrue — a complete falsehood. I have enough moral honesty (which he did not) to have accepted the story if it had been true. This version was a maneuver of his buddies to capitalize on the international sympathy that produced my release; they used this sympathy on his behalf. What he did was use the Nobel Prize ceremony to repeat accusations of Castro against me, which prompted a strong critical letter from the French PEN Club, into which I had been adopted as an honorary member.”
Fontova noted that Castro provided García Márquez with “a (stolen) mansion…where he frolicked with adolescent girls” and with “a (stolen) Mercedes” in which he tooled around the crumbling city of Havana. Fontova also cited Before Night Falls, the autobiography of gay Cuban writer Reynaldo Arenas, who “was jailed and tortured by Castro’s police for his rebellious writings and gay lifestyle” before finally escaping to the U.S. in 1980. Two years later, Arenas described García Márquez as an “unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism.”
Then there’s Cuban author and emigré Roberto Luque Escalona, a sometime Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who said of García Márquez that
Only a five star-scoundrel would put his literary fame in the service of a cause as vile and malignant as the Castro tyranny. Simple frivolity cannot possibly justify an embrace so long and strong as the one Garcia-Marquez gave someone who devastated a nation, murdered thousands, jailed and tortured tens of thousands dispersed an entire nation and debased the rest.
A fellow Latin American novelist who is not only a gifted artist but a morally admirable human being, the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, has described García Márquez as Castro’s “courtesan.” But in fact he was only one of several international cultural figures who were, or are, “courtesans” in Castro’s harem. We’ll look at a few more of them next time.