El teatro viene de una palabra griega que significaría “lugar para contemplar”. Existe desde hace mucho tiempo, y a pesar de que en estos días estamos en pleno apogeo de las pantallas, sigue siendo un arte popular activo. La gente que asiste a un teatro, lo hace para presenciar una historia llena de sentimiento, para transportarse de una manera más profunda que en las películas. La gente en el teatro ve personalmente a estos actores y escuchan sus líneas de su talentosa memoria. Cuando uno se adentra a un teatro, se adentra en realidad a otro mundo, a otra época o una distinta vida de la que creía conocer. Es por eso que se requiere silencio y concentración en una obra, porque aparte de perder el hilo de la trama, te desconectas por completo de ese mundo, y te acuerdas de repente de la actual y verdadera realidad.
El monólogo, es un discurso de una sola persona sobre su modo de pensar o su particular vivencia. Es una gran forma de representar a un personaje en pleno conflicto consigo mismo. Un monólogo bien hecho, no se estructura sólo de palabras. Así como en un discurso, los gestos, los movimientos, todo el lenguaje corporal es de suma importancia. Los distintos ademanes, y la entonación de las palabras, se mezclan en una armonía tal, que realmente te hace sentir los sentimientos de la persona, y te hacen conocer su modo de reaccionar ante éstos. Depende del que lo interprete, un monólogo puede ser extenso sin llegar a aburrir al público, así como también puede ser muy corto, pero impactante.
En el caso del monólogo de “Crónicas de una muerte anunciada”, el actor toma la última parte de la novela para su interpretación, sirviéndose de la música de una guitarra que él mismo toca en algunas partes de su monólogo.
¿Es el monólogo similar al libro de García Márquez? Desde el inicio del monólogo, pude advertir ciertos cambios, que al finalizar la interpretación el actor se dispuso a aclarar. Por ejemplo, los nombres de los personajes: El personaje principal –es decir el que sería asesinado- en el libro se llama Santiago Nasar, mientras que en el monólogo se lo nombró como Jesús Mamani. El actor señaló que el personaje, bien podría simbolizar a Jesús de la Biblia, aparte que quiso darle un toque más familiar para todos nosotros, como lo es el apellido Mamani, o el nombre mismo, en cualquier cuestión.
El resto de los personajes también poseían nombres distintos, pero el motivo es prácticamente el mismo, el actor sacó los nombres de la Biblia y los mezcló con apellidos comunes en nuestra sociedad.
La narración no está totalmente cambiada, si bien hubo algunos cambios. Pudimos escuchar todos varias frases presentes también en el libro de García Márquez, con leves modismos de diferencia. La descripción de los lugares, y las escenas, tienen cierta fidelidad con los verdaderos, y los hechos –terribles, debo decir- son también fidedignos a la novela.
La intensidad que le imprimió a los diálogos, la entonación clara de la narración, despertó diversas emociones en el público. El actor se desenvolvía en gritos, alaridos, cantos, amenazas, lamentos, etc., tales que la audiencia no pudo pasar por alto. En lo personal, habiendo leído la obra hace ya varios meses, reviví los mismos sentimientos que me había despertado la historia completa; su interpretación me conmovió tanto, que realmente abandoné el curso para unirme a los pasos de Jesús Mamani, y contemplé su asesinato hasta el momento en que cayó de bruces sobre la mesa de su cocina.
¡Y la música! El emocionante sonido que salía de la guitarra, unido con la potente voz del actor… Provocaron que me hundiera más en la historia, y que me conectara más con los sentimientos que quería expresar. Claro, sé que hubo algunas risitas ante los alaridos finales del actor, y que varios no lograron sentir nada más que diversión, pero es que son esos justamente los más atrapados en las redes de nuestra realidad actual, llena de informática y tecnología digital. Cómo me molesté al finalizar el monólogo con aquellas personas, sobre todo porque lo hicieron en el momento en que Jesús Mamani (Santiago Nasar) indicaba “¡me mataron!!”. ¡Qué expresión! ¡Con cuánta intensidad la demostró!
Otra cosa que rescatar, es la capacidad del actor, su talento. Desafortunadamente, yo cuento con una mala memoria, por consecuente no recuerdo muy bien el nombre del magnífico interpretador. Sin embargo, recuerdo muy bien cuando indicó el tiempo que le había llevado perfeccionar su monólogo. Él reconoce que no es tan largo como para llamarlo “obra”, pero sabe también que no es cualquier cosa. Indica que García Márquez es un gran escritor, que no necesitó adaptar mucho sus líneas. Esto demuestra la humildad, y respeto del actor. ¡Si hasta convenció con su monólogo para seguir considerando “Crónicas de una muerte anunciada” como lectura analítica para la carrera!
Y francamente, creo que a muchos les llamó la atención la obra. Aquellos que no le daban importancia alguna, al menos ahora la toman en cuenta. ¡Yo misma lo comprobé con varios compañeros! Y para los que ya la habían leído, les recordó lo emocionante que es, pues honestamente me hizo dar ganas de volver a leerla.
En fin, para concluir respecto a este hermoso monólogo, me limitaré a decir que es una de las más bellas interpretaciones que he visto realizar. Tampoco he visto tantas puestas en escena, pero de todas esas, ésta breve las hace bolsa. Gracias a este tipo de trabajo, es que el teatro no morirá nunca. No desapareció hasta ahora, y sé que no lo hará en un futuro distante. Esta clase de arte es único, y muy cautivador en un nivel más elevado que el cine, o la televisión. Porque aparte de los libros, el teatro es el único capaz de transportarte tanto dentro una historia en la que cualquier cosa podría pasar, haciendo trabajar tu imaginación.
*Ensayo (primer semestre 2010) basado en un monólogo realizado en la universidad.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ’S COUNTRY
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Colombia, the fourth largest country in South America. It is situated in the northern part of the continent, just southeast of Panama, and is bordered on the east by Venezuela and Brazil and on the southwest by Ecuador and Peru. Colombia commands coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Politically, Colombia is divided into thirty-two administrative departments and the special capital district.
The national language is Spanish. Founded by Spanish conquistadores in 1538, the capital of the country is Bogotá, formerly known as Santa Fe de Bogotá; García Márquez uses the original name in The General In His Labyrinth. Bogotá is located in the interior in the Andean highlands and has a culture, as well as a climate and philosophy, diametrically opposed to that of the coast. The people of Bogotá and the interior are called cachacos, and those of the coast, costeños. Four hundred miles of jungle and mountains separate the two regions.
An understanding of the history of Colombia is necessary to an understanding of the fiction of García Márquez. As Regina Janes notes, he himself “once remarked that the reader of Cien anos de soledad who was not familiar with the history of his country, Colombia, might appreciate the novel as a good novel, but much of what happens in it would make no sense to him.”1
As early as colonial times, when it was part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (encompassing most of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador), Colombia was already a society with strictly stratified classes. Those at the apex of society were people of Spanish blood who had been born in Spain, the peninsulares. This elite formed the basis of an oligarchy that would continue in power in Colombia until the end of the twentieth century. All other Colombians occupied a lower position in the social hierarchy.
Criollos, people of Spanish descent born in Colombia, were regarded as inferior to the peninsulares, but they were socially superior to the largest class, which would become the largest group throughout Latin America, the mestizos. The mestizos were of mixed Spanish and Indian blood. By the end of the twentieth century most Indians had either been assimilated or had intermarried with Colombians of Spanish or African descent, and only 1 percent of the Colombian population was considered to be of pure Indian stock. The mother of Ulises in “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother” is a Guajira Indian and is treated with respect and admiration by the author. García Márquezthose at the bottom of the social ladder, the also treats with special sympathy those at the bottom of the social ladder, the zambos, people of mixed African and Indian blood, descended from black slaves and indigenous Americans. The disenchanted groom of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Bayardo San Roman, is a zambo.
Sixty percent of the population is mestizo; blacks and mulattos compose about 20 percent of the population, many residing in the Caribbean Coastal Lowlands, the birthplace of García Márquez. The Bantu noun for banana is in fact macondo, the name García Márquez chose for his fictionalized version of the Zona Bananero (Banana Zone); in his youth there was even an actual banana plantation called “Macondo.” The Spanish had imported African slaves to the colony of New Granada, an event that appears in the fiction of García Márquez in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
The author’s point of view toward the slave trade is apparent in this novel. Santiago Nasar, the perhaps innocent victim, “pointed to an intermittent light at sea and told us that it was the soul in torment of a slave ship that had sunk with a cargo of blacks from Senegal across from the main harbor mouth at Cartagena de Indias.”2 The image is interpolated into the narrative purely to express the author’s indignation at the history of degradation that is the legacy of his countrymen.
This legacy is one that García Márquez himself claims. When he traveled to Angola on a journalistic assignment in the 1970s, he pronounced himself a “mestizo.”3 Later he added to that description of his racial heritage. “Not long ago,” García Márquez says in the documentary movie Magic and Reality, “I realized that I was a mulatto.”4 However, as the grandson of Colonel Nicolas Marquez, the leading figure in the town of Aracataca, his position was high.
It was in Colombia that the revolutionary movement to throw off Spanish colonial rule in South America began on 20 July 1810, when criollo leaders in Bogotá declared their independence from both the puppet government that had been installed in Spain by Napoleon Bonaparte and the peninsulare-dominated resistance council. The colonial elites argued among themselves about whether they should form a national government that was federalist, resembling the United States, or centralist and more authoritarian. The great federalist leader was named Camilo Torres—namesake of García Márquez’s college friend Father Camilo Torres Restrepo; the centralists were led by Antonio Narino. Civil war loomed before the independent country was even established. The question of the separation of church and state was a deciding issue. These disagreements led to the so-called Patria Boba (Foolish Fatherland) period, with the factions splitting the former colony into several small republics that squabbled among themselves, thus allowing the Spanish to reconquer much of the territory by 1816.
Simón Bolívar, who became known as El Libertador (The Liberator), took charge of the independence forces. He managed to enlist the masses in the war against Spain, and after the last major royalist force was defeated at the Battle of Boyaca in August of 1819, independence was secured.
Bolívar became the first president of the new country, Gran Colombia, which encompassed present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. Later appointed dictator, he was forced to resign in 1830, and both Ecuador and Venezuela soon seceded from Gran Colombia.
The followers of Bolívar, and those of Francisco de Paula Santander, the first vice president, formed the core of the Conservative and Liberal parties, which formally came into existence around the elections of 1849. Before long these two parties, heirs to the earlier centralist and federalist factions, would enter into the series of civil wars that are reflected in many of the novels of García Márquez. These civil wars ran from the nineteenth into the twentieth century.
A TRADITION OF CONFLICT
The following list of the major civil wars in Colombia in the nineteenth century does not include minor uprisings, bloodless coups, abortive plots, or riots.
Rebellion of 1830-183I. 10 August to 28 April. Attempt by General Rafael Urdaneta to establish a dictatorship.
Rebellion of 1839; or, Rebellion of the Minor Convents. July to August. Uprising in opposition to the closing of religious houses.
Rebellion of 1840-1842; or, War of the Supreme Commanders. Several uncoordinated federalist revolts.
Rebellion of 1851-1852. May 1851 to January 1852. Conservative revolt.
Rebellion of 1854.17 April to 4 December. Brief dictatorship of General Jose Maria Melo.
Rebellion of 1859-1862; or, Federal War. Established Liberal-dominated United States of Colombia (1863-1885).
Rebellion of 1876-1877. July 1876 to April 1877. Conservative revolt.
Rebellion of 1884-1885.17 August 1884 to 26 August 1885. Liberal revolt.
Rebellion of 1895.22 January to 15 March. Series of unsuccessful Liberal revolts.
Rebellion of 1899-19O3; or, War of the Thousand Days. 17 October 1899 to I June 1903. Liberal revolt.
Source: Robert H. Davis, Historical Dictionary of Colombia, second edition (Metuchen, N.J. B London: Scarecrow Press, 1993).
The Liberals were intent on creating a new society and on dismantling the colonial legacy. They favored the separation of church and state, free trade, restrictions on presidential power, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the abolition of slavery. The Liberals are the party of Colonel Aureliano Buendia.
The Conservatives were committed to maintaining the traditions and institutions established during the colonial period, which they saw as essential to preserving their cultural and national identity. They strongly supported the church retaining all of the power with which the Spanish had invested it. They saw no reason to reduce government control of the economy or to abolish slavery. The Conservatives proposed a society rooted in the traditions of authoritarian Spain and sought to eliminate any new freedoms that might challenge the status quo.
Liberals were represented by the color red and Conservatives by the color blue; when the new mayor arrives in Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude and demands that all the houses be painted blue, the reader immediately knows his political orientation. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Colombia over the difference in color, red or blue.5
Colonel Nicolas Marquez, the grandfather of the author, fought in the wars between the Liberals and the Conservatives as a Liberal. His grandson, however, rejects the Liberals and Conservatives both as equally contemptible representatives of the ruling oligarchy. As García Márquez puts it in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the only real difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives is that the Liberals go to Mass at five o’clock and the Conservatives go at eight.
Since colonial days, the upper class has been closely identified with the religious hierarchy. The priesthood has been largely made up of men of upper-class or upper-middle-class origins who have shared the values of the ruling oligarchy. They continued social relationships with the friends of their youth, sharing authority and an understanding that excluded participation by anyone not of the traditional elite. The bishop in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, who refuses to set his feet on land to say mass for the people anxiously awaiting his arrival, reflects the view of García Márquez toward this religious hierarchy. There are, however, a few positive images of priests in the work of García Márquez, such as the priest nicknamed “Pup” in Leaf Storm and the Camilo Torres-like priest in The Autumn of the Patriarch.
The Liberals and Conservatives have succeeded in maintaining a traditional pyramidal structure for Colombian society. Members of the ruling oligarchy constitute themselves in informal and small decision-making groups. Called roscas, the name of a twisted pastry, these groups trade favors among themselves and maintain intricate social and political ties—twisted and contorted like the pastry after which they are named. The roscas are a form of “old boy network” by which the ruling oligarchy dispenses patronage, thus perpetuating its power—if one does not belong to a rosca, one is not really part of the upper or upper middle classes.
This oligarchy of two parties has thwarted the emergence of other parties organized around socioeconomic interests instead of traditional loyalties. Colombia, Michael Wood writes, has had “a democracy of the upper classes . . . a contest between rival oligarchies.”6 Despite the unraveling of the social order, the traditional parties continued in the second half of the twentieth century to believe that government leadership was the prerogative of a paternalistic upper class whose members made the decisions for the nation and its people, a perspective abhorrent to a socialist such as García Márquez.
Historically, when moderate factions within each party have been in power, the Liberals and the Conservatives have worked out their differences, since, as García Márquez notes, there is not much difference ideologically between them. Although the parties were once clearly ideologically opposed, since the early twentieth century both have supported the status quo and have generally opposed altering the existing social structure.
During periods when radical factions were in control, one party has sought through violent means to eliminate the rival party’s participation in the political process, as during the so-called War of the Thousand Days (1899-1902), of which Colonel Marquez was a veteran and in which more than one hundred thousand were killed, and the period known as La Violencia (The Violence, 1948-1966), which claimed nearly three hundred thousand lives. Ostensibly a democracy since 1886 under a constitution that established executive, legislative, and judicial branches with a separation of powers, from the moment of independence Colombia has been beset by anarchy and civil war.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ’S ERA AND TIME IN HISTORY
If he were born in 1928, and not 1927 as his father claimed, then the year of the birth of García Márquez would coincide with the famous strike of banana workers near Santa Marta, a pivotal event in the history of Colombia. Based in Boston, the United Fruit Company—known as La Campania to Colombians—had brought a kind of prosperity to the area in the early part of the twentieth century, culminating in 1915-1918, but by 1928 the boom time had long passed.
Although the United Fruit Company helped the local economy somewhat, this U.S. company was never really integrated into the local community. United Fruit operations in the area around Santa Marta and Aracataca included residential compounds that were fenced in, so that the North Americans could maintain their own schools and social life apart from the local inhabitants. United Fruit even ran its own railroad and its own private irrigation system. Workers were paid in scrip that could be redeemed only in company stores that sold goods brought on the company-owned transport ships, which otherwise would have had to return from New Orleans empty. The company hired most of its workers through subcontractors to avoid Colombian labor laws that regulated working conditions and benefits.
When the trouble began, United Fruit insisted that it had no employees on its payroll. Workers’ employment cards were burned so they could not prove how long they had worked and could not prove their eligibility for pensions, a theme that is developed in No One Writes to the Colonel. In One Hundred Years of Solitude the spokesmen of the banana company argue sophistically that since all workers were hired temporarily, they were never really employees; the court to which the workers have turned agrees, issuing a decree that the workers do not, in fact, exist. As Janes points out, this incredible assertion, that the workers do not exist, is not García Márquez’s invention but is the actual judicial ruling in favor of United Fruit.7
When García Márquez was a child, he heard conflicting accounts of the massacre that followed the strike; some of his neighbors said that no one had actually been killed while others claimed a relative—an uncle or a brother—had been among those who died.8 In the official version of the event, General Cortes Vargas, the military commander sent by the Conservative government in Bogotá to quell the strike, reported that the crowd was all men, and that only nine had died in the massacre itself, with others being killed later. In One Hundred Years of Solitude the crowd is comprised of men, women, and children, and three thousand die. García Márquez has admitted to exaggeration; three thousand was probably the entire population of the town.
In the 1940s, before one more uneasy alliance between the Liberals and Conservatives could be cobbled together, Colombia was overtaken by La Violencia, nearly twenty years of murder and mayhem between Conservatives and Liberals. La Violencia was set off on 9 April 1948 by the assassination during the lunch hour on the streets of Bogotá of the popular Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.
Gaitan had been in favor of radical reform and had investi-gated the notorious banana strike of 1928; his progressive views split the Liberal Party and allowed the Conservatives to win in the election of 1946. Gaitan restrained his followers from a violent uprising, but strikes and police repression grew.
The Bogotázo, the outpouring of rage and the rioting following the murder of Gaitan, was a profound experience for the young García Márquez, who was then a student at the National University; he later recalled:
. . . the people of Bogotá went mad in the streets. I was in my pension ready to have lunch when I heard the news. I ran toward the place, but Gaitan had just been put into a taxi and was being taken to the hospital. On my way back to the pension, the people had already taken to the streets and they were demonstrating, looting stores and burning buildings. I joined them. That afternoon and evening, I became aware of the kind of country I was living in, and how little my short stories had to do with any of that.9
More than two thousand people were killed in the Bogotázo. The National Police, largely Liberal in their sympathies, sided with the rioters, giving weapons to the crowd and sometimes joining them in fighting with the Conservative-dominated army troops who had been summoned to Bogata to suppress the riots. Stories that García Márquez had written while he was a student went up in flames along with the pension in which he had been living.
The violence had actually begun in the early 1940s, with vio-lent attacks on rural Liberals by Conservatives opposing the Liberal agenda. After Gaitan’s assassination La Violencia raged even more profoundly. It extended deep into the countryside but erupted again in the capital as well. In 1949 there was even a gun battle between Liberal and Conservative congressmen on the floor of the legislature —one Liberal legislator was killed and four others wounded. In the provincial capital of Barranquilla, a crowd of Liberals almost succeeded in taking over the city. They seized the provincial government building and raised a red flag.
The objective of La Violencia became to eliminate any of one’s countrymen belonging to the opposite party. The entire country was in a state of anarchy. Conservative and Liberal villages wiped each other out with extreme brutality. The army, having been purged of Liberals, could not quell the violence. The wars fought by Colonel Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude are, in fact, a composite of the civil wars of the nineteenth century and La Violencia of the twentieth.
The Liberals boycotted the presidential election of 1949. The Conservative candidate, Laureano Gómez Castro, running unop-posed, succeeded to the presidency in 1950 and immediately ordered that even greater force be used against the resistance in the country-side. Military expenditures grew to nearly one-quarter of the national budget.
By the middle of 1952 as much as a third of the national terri-tory was controlled by forces opposed to the government. At the height of La’ Violencia, some twenty thousand armed rebels operated in Colombia, some organizing themselves into guerrilla groups and establishing their own “independent republics” in the jungles.
Gómez Castro went on to draft a proposed new constitution in 1953. Fascist in outline, the constitution would have increased the powers of the presidency and expanded the role of the church within the political system. Although unsuccessful in amending the Constitution of 1886, he canceled pro-Labor laws, curtailed civil liberties, and censored the press.
Gómez Castro was overthrown by a military coup on 13 June 1953. It was the military leadership’s first intervention in the political sphere in nearly a century. The coup leader, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, promised to bring an end to La Violencia. Emulating the Argentine dictator General Juan Domingo Peron’s populist program, Rojas Pinilla tried to create a broad-based movement that would bring rural peasants and urban workers together, thus circumventing the control that the Liberal/Conservative oligarchy had traditionally had in the political realm. He failed to create this new power base but succeeded in angering the oligarchy.
Rojas Pinilla had declared an amnesty to those who would lay down their arms, and at first many of the fighters accepted his offer. Within a year, however, violence broke out again. Enlisting Cold War ideology, the Rojas Pinilla government now labeled the rebels in the countryside “communists.” The Constitution of 1886 was abolished in 1954, and Rojas Pinilla created a new, rubber-stamp government. The armed forces of Colombia had more than doubled, from fourteen thousand men in 1948 to thirty-two thousand troops in 1956, and the National Police had been brought under the command of the armed forces.
Out of control, Rojas Pinilla had a law enacted that made showing disrespect to the president punishable by imprisonment or fines. At the notorious Bullring Massacre in February of 1956, many were killed or injured at a bullfight after refusing to join in a demonstration of loyalty to the regime. Near the end of his regime Rojas Pinilla shut down the Liberal newspaper El Espectador leaving foreign correspondent García Márquez stranded in Europe with no income.
By early 1957 the oligarchy had had enough of Rojas Pinilla’s rule. Meeting in secret, the leaders of the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to stop fighting one another and united in opposition to Roja Pinilla. Faced by widespread demonstrations and having lost the sup-port of both the church and key military leaders, Rojas Pinilla was pressured by the military to resign his office in May of 1957. He was allowed to select his successors, who promised a return to civilian rule. They handed power over to the Liberal and the Conservative elites, who instituted a National Front coalition government, which, through a plebiscite in December of 1957, restored the Constitution of 1886, divided legislative power equally along party lines, and introduced some reforms, such as female suffrage.
Most importantly, the National Front agreement stipulated that the two parties would alternate the presidency every four years for a period of twelve years (later extended to sixteen years). The first National Front president, the Liberal Lleras Camargo, was elected in August 1958; partially because of reforms he enacted, fighting in the countryside diminished. Nonetheless, La Violencia persisted, and in 1965 the Conservative president Guillermo Leon Valencia declared the country under a state of siege, which decree was not formally lifted until 1982.
The novels that grew out of La Violencia, García Márquez insisted in a 1960 essay, were bad: writers concentrated on the details of the violence with no larger perspective, so that their books consisted of descriptions “de los decapitados, de los castrados, las mujeres violados, los sexos eparicidos y las tripas sacadas”10; that is, they offered details of the atrocities of decapitated people, castrated men, women who were raped, with no sense of the cause of these events. In his own work the influence of La Violencia may be observed both in No One Writes to the Colonel in the sinister murder of the Colonel’s son and in In Evil Hour in the animosity between the dentist and the mayor.
Although the National Front government managed to diminish the violence between Liberals and Conservatives, disaffection with the traditional oligarchy continued. In 1964 Fabio Vasquez Castano and Victor Medina Moron founded the Ejercito de Lib-eracion Nacional (ELN; Army of National Liberation) in the department of Santander. This group was inspired by the Cuban Revolution and by the methods employed by Fidel Castro and his band of guerrilla fighters to defeat Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar. The ELN, comprised mainly of student radicals, focused its activities in the countryside, attempting to win over the local peasantry and conducting raids on small towns where the guerrillas would rob banks and liberate prisoners from local jails. There were occasional skirmishes with the army. Another major revolutionary movement inspired by the Cuban example, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC; Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), began guerrilla operations in 1966.
García Márquez’s college classmate Father Camilo Torres Restrepo joined the ELN in October of 1965, after he had been laicized by the church and stripped of his powers and privileges as a priest. Although he had become the most popular political leader in the country, addressing thousands in his speeches, he had been unable to see a path to actual power.
Father Torres explained his extraordinary decision in this way: “I don’t want to let them kill me as they did Gaitan on the Carrera Septima. They will have to kill me in the mountains. They killed Gaitan in the city, and his death did not point to any solution. If they kill me in the mountains, my death will show the way.”11 Torres was killed in the mountains in a battle with the Colombian armed forces in February of 1966.
García Márquez himself was profoundly influenced by the Cuban Revolution. Like other Latin American writers, he looked toward Cuba as the nation opposed to cultural colonialism. Cuba became an emblem for ending the economic dependence of the region upon the United States and for putting an end to economic exploitation.
This resistence to U.S. economic and cultural domination was a dominant theme for many writers of the Boom, the sudden flourishing of the Latin American novel in the late 1960s. In The Boom inSpanish American Literature Jose Donoso notes that prior to the 1960s the works of Latin American writers were distributed only in their own countries. The publishers explained that this was to “keep foreign currency within the country.” Donoso and others noticed that “there was more than enough currency to import Walt Disney comic books.”12
The relations of Colombia with the United States have been strained since 1903 when Theodore Roosevelt’s administration was involved in the revolt of Panama, which until then had been a part of Colombia. García Márquez sees the neighbor to the north, a country with no exclusive right to call itself “America,” as having exploited Colombia in particular and the continent in general.
In his fiction García Márquez has been vehemently critical of the role of the United States in Colombian history. The depiction in One Hundred Years of Solitude of a U.S.-owned company in Macondo, modeled on the actions of the United Fruit Company in the Caribbean Coastal Lowlands in the first decades of the twentieth century, reveals a heartless exploiter with no concern for the welfare of the workers on its plantations. In the novel, as in history, the pillaging of the country by the U.S. company culminates in a massacre. In The Autumn of the Patriarch the country is so ravaged economically by its foreign debt to the United States that the dictator, rather than accept the alternative of the landing of U.S. Marines, chooses to sell off the sea. García Márquez’s love of the sea runs through all of his fiction; loss of the sea amounts to the loss of national identity.
THE SWORD OF THE LIBERATOR
The following is translated and excerpted from the M-19 proclamation left in the National Museum in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1974, after guerrillas stole Simón Bolívar’s sword:
“Our freedom is not secured. It doesn’t exist.... We Latin Americans live in hunger. We’re impoverished by injustice. We feel our culture being castrated, deformed, sold-out. . . . The Spanish chains broken by Bolívar today are replaced by the gringo dollar. And from Bolívar’s heritage, every four years representatives of the oligarchy alternate positions, those assassins of the Colombian people. For these reasons Bolívar’s fighting continues, Bolívar has not died. His sword breaks through the cobwebs of the museum. . . . into our hands.”
From Dario Villamizar, Aquel 19 Sera (Bogotá: Planeta, 1995), p. 56.
The United States has also been involved, if more indirectly, in other Colombian problems. Beginning in the 1970s Colombian narcotics traffickers emerged as a dominant economic force, with most of the drugs going to meet the voracious demand of U.S. consumers. By 1999 Colombia had begun to include income earned from growing illegal drugs in calculations of the size of the national economy. Traditional export earnings on coffee, bananas, flowers, sugarcane, and cotton are still important, as are those from the sale of oil, gold, silver, and emeralds; however, income from drugs is as much as four billion dollars a year.13 Colombia produces half of the world’s supply of cocaine, most of it destined for the U.S. market.
With the rise in the drug trade came a wave of violence in Colombia; by the middle of the 1980s, much of Colombia had slid into chaos, with the powerful drug kingpins openly defying the national government and out to torture, intimidate, or murder anyone who openly opposed their operations, striking at journalists, politicians, law enforcement, and judicial authorities with seeming impunity. Kidnappings in Colombia had become especially endemic; García Márquez even wrote a full-length nonfiction book, Noticia de un secuestro (1996; translated as News of a Kidnapping, 1997), describing the kidnapping of ten people, mostly journalists, by gunmen from Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel. The victims included a friend of García Márquez, Maruja Pachon, who was kidnapped ’because she was the sister of the widow of Luis Carlos Galan Sarmiento.
A presidential candidate, Galan had been gunned down in August 1989 in the presence of his eighteen bodyguards. He was the founder of the Movimiento Nuevo Liberalismo (MNL; New Liberalism Movement) faction of the Liberal Party, which supported the extradition of Colombian nationals to stand trial in the United States. Extradition was a policy the drug lords feared and violently opposed. In Colombia they could escape imprisonment or be jailed in relative luxury, but they knew the U.S. authorities would treat them far more harshly.
This set of kidnappings, illustrating the control of civilian life in Colombia by the drug cartels, was, García Márquez wrote, “only one episode in the biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia for more than twenty years.”14 Colombia had become a society where people, as García Márquez wrote, “tended to believe the lies of the Extraditables more than the truths told by the government” (132). “Extraditables” were those leaders of the drug trade whose crimes extended to the United States and whom the U.S. Department of Justice was eager to try in its courts; their campaign of terror was aimed at forcing the Colombian government to grant them protection from extradition, and their slogan was “We prefer a grave in Colombia to a cell in the United States” (22).
By the 1990s no one in Colombia was safe. “Are you dealers or guerrillas?” Maruja had demanded of her kidnappers (9). They might have been either. Bombs explode daily, some set by the drug traffickers, others the work of urban guerrillas.
Although the direct impact of the narcotics traffickers has lessened since the early 1990s when the dominant Cali and Medellín cartels were largely suppressed, the drug kingpins have not been the only ones contributing to the violence and anarchy in Colombia. Since their inception in the 1960s, guerrilla groups in Colombia have continued to fight the central government. In addition to the ELN and the somewhat larger guerrilla movement FARC, other, smaller guerrilla groups appeared on the scene, such as the Maoist group Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (EPL; Popular Liberation Army) and the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19; 19th of April Movement).
The M-19 group became notorious for two actions. In January 1974 guerrillas broke into a museum in the capital and stole Bolívar’s sword, in a symbolic gesture meant to identify their actions with those of the Liberator. Although a ceasefire was signed in 1984 between most of the guerrilla movements and the government, the ELN refused to sign, and the agreement broke down.
M-19 guerrillas stormed the Palace of Justice in 1985, taking several hostages. Ostensibly, they were motivated by the government’s alleged failure to live up to the provisions of the 1984 agreement, although it is also widely believed that they were acting on behalf of the drug cartels, which wanted them to destroy court records relating to U.S. extradition requests. When the government troops recaptured the building, more than one hundred people, including twelve supreme court justices, were killed. In 1990, however, M-19 signed an agreement with the government in which the organization renounced violence, voluntarily disarmed, and became a legitimate political party. The sword of the Liberator was also returned to the government.
Meanwhile, in the 1990s the ELN stepped up its assaults on the system. The group has attacked petroleum pipelines and drilling sites to draw attention to the exploitation of Colombia’s natural resources by foreign companies. In 1999 the ELN decided that by kidnapping ordinary citizens they could make their point more dramatically. Their war would be against everyone.
In April of 1999 the ELN hijacked an Avianca domestic flight bound from Bucaramanga, for thirty years an ELN stronghold, to Bogotá, with forty-one people on board. This action was followed by the abduction of more than one hundred people from a church in Cali during Sunday mass on 30 May. Several hostages were released because they made deals with the ELN, agreeing to sell their property and possessions and turn the proceeds over to the guerrillas. The government argued that the ELN had now reverted to the same tactics as the late drug lord Pablo Escobar, who had been killed by police in 1993.
The peace efforts instituted by President Andres Pastrana have focused, however, on the FARC, which was granted control over four departments or counties. Unlike the ELN, the FARC has chosen to negotiate with the existing government. The FARC has included among its demands the curbing of right-wing military groups, over which the government insists it has no control. The Colombia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998, issued by the U.S. State Department, estimated that up to seventeen thousand guerrillas had significant control of approximately 65 percent of the country’s municipalities and, where the perpetrator could be positively identified, were responsible for approximately 21 percent of all “politically motivated extrajudicial killings,” while right-wing paramilitary groups, with between five thousand and seven thousand members, accounted for more than 75 percent of such murders. The State Department report went on to note that the Colombian national average for successful prosecutions was less than 3 percent.15 In 1998 President Pastrana agreed to withdraw all army and police forces from an area of roughly fifteen thousand square miles (about the size of Switzerland) that includes the town of San Vicente Del Caguan, ceding sovereignty to the FARC.
In September of 1999 President Pastrana was in New York City speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, asking for international monetary aid to help resolve his country’s continuing slide into anarchy. The Colombian government was seeking more than one billion dollars worth of U.S. military aid; although Pastrana and other government officials emphasized that this materiel would be directed against the drug trade, as both the ELN and FARC are now engaged in this trade, many observers were worried that the United States might be pulled into the civil war. With the insurgents apparently more powerful than ever, it seemed unlikely that the Colombian government could resolve the situation militarily. While Pastrana was in the United States, it was reported that García Márquez was prepared to act as an intermediary between Colombia, the United States, Cuba, and the Colombian insurgents.
The sympathies of García Márquez toward the guerrilla movement may be observed in the fate of the murderer Pedro Vicario in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. “Without love or a job,” both of which are necessary for a good life, Pedro Vicario reenlists in the armed forces. “One fine morning,” however, as the weather cooperates with justice, his patrol “went into guerrilla territory singing whorehouse songs and was never heard of again” (83). The guerrillas have brought about justice where the civic authorities have failed.
LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE
García Márquez was born into a rigid and highly stratified class society. Status differences were pronounced. Social mobility was limited. There was almost no middle class. Class consciousness, particularly in the interior, was high and permeated social life.
As first cousins, García Márquez’s maternal grandparents, Colonel Nicolas Marquez Iguaran and Tranquilina Iguaran Cotes, belonged to the most eminent family in the local aristocracy of Aracataca. Colonel Marquez had fought under the great Liberal general Rafael Uribe Uribe, and Aracataca, as a result of his efforts, had become a Liberal city. Until the age of eight García Márquez lived in their large, commodious house and enjoyed certain privileges.
As for Colombia as a whole, the elite lived primarily in Bogotá. They modeled their lifestyles on European and North American norms and dictated them to the rest of society. They emphasized racial and cultural purity and wealth derived from property. The only approved forms of employment for this class were landowning, law, medicine, or architecture. Journalism was also considered respectable by the time García Márquez entered manhood. Aid from relatives often enabled families to maintain the facade of prosperity, and the children of the elite were often sent to school in Europe or the United States.
People defined themselves by their ancestry, and regional and local connections were emphasized. Only after the 1940s did mesti-zos, predominantly peasants, move from the highlands, where the Spanish conquerors had mixed with Indian women, into the cities.
The new rich, people who had worked their way up through entrepreneurial skills and entered banking, commerce, and industry, were not accepted as socially equal to the old elite. Upper-class children received the best educations, attending one of the country’s exclusive private schools and then one of the national universities. García Márquez, whose family was impoverished, was fortunate to receive one of the few available scholarships and was thus able to study at better schools.
During the coming-of-age of García Márquez, Colombia was a society so centered on class privilege that people were judged by the degree to which they spoke Spanish in a pure manner most similar to castellano, the official language of Spain, a language free of Latin American inflections or references. They prided themselves as well on the eloquence of their spoken Spanish. The elite of Bogotá considered their capital “the Athens of South America"; however, they have virtually no literary tradition.
In an early article, “La literatura Colombiana: un fraude a la nacion” (Colombian Literature: A Fraud on the Nation), García Márquez pointed to the absence among Colombian writers of a sense of national identity, of what distinguished the culture and people of Colombia. He set out to accomplish that task. In creating that missing national literature, he took as his model The Plague (1947), a work in which Albert Camus, as García Márquez notes, recounts “a brief episode of the human race in which not even the germs of the plague are definitely bad, nor its victims necessarily good.”16
For writers like García Márquez their lifestyle involves an acute disenchantment with the politics of the United States. Latin American intellectuals of the Left have long distrusted the motives of their neighbor to the north. “What the United States Government wants in Central America are governments it can control,” he has said.17 An important part of his life involves his political commitment, in particular a struggle for an independent politics for the region.
Because of his well-publicized friendship with the Cuban leader, when Cuban-trained guerrillas from M-19 made a minor incursion by boat from Panama, the Colombian government tried to get them to admit that it was García Márquez who “had coordinated the landing with Fidel Castro.”18 García Márquez sued the Colombian military for abuse of authority for making these accusations. The charges were preposterous; yet, part of his lifestyle has included periodic visits to Cuba, where, he has said, his discussions with the Cuban leader have focused on matters of literature. In 1982 he stopped off in Cuba after he accepted the Nobel Prize in literature in Sweden, and he was a guest of Castro at the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in January of 1998.
Personally, García Márquez has considered himself in his culture and frame of reference, like his hero Simón Bolívar —who was born in Caracas, Venezuela —a man of the coast, a costeno, a Carib-bean man. The northern coast, with its diverse population, has been a place of the supernatural, of fantastic stories told by old women. Supernatural elements are a part of everyday reality. It is from this style of life that he has drawn inspiration for his technique of magic realism.19
The northern coast of Colombia, which embraces the cities of Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Cartagena de Indias and the smaller towns of Riohacha and Aracataca as well, is a place where a man does not bundle up in a suit and tie. It is an area where behavior is free and easy and often spontaneous, distinct from the manners of Bogotá, where the women are dressed in the fashions of Paris.
Historically, the interior of Colombia has produced nearly all of the country’s military men and its clergy. Few generals have been costenos, and no bishop or archbishop has hailed from the northern coast, where the very idea of seclusion, of the asceticism that characterizes both of these professions, is alien.20 The coast is a place gifted in the celebration of being/alive; there in One Hundred Years of Solitude Jose Arcadio Buendia has to struggle to find a single image of God.
Far from the emphasis on purity of blood and one’s antecedents that has created a repressive atmosphere in Bogotá and the interior, the coast welcomes people of diverse backgrounds and mixed blood. It offers a melange of cultures coming together in its carnivals and celebrations, which are depicted in García Márquez’s story “Big Mama’s Funeral.” Spain and Africa mix.
“People here,” he has said, describing the coast, “sense the presence of phenomena or other beings, even if they are not here. These must be influences of ancient religions, of Indians and blacks.
This world’s full of spirits you find all over, in Puerto Rico, in Cuba, in Brazil. In Santo Domingo and in Vera Cruz.”21
As a consequence of the slave trade, García Márquez has written, “it became possible to distinguish as may as eighteen different degrees of mestizos,” who were not permitted to hold high positions in the national government or even to enroll in secondary schools. He attributes to Bolívar himself the missed opportunity of creating a democratic society. Bolívar, he has written, “lost the first opportunity to eradicate this deplorable legacy.” Instead, yielding to repression as a means of gaining power, behaving abominably, and setting an early example of the ruthlessness and violence that have beset Colombia throughout its history, he “ordered the execution of eight hundred Spanish prisoners, even those lying wounded in a hospital.”22
The coast, García Márquez has said proudly, is comprised of “bandits . . . dancers, adventurers, people of gaiety.” The people are descendants of pirates and smugglers who had intermarried with black slaves; “they are people capable of believing in anything.”23 In his childhood he heard stories of people able to move chairs simply by looking at them and of a man who could deworm cows by simply standing in front of them. In particular, he has said that he admires the first inhabitants of his native land, the Indians, for two qualities: “a talent for creativity, the supreme expression of human intelligence,” and “a fierce commitment to self-improvement.”24
In his essay “For the Sake of a Country Within Reach of the Children” García Márquez describes the people of the coast as having “discovered the political miracle of living as equals despite their differences.” Such a political culture is a far cry from that of Bogotá and Colombia as a whole, which is “a centralized, bureaucratic nation, creating out of colonial lethargy the illusion of national unity.”25
In the heat of the Caribbean even passing time loses its rele-vance. “The feeling of cold,” he has said, “is something the people born in Bogotá cannot imagine.”26 So it was traumatic for this man of the coast to come into contact with Bogotá, which, he says, has marked him, has impressed him, but which only reminded him that he was not a cachaco, but a costeño.
Before he travelled to the interior, it had been difficult for García Márquez to conceive of living in a city without the sea. He received his secondary education in an old colonial convent in Zipaquira one thousand meters above sea level. He remembers it as a school “in a town with a narrow mentality, distant and gloomy.” Having been born near the Caribbean, he found this place “a punishment, and a frozen town, an injustice.”27 It reeked of the Spanish colonial culture, which was not his. He spent most of his time reading.
The coast is a place of sexual freedom, where the brothel, as depicted in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, is a positive place, one concealing “the incapacity for love” and even “the hesitations of old age.” Simultaneously, women have suffered in Colombia from a “cult of virginity,”28 whose consequences he describes in Chronicle of aDeath Foretold.
Catholicism has imposed a double standard upon Colombia, even on the free and easy coast. Men have been offered a degree of sexual freedom, symbolized by the brothel, where, in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, all of the young men of the town experience their sexual initiation, including the narrator, who found his experience with Maria Alejandra Cervantes sublime. The authority of the church is represented by the ringing of bells that draw the free young man back to the world of repression and denial.
García Márquez has offered one clarification. The concept that every young man in the village had been initiated by Maria Alejandra Cervantes was another of his exaggerations. “In fact, brothels cost too much for the young,” he has said. Sexual initiation “actually starts with servants at home. And with cousins. And with aunts.”29 He adds that it was not easy in his youth to have a relationship with a woman who was not a prostitute. Prostitutes provided both company and companionship. He has remarked, playfully, that he married “not to eat lunch alone.”30
Life in Colombia does not differ markedly from that of the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Colombians of the present, whom García Márquez has called “the unfortunate seed of Colonel Aureliano Buendia,” are members of “a sentimental society where action takes precedence over reflection, impulsiveness over reason, human warmth over prudence. We have an almost irrational love of life but kill one another in our passion to live.” Most Colombians today are descended from both the invading Spanish conquistadores and the indigenous people who were the first inhabitants: “five centuries later the descendants of both,” García Márquez laments, “still do not know who we are.”31
1. Regina Janes, “Liberals, Conservatives, and Bananas: Colombian Politics in the Fictions of Gabriel García Márquez,” in Gabriel García Márquez, edited by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1989), p. 125.
2. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, translated by Gregory Rabassa (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 66-67.
3. Gene H. Bell-Villada, García Márquez: The Man And His Work (Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 22.
4. Gabriel García Márquez: Magic and Reality, written, directed, and produced by Ana Cristina Navarro, 60 minutes, Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 1981, video.
6. Michael Wood, Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 8.
7. Janes, “Liberals, Conservatives, and Bananas,” p. 142.
8. Ibid., p. 140.
9. Peter Stone, “Gabriel García Márquez,” Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews —Sixth Series, edited by George Plimpton (New York: Viking, 1984), pp. 320-321.
10. Quoted in Janes, “Liberals, Conservatives, and Bananas,” p. 126.
11. Gérman Guzman, Camilo Torres (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1969), p. 237.
12. José Donoso, The Boom in Spanish American Literature, translated by Gregory Kolvakos (New York: Columbia University Press/Center for Inter-American Relations, 1977), p. 25.
13. Larry Rohter, “Colombia Adjusts Economic Figures to Include Its Drug Crops,” New York Times, Sunday, 27 June 1999.
14. “Acknowledgements” to News of a Kidnapping, translated by Edith Grossman (New York: Knopf, 1997).
15. U.S. Department of State Colombia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for1998, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 26 February 1999.
16. Bell-Villada, The Man and His Work, p. 87.
17. Claudia Dreifus, “Playboy Interview: Gabriel García Márquez,” Playboy, 30 (February 1983): 72.
18. Ibid.: 73.
19. García Márquez: Magic and Reality.
21. Marlise Simons, “A Talk with Gabriel García Márquez,” New York Times Book Review, 5 December 1982.
22. “For the Sake of a Country Within Reach of the Children,” A Country for Children, edited by Benjamin Villegas (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, n.d.), pp. 7-8.
23. Dreifus, “Playboy Interview”: 74.
24. “For the Sake of a Country,” p. 8.
25. Ibid., pp. 6-7.
26. García Márquez: Magic and Reality.
29. Dreifus, “Playboy Interview”: 177.
30. Ibid.: 178.
31. “For the Sake of a Country,” p. 5.