Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Fidel I know

Campaign News | Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Published in Granma International Review



HIS devotion to the word. His power of seduction. He goes to seek out problems where they are. The impetus of inspiration is very much part of his style. Books reflect the breadth of his tastes very well. He stopped smoking to have the moral authority to combat tobacco addiction. He likes to prepare food recipes with a kind of scientific fervor. He keeps himself in excellent physical condition with various hours of gymnastics daily and frequent swimming. Invincible patience. Ironclad discipline. The force of his imagination stretches him to the unforeseen. As important as learning to work is to learn how to rest.

Tired of talking, he rests by talking. He writes well and likes to do so. The greatest stimulus of his life is the emotion of risk. The tribunal of the improviser would seem to be his perfect ecological medium. He always begins in an almost inaudible voice, in an uncertain direction, but takes advantage of any spark to move on gaining ground, palm to palm, until there is a kind of bang! and he takes control of his audience. It is inspiration: the irresistible and dazzling state of grace, only denied by those who have not had the glory of experiencing it. He is the anti-dogmatist par excellence.

José Martí is his foremost author and he has had the talent to incorporate Martí’s thinking into the sanguine torrent of a Marxist revolution. The essence of his own thinking could lie in the certainty that in undertaking mass work it is fundamental to be concerned about individuals.

That could explain his absolute confidence in direct contact. He has a language for each occasion and a distinct means of persuasion according to his interlocutors. He knows how to put himself at the level of each one and possesses a vast and varied knowledge that allows him to move with facility in any media. One thing is definite: he is where he is, how he is and with whom he is. Fidel Castro is there to win. His attitude in the face of defeat, even in the most minimal actions of everyday life, would seem to obey a private logic: he does not even admit it, and does not have a minute’s peace until he succeeds in inverting the terms and converting it into victory. Nobody is more obsessive than him when he has decided to get to the bottom of something. There is no project, however colossal or tiny, that he does not undertake with an incarnate passion. And especially if he has to stand up to adversity. Then, like at no other time, he appears in a better mood and a better humor. Someone who thinks that he knows him well told him: “Things must be going very badly, because you’re looking the picture of health.

Reiteration is one of his ways of working. E.g.: the issue of the external debt of Latin America appeared in his conversations around two years ago, and has been gradually developed, ramified, made more profound. The first thing that he said, like a simple arithmetical conclusion, was that the debt is non-payable. Afterwards came the staggered discoveries: the repercussions of the debt in countries’ economies, its political and social impact, its decisive influence in international relations, its providential importance for a unified Latin America politics? until assuming a total view, which he expounded in an international meeting convened to that effect and which time has taken charge of demonstrating.

His rarest virtue as a politico is that faculty of discerning the evolution of an action to its remotest consequences? but he does not exercise that faculty out of illumination, but as the result of arduous and tenacious reasoning. His supreme aide is his memory and he uses it to the point of abuse to sustain speeches or private conversations with overwhelming reasoning and arithmetical operations of an incredible rapidity.

He requires the aid of incessant information, well masticated and digested. His task of informative accumulation is a priority from the moment that he wakes up. He breakfasts with no less than 200 pages of news of the entire world. During the day he is sent urgent news wherever he is; he calculates that he has to read some 500 documents, to which one has to add reports from the official services and from his visitors and anything that might interest his infinite curiosity.

Responses have to be exact, given that he is capable of discovering the most minimal contradiction in a casual phrase. Another source of vital information is books. He is a voracious reader. Nobody can explain how he finds the time or what method he uses to read so much and with such rapidity, although he insists that he doesn’t have any special ones. On many occasion he has taken away a book in the early hours and by the morning is commenting on it. He reads in English but does not speak it. He prefers to read in Spanish and is prepared to read a paper that comes into his hands at any hour. He is a good reader of literature and follows it with attention.

He has the habit of firing rapid questions. Successive questions that he makes in instantaneous bursts until discovering the whys and wherefores of the whys and wherefores of the final whys and wherefores. When a visitor from Latin America gave him a hasty figure on the rice consumption of his compatriots, he made his mental calculations and said: “How odd, each person eats four pounds of rice per day.” His masterly tactic is to ask about things that he knows, to confirm his information. And in certain cases to measure the caliber of his interlocutor, and deal with him/her accordingly.

He does not lose any occasion to inform himself. During the Angola war he described a battle in such detail at an official reception that it was hard work to convince a European diplomat that Fidel Castro had not participated in it. The account he gave of the capture and assassination of Che, that he gave of the assault on the Moneda Palace and the death of Salvador Allende, or that he gave of the ravages of Hurricane Flora were all great oral reports.

His vision of Latin America in the future is the same as that of Bolívar and Martí, an integrated and autonomous community, capable of moving the destiny of the world. The country about which he knows the most after Cuba is the United States. He has a profound knowledge of the nature of its people, their power structures, the secondary intentions of its governments, and this has helped him to handle the incessant torment of the blockade.

In an interview lasting a number of hours, he dwells on each issue, adventures into its least thought-of complications without ever neglecting precision, in the awareness that one single ill-used word could cause irreparable damage. He has never refused to answer any question, however provocative it might be, nor has he ever lost his patience. In terms of those who are economical with the truth in order not to give him any more concerns than those that he already has: he knows it. He said to one official who did so: “You are hiding truths from me in order not to worry me, but when I finally discover them I will die from the impact of having to confront so many truths that I have not been told.” The gravest, however, are the truths that are concealed to cover up deficiencies, because alongside the enormous achievements that sustain the Revolution - the political, scientific, sporting, cultural achievements - there is a colossal bureaucratic incompetence that is affecting almost all the orders of daily life, and particularly domestic happiness.

When he talks with people in the street, his conversation regains the expressiveness and crude frankness of genuine affection. They call him: Fidel. They surround him without risks, they address him informally, they argue with him, they contradict him, they claim him, with a channel of immediate transmission from which the truth gushes forth. It is then that one discovers the unusual human being that the reflection of his own image does not let us see. This is the Fidel Castro that I believe I know. A man of austere habits and insatiable illusions, with an old-fashioned formal education of cautious words and subdued tones and incapable of conceiving any idea that is not colossal.

He dreams that his scientists will find the final cure for cancer and has created a foreign policy of world reach in an island that is 84 times smaller than that of his principal enemy. He has the conviction that the greatest achievement of human beings is the solid training of their conscience and that moral incentives, more than material ones, are capable of changing the world and driving history.

I have heard him in his scant hours of yearning for life evoking things that he could have done in another way to gain time in life. On seeing him very overburdened with the weight of so many distant destinies, I asked him what was it that he most wished to do in this world, and he immediately answered me: “stand on a corner.”

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