Chronicle of a Chronicle Not Foretold / 14ymedio, Manuel Pereira

Gabriel García Márquez with Fidel Castro. (GGM files)
Gabriel García Márquez with Fidel Castro. (GGM files)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Pereira, Mexico, 15 April 2016 — In 1981 I was delivering some lectures about Cuban cinema at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) when I received a call in my hotel in the Zona Rosa neighborhood from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He asked me to come to his house on Fuego Street in the exclusive Pedregal neighborhood. We ate at a nearby restaurant called El Perro Verde, or something like that. He asked me to read his latest novel, he was in a hurry, it was short.

What was the mystery of such urgency? He knew that I was returning to Havana in a few days. “I can read it on the plane,” I told him. No, I had to do it in Mexico. He was in such a rush to give me the manuscript that he forgot his wallet on the table. He realized it when he got home and asked me to go look for it at El Perro Verde. The waiter was honest and had saved it, despite its being quite bulky, as I supposed the wallets of famous writers to be. “It’s all here,” sighed Gabo, after counting the bills. continue reading

He handed me the novel. I began to read it right away in his house, and then I locked myself in my hotel to keep reading. I read it in a couple of sittings, not knowing what the famous writer expected of me. The story of the two brothers who stabbed Santiago Nasar was well structured, flowed effectively, like everything from Gabo; with his impeccable craftsman’s prose, neither lacking or needing a single comma, the precise adjectives, the well-drawn characters. The following day we met again. Then he said to me, “You are the second reader of this work, after Mercedes of course.”

“It is an honor,” I replied.

But … what was the mystery of the hurry?

He confessed that he wanted Fidel to authorize him to publish this book.


Because he had made a public oath: he would not publish again while Pinochet remained in power. “And the problem is, he is not failing,” he grumbled. “And meanwhile, I wrote this book and I really want to publish it.” But before breaking his announced promise he should consult with Fidel.

Indeed, sinceThe Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) Gabo had not published any piece of fiction. Too long in silence for such an esteemed writer.

What did I have to do with all that?

“I want you to take this book to Fidel.”

“I do not personally know Fidel, I have no direct access.”

He hesitated a moment and added:

“But you know Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, right?”

“Yes, him I know.”

“Well, you give it to him to give it to Fidel.”

Then he wanted to know my opinion of the novel, which flattered the thirty-something I then was. With great tact I told him that his story reminded me of vaguely of Rashoman – the two stories from Akutagawa and Kurosawa’s film – because of its multiple witnesses and diverse versions of a crime, but he said no, his source of inspiration had been the assassination of Julius Caesar. I thought about the omens, the fatality of Greek tragedy, and concluded he was right, although the Japanese took nothing from Gabo, as was evident later with Memories of My Melancholy Whores, so akin to Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties, starting from the epigraph.

Twenty-four hours later I landed in Havana and handed the clandestine text (not foretold) to Carlos Rafael Rodriguez. Shortly afterwards Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published simultaneously in Colombia, Spain, Mexico and Argentina. Obviously, Gabo had obtained the imprimatur of Fidel Castro, as is proper of every high ecclesiastical or ideological authority. The Middle Ages in its purest state.

The Incredible Story Of Sad Gabo And My Beloved Grandmother / 14ymedio, Manuel Pereira

Gabriel García Márquez with Fidel Castro and Carmen Balcells in the ‘80s in Havana. (EFE)
Gabriel García Márquez with Fidel Castro and Carmen Balcells in the ‘80s in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Pereira, Mexico, 3 April 2016 — One day in 1983 I took Gabo to see my grandmother, who lived in a tenement on Old Havana, at No. 105 Aguiar Street at the corner of Cuarteles. She was a Galician who had come to the island in 1926, the year of the devastating cyclone, the year another cyclone was born, named Fidel Castro.

I wanted Gabriel García Márquez to know the poor, to discover the other side of the moon, because I knew he was always entertained in hotels and protocol houses in Miramar, in Cubanacan… continue reading

At the foot of Loma del Ángel, I showed him the butcher shop of one of my grandmother’s countrymen, expropriated and turned into a dive; I also showed him several businesses confiscated years earlier: Cheo’s Juice Bar, turned into a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution; the bodega that had belonged to an Asturian transformed as an accessory to a rooming house, the Catalan bakery closed for good, the Chinese fruit and vegetable stand, transfigured into another hovel. On all sides, makeshift cinderblock walls, unplastered, with anti-poetic bars on the windows. The only picturesque thing left in the neighborhood was the clotheslines on the balconies.

The eyes of my admired writer – well trained by his long profession as a journalist – didn’t miss a single detail. We climbed to the first floor of the apartment building and went to the back, along hallways where in some places there was polychromatic stained glass already half-extinct.

Who was going to say it? A Nobel Prize winner in a Havana solar, a tenement, but my grandmother knew nothing about the Swedish Academy, she didn’t even know where Sweden was. Years ago she confused the famous Cuban writer Carpentier for a carpenter, and Sarte with some famous “sastre” – tailor – who visited the island. She was an almost illiterate villager who, on disembarking in Havana with espadrilles and a headscarf, had to bring up three children cleaning floors and bathrooms in promiscuous tenements.

We entered her home lacking a bathroom: a dining room, bedroom and tiny kitchen. My guest of honor looked at everything. She offered her rickety chairs and a broken wicker armchair. We sat at the table. Embarrassed, I didn’t show Gabo the malodorous toilets and the collective showers, which she never used, preferring to use a basin in her sooty kitchen, behind a plastic curtain.

My grandmother immediately took cold water from the vibrating refrigerator she called the “General Electric,” from ’58, with the white enamel now chipping off. She put on the coffee pot. When the kids upstairs ran across the floor, bits of the ceiling fell on us. Gabo looked at the peeling walls from the corner of his eye. He asked her about her daily life.

My grandmother showed him her ration book, and also her “magic box.” During the frequent periods of tobacco shortages she – like so many others – collected butts from the streets and then stripped them to get the shreds and with them made her “Tupameros.”

“Why Tupamaros?” asked Gabo.

“Because they are illegal,” I replied, and the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude smiled.

She explained the complicated mechanism of the “little machine,” which was like a dominoes box, where she put in the tobacco shreds and then pulled  a little stick that served as a roller toward herself, as if it were a spring, with a rubber tongue that pushed out the freshly rolled cigarette.

Lacking cigarette rolling papers, she used the almost transparent pages of a Map of Spain brochure the embassy sent out. But as these were also limited, she tore pages out of the Bible she couldn’t read, but treasured as a talisman on her altar populated by saints. She smoked verses from Saint John and passages from Ecclesiastes.

When we left and were on the street, Gabo confessed, “I would very much like to write a book about the shortages in Cuba, your grandmother making her Tupameros, the lack of domestic bliss.”

“It would be a magnificent book,” I exclaimed.

He was sad and added, “I would like to write it, talk about the blockade and its consequences, the imagination Cubans bring to overcoming the difficulties, but I don’t want to upset Fidel. I can’t write it, because it is a book that Fidel would consider an attack, I don’t want to cross him.”

After that, I no longer insisted. Each writer chooses his destiny. Above us, as it got dark, my grandmother was smoking a chapter from Leviticus and the biblical smoke wafted from her little balcony to the moon.

In Diapers / 14ymedio, Manuel Pereira

Allegory of Bad Government. (Ambrosio Pietro Lorenzetti)
Allegory of Bad Government. (Ambrosio Pietro Lorenzetti)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Pereira, Mexico City, 26 December 2015 — Bernard Shaw said: “Politicians and diapers need to be changed often (…) and for the same reasons.” The Venezuelan people, in an act of courage and wisdom, decided to change the diapers.

Populists don’t like changing diapers. We see it in several Latin American countries. This obstinate reluctance was also evident in the much-vaunted Cuba-United States “thaw,” which has yet to emerge from its ice age, at least for the ordinary Cuban.

Democracy in various regions of Latin America is still in diapers, many of its politicians are like eternal infants, many nights missing their bottles. This is the ideal breeding ground for the increase in totalitarian temptations.

In 1960 Fidel Castro set the tone in his speech: “Elections? What for?” continue reading

Feeling chosen by history, populists become intransigent, arrogating to themselves a moral superiority that prevents them from accepting electoral defeats, aspiring to lifelong power, like popes and monarchs, like the Duvalier family and the North Korean dynasty. They cling to power, like spoiled children cling to their teddies or their pillows, throwing a tantrum for any reason.

Francisco de Miranda already said it when he was arrested by Bolivar in La Guaira:

“Gossip! Gossip! These people are capable of nothing but gossip!”

“These people” now amounts to Chavismo and its replicants in other countries.

All this is nothing more than magical realism mixed with underdevelopment. It is Magical Realism as it turns into Horrible Realism. For Alejo Carpentier “the marvelous (magical) … arises from an alteration in reality (the miracle).”

In politics this “miracle” usually leads to ruthless dictatorships. The Caribbean is swarming with these superstitious defects: Noriega with his red underpants, Trujillo hiding from lightning, political necrophilia around the bodies of Bolivar and Chavez, Maduro talking to birds or multiplying penises, Fidel Castro with the dove on this shoulder, and the rest of the nonsense that makes picturesque literature, but is terrible to direct the fate of millions of human beings.

Returning to the words of Bernard Shaw: Can you imagine the smell of the Cuban government after more than half a century without changing its diapers?

Victor Hugo had it right: “Kings are for those nations in diapers.”

Another symptom of democratic degradation is the idle chatter of Latin American populism. I am referring to that whole invention of “Bolivarian” and “21st Century socialism.”

Socialism, communism, or whatever you call it is a nineteenth century invention and it always will be. It is an outdated and failed system. There is no point in trying to resuscitate it with flamboyant labels and new expiration dates when the product is visibly rotten.

Populists are versed in gibberish, producing not even a screw, but fabricating sophistry without cease. Apart from being a fallacy, this pretending to be “Bolivarian” and socialist at the same time is Cantinflesque gobbledygook

Simon Bolivar has nothing to do with socialism. For Marx, Bolivar was “the Napoleon of retreats,” a “coward, tyrant, petty, resentful and deceitful,” and he also considered him a traitor for delivering Francisco de Miranda to the Spanish.

The incoherence and demagoguery of Chavismo is eye-popping: this monstrosity undoubtedly conceived in Havana where they had already spent years trying to connect thoughts as incompatible as those of José Martí and Karl Marx.

A complete distortion of “these people.” They call the embargo a blockade, see coups d’etat on all sides, and complain about an “economic war” that they themselves provoked.

Moreover, despotism, warlordism and feudal patriarchy are Hispanic atavisms very difficult to extirpate. Ramón del Valle-Inclán knew this well when he wrote his grotesque novel Tyrant Banderas (1926) with which he inaugurated a Latin American subgenre of dictatorship fiction.

Valle-Inclán’s sequels include Miguel Angel Asturias’ The President (1946), The Great Burundun Burunda Has Died (1952) by Jorge Zalamea, I, the Supreme (1974) from Agusto Roa Bastos, Alejo Carpenter’s Reasons of State (1974), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat (2000).

The proliferation of this literary subgenre is no accident, nor does it follow a fad, but it is the telluric, idiosyncratic and ancestral reflection of an important part of our continental reality.

The Crossing Of The Desert / 14ymedio, Manuel Pereira

Cuban rafters
Cuban rafters

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Pereira, Mexico City, 8 November 2015 — Since the second half of the twentieth century we Cubans have been the Jews of the Caribbean, and the Malecon is our Wailing Wall. Among other topics, the immigration issue figures in the meeting between Raul Castro and Pena Nieto in Merida, Yucatan. The two countries are united by historical ties: the poet José María Heredia lived and died here in Mexico, José Martí married here, passing through here were the politicians Mella, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. In 1951 Perez Prado launched “Ruidoso Rico Mambo” here, then came Benny More, Celia Cruz, “La Sonora Matancera,” the “Mulatas de Fuego” and, in the sixties, “The Tremendous Corte” triumphed on radio and television with Trespatines, Rudesindo and the Galician Rudesindo. All these humorous, musical and voluptuous cyclones are forever linked with Cuba.

But the Cuban exodus is a tragedy of biblical proportions. If the desert crossing of the Israelites lasted for 40 years, that of the Cuban people has lasted half a century, counting from the first mass exodus from the port of Camarioca (1965), followed by the port of Mariel stampede (1980), which was repeated during the “rafters crisis” (1994). continue reading

In 1995, when the US Coast Guard began to return Cuban rafters intercepted in the Straits of Florida, the island’s escaping slaves sought other routes toward the south. They started out from Camagüey, for Santa Cruz del Sur, toward the Cayman Islands and Honduras. Even between 2002 and 2004 many Cubans traveled as tourists to Russia, some asked for political asylum at the layover at the Barajas airport and for those arriving in Moscow it was harder. Some managed to get documents to travel to Mexico at astronomical prices, others ended up so far away they left with a free visa for Sao Tome and Principe in West Africa.

Mexico as a bridge to the United States became the most coveted goal. The sign of the most persistent “blood, sweat and tears” runs to Guatemala drawing a geography of pain that is clear proof of the failure of the Cuban utopia. As Voltaire said: “It has been tried in several countries not to allow a citizen to leave the nation in which he had the accident of being born; visibly the meaning of this law is: this country is so bad and so badly governed that we prohibit every individual from leaving, for fear that everyone would go.”

Those fugitives fleeing from the chronic shortages, repression, lack of individual human rights and a bleak future, soon crowd into Ecuador thanks to the close ideological relations between that country and the island. The Cuban government, as on other occasions, needs a valve to release the steam from the cauldron and, also, a future source of income from family remittances. And Quito has become the ideal place from which to reach Mexico in the long Cuban pilgrimage. From there, groups leave for Colombia, then Panama, Costa Rice, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. The flow of Cubans who come from Ecuador to Tapachula, a migration station in Chiapas, varies between 40 and 50 a day. They are looking for safe conduct to cross Mexico as a bridge to the Promised Land.

The Cuban diaspora is the most extensive in world history since the Jews in the time of the Babylonian captivity. This dispersion of wandering Cubans has grown and accelerated since the “thaw” between Cuba and the United States, growing still more with the rumor of the imminent repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act. It goes without saying that these tropical pilgrims face hurricanes, sharks, sunstroke, impenetrable jungles, tumultuous rivers, human trafficking, extortionist police and guerrillas and thieves…

This Cuban exodus evokes the riskiest travel fictions: The Odyssey by Homer; the myth of Jason and the Argonauts; Virgil’s Aeneid; Jonah and the Whale; The Lusiadas by Luis Vas de Camoes; Sinbad the Sailor; Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift; The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe; Moby-Dick by Melville; The Sphinx of the Ice by Jules Verne; Stevenson’s Treasure Island; Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and other works that do not fit here.

The Cuban reality exceeds any of these stories no matter how fanciful and exaggerated their authors have been. In the film Memories of Underdevelopment, by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, the protagonist paraphrases Che Guevara when he says: “This great humanity has said enough and has started to get moving… and will not stop until it gets to Miami…”