Gabo’s novel: this is how the Mexican spies followed in his footsteps

As if it were a character in one of his novels, Gabriel Garcia Marquez he was the subject of espionage by the Mexican intelligence agency from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. They followed him up in private and public meetings, registered the guests who visited him and traced his footprint on different trips (especially to Cuba).

What most worried the Federal Security Directorate (DFS), the espionage service of the PRI –which was in power for 71 years–, were the writer’s links with the Latin American left.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, which had access to the declassified reports after a formal request to the General Archive of the Nation, there are more than a hundred. One of them concludes thatGabriel Garcia MarquezIn addition to being pro-Cuban and Soviet, he is a propaganda agent at the service of the Intelligence Directorate of that country.”

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Did García Márquez know that he was being spied on? “It was quite obvious,” says Enrique Santos Calderón, a friend of his and a companion in journalistic adventures with a political tinge. “We were all spied on. How intense and effective the physical follow-ups were is difficult to know. Every leftist militant of any importance had to presume that he was of interest to the intelligence services, which always thought that he had links with the armed left”.

The largest number of records date from the mid-1970s, when García Márquez founded the Alternativa magazine with Santos Calderón, frequently traveled to Cuba, supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and intervened so that Mexican television interviewed guerrilla leaders. From El Salvador.

“In the 1970s Gabo decides to radicalize himself,” Jaime Abello, a personal friend and director of the Gabo Foundation, explains to EL TIEMPO. “This period has to do with becoming aware of the power that fame gave him,” he continues. So it was. García Márquez once said, reflecting on what he should do with fame, that he had found the solution: “put that fame at the service of the revolution in Latin America.” And he decided, in his words, “to say political things” and put himself “at the service of the liberation of Latin America.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The situation on the continent was a mixture of the search for democratic socialism –as with Salvador Allende in Chile and the Movement for Socialism in Venezuela–, of political repression by military dictatorships, with the presence of some democracies such as the Colombian one and of revolutionary processes of guerrillas. “That context is key and Gabo could not be oblivious to it,” says Abello.

“Gabo flirts with democratic socialism,” he says. “He was originally a man of the left and that is why he gave him a silver from the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for the Movement in Venezuela and received with great enthusiasm the victory of Allende in Chile in 1970. Everything is frustrated with the coup of the year 73 (against Allende) and radicalizes it”, he adds. It is when he founded the Alternativa magazine with Enrique Santos Calderón. “I am committed to the marrow with political journalism,” said the author of Love in the Time of Cholera in an interview with the same publication in 1975.

“During the time of Alternativa, when he came to Colombia, Gabo was followed and intercepted by telephone by the intelligence services,” says Santos Calderón. “They considered him a sympathizer with the M-19 and General (Bernardo) Camacho Leyva wanted to stop him. That is why he took refuge in the Mexican embassy in the case of his notorious exile.”

An equally important factor is how literature led him to strengthen his political position while writing The Autumn of the Patriarch (published in 1975). “For years, abuses of power, dictatorships and Yankee meddling in Latin America have been documented,” says Abello.

“We were all spied on. How intense and effective the physical follow-ups were is hard to know.”

On the other hand, the time also coincides with García Márquez becoming aware of human rights. “The first committee of an organization in defense of human rights in Colombia was financed by Gabo, who gave a silver from a prize that he won in Oklahoma,” says Abello. It was the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, which was created after Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, a friend of Garcia Marquez, he could not find an entity to which he could donate the ten thousand dollars of the Books Abroad-Neusdadt prize, as the Nobel had commissioned him.
At the end of 1978, he founded Habeas, an institution based in Mexico – where he had been installed since 1961 – to help political prisoners, disappeared and exiled from Latin America. The fact was recorded in the files of the intelligence service, which warns that its purposes are “to protect, financially and legally support people with Marxist-Leninist ideology who, due to their participation in guerrilla and terrorist groups, hide behind the concept of politically persecuted”.

He also attended the Russell Court with Julio Cortázar to denounce the violation of human rights in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. “In addition, he carried out personal humanitarian efforts to free political prisoners in countries of the right and left,” says Abello. And he cites the case of Panama, where he sought out Ómar Torrijos to release several prisoners. He also did it in Cuba. “That remained as a mantra in his relationship with Loyalty because it helped a lot of people –intellectuals, trade unionists– to get out of jail or out of the country”, he adds. “He also did it in Colombia, where he tried to help them free hostages.”

During the 1970s García Márquez returned to Cuba, after a period of estrangement caused by what he considered a handover from Havana to Moscow and by the government’s control over Prensa Latina, the official Cuban news agency that he had co-founded. In the middle of the decade, he returned and gave an edition of Dracula to Fidel Castro. He was a kind of literary adviser to the Cuban dictator, who, in turn, was a critic of the Colombian’s works. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold he corrected the caliber of the weapons.

The espionage reports give an account of that friendship between Castro and the writer. They collect in a document dated March 17, 1982 the fact that Gabo had ceded the rights to Chronicle of a Death Foretold, precisely, to the Cuban Government.

“Gabo was always a leftist defender of the Cuban revolution and a friend of Fidel Castro,” says Santos Calderón. “He used to say that he had a sleeping mamerto in his heart”.

Gabo’s years of radicalization coincided with strong repression in Mexico. The PRI organized the army and the police to persecute all dissidents until the end of the 1980s.

‘Don’t talk bullshit’

Mexican investigator Jacinto Rodríguez, who is working on a book about DFS espionage, assured El País that “they were not so concerned about him, that he was on the right side, as about the doors that could open when closely following someone. with so many contacts, well connected”. In addition, it highlights the discretion of García Márquez in the face of Mexican politics. Abello thinks it was a general behavior. “He didn’t like to talk on the phone or say anything confidential,” he says. “He was a man who had a high sense of prudence and care,” he adds.

In that sense, he also advised his friends. “Gabo himself told us: ‘Don’t talk nonsense on the phone, guys,'” he recalls. Santos Calderon.

Abello is also convinced that he was not only being spied on in Mexico, but also in Colombia and the United States, among other places. In that sense, the DFS worked in close coordination with the CIA. In the reports on Gabo, he stressed the interest of the United States in certain people who had had contact with him. By the way, the identities of their relationships are blacked out on the reports.
In any case, Rodríguez points out that the DFS was also pursuing its own interests. In the case of Habeas, for example, he wanted to exercise “preventive control of how far his activities went to anticipate a possible interference in Mexico.”

The author of One Hundred Years of Solitude was not the only writer spied on by Mexican intelligence at that time, nor was it subjected to very strict control. Rodríguez estimates that in his case it was “a smooth follow-up, let’s say normal.” And he clarifies that “he was still a foreigner who could not get involved in national affairs and who also always showed caution.” They were harsher with others, such as Octavio Paz –whose economic movements they scrutinized– and Julio Cortázar –whose private correspondence was intercepted–.

The Nobel Prize

The follow-up was more concentrated in the 1970s and then the writer took a turn. “The interesting thing is that in the year 79 or 80 it changes completely,” explains Abello. “He suspends his participation and financing of Alternativa, returns to literature through a book that brings him closer to journalism, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and de-radicalizes his political discourse,” he adds.

Then he turned to a more serene journalism in El País and El Espectador in 1980. In 1982 he received the Nobel Prize, a fact that was recorded in a file. “He says that he wants to do journalism in Colombia and that he wants to found a newspaper that would be called El Otro: a professional newspaper, not a militant one,” explains Abello. Garcia Marquez then maintained the relationship with Cuba, but was no longer radicalized. “That twist is a key that people have to understand because it’s part of their life and personal quest,” he says.

García Márquez died in 2014 and, despite everything that has been published and reported about him before and after his death, facts about his life continue to be discovered.

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Gabo’s novel: this is how the Mexican spies followed in his footsteps