Living to Deny It
Is Gabriel García Márquez, 76, Writing Fiction About His Legalization Position?
By Luis Gómez
Narco News Andean Bureau Chief
May 27, 2003
On Monday, May 19th, the whole world heard the story: Gabriel García Márquez, the famous Colombian writer, had advocated for the legalization of drugs as a solution for the conflicts generated by narco-trafficking and the Plan Colombia pushed by the United States.
The daily El Colombiano, in that day’s issue, published a transcription of a presentation given by the writer – associated with the literary explosion called “magical realism” with his novels, “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” “Love in A Time of Cholera,” “A Hundred Years of Solitude,” and his novella, “No One Writes to the Colonel,” made into a 1999 motion picture starring Selma Hayek among others, and also the successful first part of his memoirs, “Living to Tell it” – through a video, sent from his residence in Mexico City, to the University of Anitoquía, in Medellín, Colombia, on the occasion of its 200 year anniversary. Various international news agencies (like the Spaniard EFE and the French AFP) covered the event and all agreed on what the writer known as “Gabo” had said…
In the Sunday wires as well as the text published in El Colombiano, the following phrase was read:
“It is not possible to imagine the end of the violence in Colombia without the elimination of narco-trafficking, and the end of narco-trafficking is not imaginable without the legalization of drugs, more prosperous every moment the more it is prohibited.”
Simple and clear enough, the idea expressed was, without a doubt, a pro-legalization argument.
It is an argument he has made in the past, but given that the author is now 76 and he is reportedly of ill health, the words took on extra importance, and caused Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to issue a stern “no comment” in response.
However, while the public had barely digested the meaning and importance of this affirmation by a Nobel laureate in literature, García Márquez had already made – according to the EFE agency and others – statements to the Colombian National Radio Chain (RCN) denying that he had advocated legalization, complaining about the lack of ethics in today’s journalism and straying farther on the issue: “Very much to the contrary of what the journalists attribute to me, I am against the legalization of drugs and the consumption of drugs… What I said is that the Colombian drama consists, precisely, in that it is not imaginable that the end of narco-trafficking could come without the legalization of consumption.”
In fact, the entire text of the first declaration by Gabo was published on page one of the daily La Jornada of México City on Tuesday, May 20th, accompanied by his signature, if any doubt remains. There, on Tuesday, the world could “know it” again: García Márquez never said what he said. And his clarification was that, “the Colombian drama consists, precisely, in that it is not imaginable that the end of narco-trafficking could come without the legalization of consumption.” That is to say, that the argument in favor of legalization was not one, and what happened, in reality, is that Gabo said he doesn’t see any other solution, although he doesn’t like the idea of legalizing drugs…
The Magical Reality
“...The polemic on drugs should never be made between war and freedom, but, rather, to take the bull by the horns and focus on the diverse ways possible to administrate legalization. That is to say, to put an end to this corrupt, pernicious and useless war that the consumer countries have imposed, and to confront the drug problem in the world that is of a fundamental ethical and political character, that can only be defined by a universal agreement with the United States in the first place: and, of course, with serious commitments from the consumer countries toward the producer countries. But it would not be fair, although very probable, that we who suffer the terrible consequences of the war do not remain afterwards with the benefits of peace. That is to say: that what happened to Nicaragua, which in war was the first global priority and, in peace, has become the last…”
Kind readers: Guess who signed those words… aha! It was Gabriel García Márquez…
In an article titled “Points for A New Debate About Drugs,” published in Cambio 16 magazine’s Colombian edition on November 29, 1993 (on pages 67 and 68), Gabo not only published a lucid argument in favor of legalization, but he also harshly criticized the methods of combating the problems of drugs and narco-trafficking, the majority which were imposed from Washington, he said, “by President Ronald Reagan in 1982.” Those methods, said García Márquez without expressing any doubts, are, “greater than the drugs themselves, which have caused, complicated and aggravated the major evils that the producer and consumer countries suffer.”
But the matter doesn’t end there. In the same issue of Cambio 16 there was a manifesto, written for the publication whose publisher in Colombia, Patricia Lara, utilized to launch a campaign in favor of legalization. The text of the manifesto is, in reality, the final part of García Márquez’s article, and begins: “The prohibition has made the drug business more attractive and profitable, it foments crime and corruption at all levels.” Later, it repeats the argument to “administrate legalization.” The best is not only that Gabo signed it, but also other signatories (in page 69 of the same issue), Carlos Fuentes, Fernando Savater, Antonio Escohotado, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Joan Manuel Serrat, Terenci Moix, Xavier Rubert de Ventós, Rosa Montero and various artists and intellectuals from the Spanish-speaking world. A wonder, doesn’t it seem?
One detail, but decisive to understand all of this, is that García Márquez was and is the principal shareholder of the publication (it has since changed its name to simply Cambio)... And so it is not realistic to believe that the publisher of Cambio 16 misquoted or misinterpreted the words of the writer, and even less without his consent… Or is that the case, don Gabo? García Márquez, now more than ever, is not just a writer or creative artist: He is a businessman, with financial interests, beyond his lead ownership of an international magazine, in motion pictures and television serial publication rights, among other distinctly business-oriented projects. Perhaps this – or the anger of Uribe and his powerful friends in the United States (and what did the paramilitaries think of his recent statement sent to their and Uribe’s political base of Medellin?) – explains his sudden, and poorly argued, about-face on the legalization issue?
It’s also important to remember that in this same November week of 1993, in another magazine (Semana, of Bogotá), there was another report about Gustavo de Greiff, then the Attorney General of Colombia, in which he made similar statements, that in the end not only cost him his job but also his visa to travel to the United States. De Greiff said, openly, that “in the context of legalization of consumption, I am sympathetic to the legalization of drug trafficking.” This cost de Greiff a certain amount of political ostracism, but it didn’t carry such a cost for an elite literary star like García Márquez , who continued to travel to Washington regular and attend dinners invited by then-President Bill Clinton… but all this has already occurred, and everybody knows it.
The Night of the Eclipse
What has happened in the mind of the autumnal Colombian writer in the last ten years, the drastic changes in his opinión, is something that world does not know. But last Sunday, May 19th, in the University of Antioquía, García Márquez seemed (at least with his words) the same as ever. Even the President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe, present at the event, avoided commenting on the words about legalization written by Gabo because, as the EFE Agency quoted the president, “it’s a very controversial issue.”
Uribe did not need to defend his policies and Plan Colombia, because not a day had passed before his countryman, García Márquez, was shouting to the four winds that “I did not say that drugs should be legalized nor have I made this proposal to the Colombian government.” And that, “I have not succeeded in getting my journalistic colleagues to transcribe what I say or write with exactitude instead of attributing unbelievable statements and thoughts to me that are mine, and positions that I detest.” Could it be that at age 76 he has rethought the issue and believes that prohibition is healthier in his opinion? What could it be? Because it is impossible for him to deny that he had, in the past, declared himself in favor of legalization, although now he detests it, and that although his words were the foundation stone of a legalization movement in Colombia, now he doesn’t make these kinds of proposals…
Maybe, as is his custom, and this is why he has won prizes for four decades, Gabriel García Márquez was simply spinning a tale of fiction… One with an old man with a big nose who changed his appearance over ten years without alerting the world…. Speaking in favor of legalization in 1993 so that a decade later he could change the old saying: “Wise men change their opinion.” But the truth is that being for prohibition only helps the white collar criminals… or as Gabo said when he first proposed the legalization of drugs to end the impositions of the United States and its war on drugs: “The problem is a fundamental ethical and political question…” and, not a fantastic fictional tale…
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