Fidel Castro: Reviled human rights abuser. Revered revolutionary communist. Reliable fact-checker of literary manuscripts? In the wake of the Cuban dictator’s death, The Guardian has revisited his odd literary friendship with the giant of Latin American letters, Gabriel García Márquez. An interview with Dr. Stéphanie Panichelli-Batalla, lecturer in Latin American studies at Aston university, elaborated on some of the details of their correspondence:
Castro’s corrections were factual and grammatical rather than ideological, she added. “After reading his book The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Fidel had told Gabo there was a mistake in the calculation of the speed of the boat. This led Gabo to ask him to read his manuscripts … Another example of a correction he made later on was in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, where Fidel pointed out an error in the specifications of a hunting rifle.” Elsewhere, Castro offered advice about the compatibility of bullets with guns used by García Márquez’s characters.
This fascinating glimpse into the relationship between the men is best read in tandem with a long book excerpt in the Baffler about Márquez’s long and complex political history, with a focus on his unwitting participation in a CIA scheme that attempted to leverage culture to influence the outcome of the Cold War.
Joel Whitney, author of Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, writes:
As García Márquez’s great novel turns fifty and panels and thinkpieces debate its legacy, and as the book’s U.S. boosters focus on its mechanics, its inspiration, and its influence on future writers and those who influenced it, it’s high time to unravel the novel’s incidental and almost invisible weaponization in the Cold War—its politics and the politics that helped García Márquez write it. For decades, the story has gone that the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, its covert propaganda front, was one of the best things the CIA ever did. It never censored, and it published a string of great writers. But as one of those writers can attest—one who happens to have been the 1982 Nobel laureate—at least some of them were tricked into the scheme.
The friendship between the author and the dictator is a footnote in both of their legacies, but an interesting one that complicates and adds wrinkles to any attempts we might make to flatten their contributions one way or another.