The Fidel Castro I know: Gabriel García Márquez

The Fidel Castro I know
The Nobel Prize for Literature winner offers his observations of a good friend
Author: Gabriel García Márquez |
august 30, 2019 14:08:04







Photo: Granma Archives

His devotion to words. His power of seduction. He looks for problems wherever they may be. The impetus of inspiration is characteristic of his style. Books reflect very well the breadth of his tastes. He quit smoking to have the moral authority to fight smoking. He likes to prepare cooking recipes with a kind of scientific fervor. He stays in excellent physical condition with several hours of daily workouts and frequent swimming. Invincible patience. Iron discipline. The power of his imagination prepares him for the unexpected. Learning to rest is as important as learning to work.
Tired of conversing, he rests while talking. He writes well and likes to. The greatest stimulus in his life is the emotion of taking a risk. The podium of an improvising orator seems to be his perfect habitat. Always beginning with an almost inaudible voice, with an uncertain course, but taking advantage of any flash to gain ground, inch by inch, until he delivers a blow and seizes the audience. It is this inspiration, the state of irresistible and dazzling grace, which only those who have not had the glory of living it deny. He is anti-dogmatic par excellence.
José Martí is his number one author and he has a talent for incorporating his ideals into the bloodstream of a Marxist revolution. The essence of his own thinking lies in the certainty that working with the people is fundamentally being concerned with individuals.

This could explain his absolute confidence in direct contact. He has a language for every occasion and a different mode of persuasion for every coversation partner. He knows how to place himself at the level of each one and has a vast and varied wealth of knowledge that allows him to move easily in any medium. One thing is for sure: wherever you are, in whatever capacity, whoever you are with, Fidel Castro is there to win. His attitude toward defeat, even in the smallest aspects of daily life, seems to obey a private logic. He doesn’t even admit it, and he does not allow himself a moment of calm until he manages to reverse the terms (of a setback) and turn it into victory. No one can be more obsessive when he has set out to accomplish something. There is no colossal or minimal project, in which he does not participate with fierce passion. And especially if it involves facing adversity. At no other time, does he seem to be in a better mood, better disposition. Someone who thinks he knows Fidel well said: Things must be going very badly, because you are exuberant.
Reiteration is one of their customary ways of working. For example: The issue of Latin American’s foreign debt appeared for the first time in his conversations about two years ago, and has evolved, branching out, deepening. The first thing he said, as a simple mathematical conclusion, was that the debt was unpayable. Then his conclusions began to appear gradually: The repercussions of the debt on a country’s economy, its political and social impact, its decisive influence on international relations, its providential importance for a unitary policy across Latin America … until he had developed a broad vision, which he presented at an international meeting convened for this purpose, and which time has confirmed.
His most uncommon political virtue is the ability to perceive the evolution of situation and its ultimate consequences… however, this capacity is not based on illumination, but a product of arduous and tenacious reasoning. His supreme assistant is memory and he uses it to the extreme to substantiate speeches or private talks with overwhelming arguments and mathematical operations of incredible speed.
This requires the support of constant, carefully considered and digested information. His work accumulating information begins as soon as he wakes up. He eats breakfast with no less than 200 pages of news from around the world. During the day, he receives urgent information wherever he is, and estimates that every day he reads some 50 documents, to which must be added reports from official agencies and his visitors, and anything that may interest his infinite curiosity.
Answers must be exact, as he is able to perceive even the slightest contradiction in a casual comment. Books serve as another source of vital information. He is a voracious reader. No one understands how he has the time or what method he uses to read so much, so quickly, although he insists he has none in particular. Many times he has picked up a book at midnight and comments about it the next morning. He reads English but does not speak it. He prefers to read in Spanish and is always willing to read any paper with letters on it that falls into his hands. He is a regular reader of economic and historical issues, and a good reader of literature, which he follows carefully.
He has the habit of conducting rapid-fire interrogations. Successive questions he asks in instantaneous bursts until he discovers the reason why of the final why. Once when a visitor from Latin America hurriedly gave him some data on rice consumption in his country, Fidel made his own mental calculations and said: How strange, each person eats four pounds of rice a day. His master tactic is to ask about things he already knows, to confirm his information. And in some cases to determine the caliber of his interlocutor, and react accordingly.
He misses no opportunity to inform himself. During the Angolan war, he described a battle with such thoroughness at an official reception; it was difficult to convince a European diplomat that Fidel Castro had not participated directly. The story he recounted of the capture and murder of Che; his retelling of the assault on the Moneda and the death of Salvador Allende; and that describing the ravages of Hurricane Flora, were great spoken reports.
His vision of Latin America in the future is that of Bolívar and Martí, an integrated, autonomous community, capable of moving the destiny of the world. The country he knows more about, beside Cuba, is the United States. He thoroughly understands the nature of its people, its power structures, the ulterior motives of its governments, and this has helped him overcome the never-ending storm of the blockade.
In multi-hour interviews, he takes time with each topic, ventures along the least-imagined paths without ever neglecting precision, aware that a single misused word can cause irreparable damage. He has never refused to answer any question, however provocative it may be, nor has he ever lost his patience. As for those who hide the truth to avoid giving him more worries than he already has: He knows it. To an official who once did so, he said: You hide the truth to avoid upsetting me, but when I finally discover it, I will die from the awareness of so many truths that you have neglected telling me. The most serious, however, are truths that are hidden to cover up deficiencies, because despite the enormous accomplishments the Revolution has achieved – the political, scientific, sports, and cultural achievements – there is colossal bureaucratic incompetence that affects almost all orders of daily life, and especially domestic happiness.
When he talks with people on the street, the conversation takes on the expressiveness and raw frankness of real affection. They call him: Fidel. They surround him without posing any risk, they get familiar, argue, contradict him, make demands, with an immediate transmission channel through which the truth circulates in spurts. This is when the unique human being is unveiled, when the brightness of his own image blinds.”
This is the Fidel Castro that I believe I know: A man of austere habits and insatiable illusions, with a formal old-fashioned education, with cautious words and subdued manners, unable to conceive of any idea that is not huge.
He dreams of his scientists finding the ultimate medicine against cancer, and has created a foreign policy with worldwide impact, on an island 84 times smaller than his main enemy. He has the conviction that the greatest achievement of human beings is the good formation of his conscience and that moral motivations, rather than material ones, are capable of changing the world and moving history forward.
I have heard him during his few hours of longing for life, recalling things that he could have done differently to gain more time from life. Seeing him overwhelmed by the weight of the destinies of so many others, I asked him what he would like most to do, in this world, and he immediately answered: Stand on a corner.