Reinaldo Arenas on Gabo: Gabriel García Márquez: ¿Esbirro o es burro? (Tool or fool?)

The following is a translation by Asombra of a text by the highly acclaimed Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas. It was initially written in 1981 in New York City and published in Mexico (Kosmos; 1986) and in Miami (Ediciones Universal; 2001) as part of the book Necesidad de libertad–Grito luego existo. A special thanks to our good friend Zoé Valdés for finding this gem.


Gabriel García Márquez: ¿Esbirro o es burro? (Tool or fool?)
Reinaldo Arenas

That a writer or a simple human being in a totalitarian country should find it necessary to accept the horrific circumstances prevailing there, and pretend to conform and even cooperate with the system, is pathetic but understandable. Those of us who have lived under such dictatorships, which are perfect in their minutely calculated fear, know how far one must go in terms of simulation, denial and degradation in order to simply survive.

There can be no morality in the servant or in the master, because the servant is forced to be one, and the master must maintain the servitude.

Now then, that a writer like Mr. Gabriel García Márquez [GGM or GM henceforth], who has lived and written in the West, where his work has had tremendous impact and acceptance, which has guaranteed him a certain lifestyle and intellectual prestige, that a writer like him, benefiting from the freedom and possibilities such a world offers him, should use them to be an apologist for the communist totalitarianism that turns intellectuals into policemen and policemen into criminals, that is simply outrageous. And that is the attitude of GGM, who has apparently forgotten that the writing profession is a privilege of free men, and that by taking the side of dictatorships, whether Latin American or eastern ones, he’s digging his own grave as a writer and playing along with the lackeys of official power, who climb with hope, but are later reduced to the sad state of a beleaguered rat forced to applaud incessantly its own prison and its supreme warden. On various occasions Mr. GM, golden boy of the western press, full beneficiary of the comfort and guarantees offered by the so-called capitalist world, has made statements condemning the millions of Vietnamese who, in a desperate and suicidal act, throw themselves into the sea fleeing communist terror. Now, to the great indignation of all freedom-loving Cubans, GM, as Fidel Castro’s guest of honor at the recent May Day celebrations, has condemned with his attitude and words the ten thousand Cubans who have sought refuge in the Peruvian embassy, attributing this act and situation to the direction or instigation of so-called American imperialism. In fact, GM also condemns the million Cubans who, risking their lives, take to the sea like in Vietnam to perish or be free, even if that freedom consists of no more than being able to reach a strange country alive and half naked. Apparently, GM likes concentration camps, vast prisons and muzzled thinking. This star of communism is irritated by the flight of the prisoners, just as the great Cuban landowners of the 18th and 19th centuries were irritated by the flight of slaves from their plantations. Enriched by his material earnings in the capitalist world, it bothers GM that other men aspire to or dream of having the same rights he enjoys, the right to write and speak, the right to be, above all, a human being and not an anonymous slave, numbered and persecuted, condemned in the best of cases to retract himself incessantly, and also to inform on himself incessantly. GM never ceases singing the praises of the Castro-Soviet dictatorship, to the extent that he recently declared to the [Paris] newspaper Le Monde: “The problem with visiting men like Fidel Castro is that one winds up loving them too much” (!) That love of GM for Fidel Castro and his personal estate (the island of Cuba) is nevertheless love at a distance. GM visits Cuba only as a tourist (where he is treated as such); resides in Mexico and naturally in Paris; and there, in the company of French citizen Julio Cortázar [very leftist writer of Argentine extraction], he serves as courtier and cultural adviser to the new president [the socialist Mitterrand].

I ask myself if it is not extremely cynical that GM, an incessant apologist for the “Cuban revolution” and its cultural and human achievements, nonetheless lives in Paris and Mexico, has a son studying at Harvard, and another one learning to play the violin in France. Doesn’t this real-life behavior invalidate the pro-Castro rhetoric of the rich man who emits it? If GM agreed with the ideas he expresses, if he really believed them, his sons would now be picking grapefruit in one of the rural schools [“escuelas al campo”] scattered all over Cuba, and which consist of immense plantations where the student is obligated to do [such] work.

But the most abominable act committed so far by GM was his underhanded condemnation of Polish workers (the Polish people), who are bravely trying to create a truly socialist society, in other words, to achieve power and all the rights that all workers in a truly democratic world possess. Once more, GM has spoken against a popular movement, placing himself obediently on the side of totalitarianism.

Regarding the question of whether he’s a tool or a fool, the answer lamentably appears to be the former. Or perhaps it’s both.

How much does the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude charge, directly or indirectly, for the corpse of each Vietnamese or Cuban lost at sea while desperately trying to reach freedom? What is the monetary equivalent of the political support that international communism offers to GM for every young man violently killed on the coasts of Cuba, murdered with impunity, for the terrible crime of wanting to live in peace? How and in what form do Moscow and Havana encourage him so that the respected and admired writer becomes, before the astonished eyes of his admirers (including me) a kind of obtuse and uninformed lackey, though no less harmful or lamentable for that?

The search for freedom, by whatever means it is attempted, is the highest expression of human dignity. To condemn or impede that aspiration, which will never be eradicated from the heart of man, is an unforgivable treachery. Taking the side of those who stab, gun down and muzzle the people for trying to escape the boundaries of their prison is to commit treason against the history of humanity–because history (that is, collective reason) will always be on the side of that persecuted multitude, of that man who, with no other ideal but fleeing from terror, seeks refuge en masse in an embassy, boards a plane or takes to the sea. The persecuted are in the right. To condemn that attitude is to condemn life itself, to condemn the flight of the rabbit when hunters approach or the stampede in the forest when a fire is blazing. The idea of saving one’s self however one can is apparently disagreeable to GM.

It’s time for all the intellectuals of the free world (the rest don’t exist) to take a stand against this unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism who, taking advantage of the guarantees and resources that liberty offers him, dedicates himself to undermining it. Can there be freedom for the enemies of freedom? Is there a place in democratic countries for those who presume to annihilate democracy? In that respect, the attitude of the United States and western Europe is simply stupid and suicidal. Such denseness and naivete are bound to cost them dearly. Democracy should be the possibility that every man should have to live in freedom and dignity, not the foolishness of opening our doors to evil, so that it will permeate our home while we sleep, and when we open our eyes (already too late) we awake trapped…I wonder, why don’t these intellectual apologists for communist paradises live in them? Or is it that they prefer collecting payment there and here, while enjoying the comforts and guarantees of the western world?

Patience has its limits, especially for those who carry in their soul or body the humiliations, degradations and extortions one suffers under totalitarian regimes.

7 thoughts on “Reinaldo Arenas on Gabo: Gabriel García Márquez: ¿Esbirro o es burro? (Tool or fool?)”

  1. In the penultimate sentence of the third paragraph, the phrase “this star of communism” is my translation for “esta vedette del comunismo.” A “vedette” is typically a star female singer/dancer of the showgirl variety. The original wording is obviously more suggestive, if not provocative.

  2. Arenas wrote this soon after he managed to get the hell out of the Castro corral in 1980. The book “Necesidad de libertad–Grito luego existo” (The need for freedom–I scream, therefore I am) is a compilation of essays, poetry and letters, a kind of catharsis asserting his newfound freedom and condemning the totalitarian Castro dictatorship which denies liberty to the Cuban people.

Comments are closed.