Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his homeland had a relationship as conflicted as any in the Nobel laureate’s twisting and impassioned novels. Colombia inspired and dismayed Garcia Marquez in equal measure, and the feeling was often mutual.
Nowhere is that ambiguity more evident than in the sweltering hamlet of Aracataca that was the inspiration for the fictitious Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Since the author died on Thursday at the age of 87, residents and holidaymakers have been flocking to the zinc-roofed home where he was born and raised by his maternal grandparents until the age of eight, paying their final, tear-filled respects to a man who was a symbol of pride for a country long-torn by violence.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared three days of national mourning for the “most loved and most admired compatriot of all times.”
Still some in this impoverished Caribbean town regret, with not a little bit of rancor, that he did not use his considerable wealth and fame to help residents overcome their perennial neglect.
An aqueduct that Colombian officials have promised for decades to relieve frequent water outages has never been completed despite numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies. And when Colombian authorities converted his childhood home into a museum in 2006, Garcia Marquez reviewed the blueprints, but did not donate a penny to its US$350,000 restoration.
“He should’ve thought more about his people and not left us on our own,” said Mariby Zapata, a 31-year-old dentist. “I guess he preferred fame and abandoned us.”
A few steps away, Robinson Leyva countered that putting the town of 45,000 on the map was generous enough.
“Of course he helped us,” the 49-year-old teacher said. “But officials here didn’t know how to take advantage of his influence.”
Some of Garcia Marquez’s mixed feelings stemmed from the way he was treated for his leftist political views. He fled the country in 1981 after friends and Colombian government officials warned him that the army wanted to interrogate him about alleged ties to the now defunct M-19 guerrilla group.
When he was awarded the Nobel Prize a year later, then-Colombian president Belisario Betancur attempted to quash the international backlash against the writer’s treatment by offering him ambassadorships in Europe. It was too late.
Garcia Marquez would always maintain a critical distance from his homeland, proclaiming himself a “wandering and nostalgic Colombian.”
Although he evoked his homeland’s beauty in his novels and visited frequently, he never again resided there permanently, instead spending his time in Europe and Mexico City, where his cremated remains are to be displayed at a memorial service today.
Aracataca Mayor Tufith Hatum says he hopes the author’s ashes are returned to his birthplace.
Colombian Ambassador to Mexico Jose Gabriel Ortiz said on Friday that Garcia Marquez’s ashes could be divided between Mexico and Colombia, but there was no official confirmation that the family has agreed to that idea.
Security was one reason why Garcia Marquez stayed away. As he chronicled in his 1996 work News of a Kidnapping, an account of several high-profile abductions ordered by cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, Colombia had fallen into a seemingly bottomless pit of political and drug-fueled violence.