This neat collection of Gabriel García Márquez’s speeches sets out the revered Colombian novelist’s two key passions. Neither will surprise readers (all 30 million of them) of his 1967 work One Hundred Years of Solitude, or the many other novels, short stories and essays García Márquez completed before his death last year. First there is a quest to identify a Latin American spirit, and to celebrate and defend it. Second is an enduring belief in the power of the imagination. Both are perhaps best summed up in a speech given at the opening of the exhibition Figuration and Fabulation: 75 Years of Painting in Latin America 1914–1989 at the Museum of Fine Art, Caracas, via an anecdote the writer tells about watching the first moon landing. Two European couples, two Latin American couples and all their assorted children are gathered round the television. ‘We were all levitating at the awesomeness of history. All except the Latin American children, who asked in chorus: “But is it the first time?”… For them, everything that had ever passed through their imaginations – like El Dorado – had the value of accomplished fact.’
For García Márquez the imagination is not something akin to idle daydreaming, or the preserve of entertainment, but the defining force for social and political good. Knowing that his fame had bought him the ear of the powerful, he used it to make fierce, uncompromising (and probably quite uncomfortable, were one present in the audience) denouncements of society’s wrongs. In a 1986 speech made to the presidents and prime ministers of Argentina, Mexico, Tanzania, Greece, India and Sweden, he presented an awful description of life after nuclear apocalypse; at a meeting in 1995 that included former presidents and vice-presidents of Uruguay, Mexico and Nicaragua, among similarly lofty audience members, he condemned the US-led ‘war on drugs’, noting, ‘My impression is that the traffic in drugs is a problem that has slipped out of humanity’s hands.’ Going on to refer to the US military’s aerial eradication of drug farms in Colombia, García Márquez declared that ‘fumigation ought to begin with the island of Manhattan and city hall of Washington’.
I’m Not Here… certainly brings together a ragtag bunch of material, but it proves the Colombian to be as poetic and polemical in speaking as he was in writing.
This article was first published in the March 2015 issue.