Gabo TALKS : Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the Misfortunes of Latin Aemrica, his Friendship With Fidel Castro and his Terror of the Blank Page.

<i> Anthony Day is senior correspondent for The Times; Marjorie Miller is The Times' Mexico City bureau chief</i>

IMAGINE STOCKHOLM IN DECEMBER, when it is nearly always nighttime. A 54-year-old son of Colombia’s Caribbean coast has come to collect his Nobel Prize for Literature. It is 1982, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez is already famous as the author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which is selling better than the Bible in some Spanish-speaking countries. Garcia Marquez counts powerful men, including Cuban President Fidel Castro, among his closest friends. And he has written a ringing acceptance speech in which he defines the solitary existence of Latin America, dares Europe to allow these countries to make their own mistakes and defends the “persistent advantage of life over death.”

But the Nobel ceremonies are a confusion of activity that has this native of the tropics shivering with cold and mixing up day and night in a place so far north of the Equator. He is exhausted, begging for sleep. He falls asleep. And then a curious thing happens.


“I suddenly woke up in bed, and I remembered that they always give the same room in the same hotel to the Nobel winner,” Garcia Marquez says. “And I thought, ‘Rudyard Kipling has slept in this bed, Thomas Mann, Neruda, Asturias, Faulkner.’ It terrified me, and finally I went out to sleep on the sofa.”

Now, sitting in the study of his Mexico City home, Garcia Marquez laughs at himself as he recalls that night eight years ago. Considered one of the greatest masters of the Spanish language since Miguel de Cervantes, he is at once vastly proud and humbled by the literary company into which he has been cast. This tale he tells captures the character of the poor boy with 14 brothers and sisters who grew up to become a world-famous author of books, published in at least 32 languages.


If that is incongruous, then his life is full of incongruity, much like the characters in his fiction, which he has drawn from his own experiences and those of his family and acquaintances. This man, called Gabo by his friends, is guided by reason and superstition in nearly equal parts. He believes in the romantic idea of inspiration but has worked assiduously to master Western literature and the craft of writing. He is both generous and egocentric, dignified and vain. A devoted advocate of human freedom, he cannot bring himself to criticize the suppression of intellectual liberty in Cuba. He is a practiced journalist, yet he is so uncomfortable at being interviewed that he wrings his hands and sinks into the couch when questioned in ways that do not suit him.

He often has broken with convention. He did so in his 1975 novel “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” which is a single 297-page paragraph, the longest in Spanish literature. And he does again in his new novel, “The General in His Labyrinth,” which is to be published in the United States this month. The book describes the final, tormented days of Gen. Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios--called Simon Bolivar. Garcia Marquez has stripped away the winding cloths from the venerated legend to reveal the Great Liberator of South America in all his human nakedness and contradictions.

The book shocked Colombia when it was first published in Spanish last year. Garcia Marquez was accused of being anti-patriotic, of destroying national heritage. The author says that he has neither maligned nor belittled the 19th-Century liberator and leader of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. He just wanted Latin Americans to see Bolivar as he truly was.

But you should not expect to see this sort of nakedness in the author himself. A witty and beguiling storyteller, Garcia Marquez forthrightly tries to shape the history that is written about him. He weaves enchanting yarns about his youth and family, insisting that all of it is present in his books, particularly in the best-selling “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the romantic tale of a lifelong love affair he says is based on his mother and father.


He is writing his memoirs in sections divided by theme rather than chronology, a method that not only frees him from what he calls the “imprisonment” of a work in progress but which “allows me to skip over the themes that don’t interest me, or that are not in my interest to write.”

The author who unmasks the General says: “I believe one has a public life, a private life and a secret life. I have written a lot about my public and private lives. On my secret life I have not written a single word.”

But what if someone invents his secret life, as Garcia Marquez did for the General, detailing Bolivar’s women and sexual intrigues?

“Ah,” he says with a grin. “What they invent will never be as good as the reality that I will take to my grave.”


GARCIA MARQUEZ IS A JAUNTY,energetic man of 62 with furrowed cheeks and a lined brow. His mustache is white, his eyebrows black, his hair salt-and-pepper gray. Upright and barrel-chested, he takes full advantage of his otherwise average height to fill a room with his presence. As he speaks in clear and modulated Spanish, he smiles playfully and punctuates with his hands.

He loves good food so much that you might think he judges a man as much by what he eats as by what he does. He’s curious about how world figures think about food, and what they eat. He wants to get to know Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev “over lunch . . . and in his shirt-sleeves.” He keeps a cellar filled with French wines, but his daily habits are fairly austere: He diets on fruit, quit smoking cigarettes years ago and gave up coffee “because it made me think of death.”

With Mercedes, his wife of 32 years, Garcia Marquez lives much of the year in a Spanish Colonial-style house on the southern edge of Mexico City, a favorite neighborhood of Mexican writers and intellectuals. What first strikes you about their two-story house is its whiteness. The carpets are white, the walls are white, much of the furniture is white. You can’t help but wonder whether this man has dirt on his shoes like the rest of us. Or does he levitate so that he can live with this virginal carpet, which looks like a giant canvas awaiting inspiration?

He takes pride in this house with its high brick-and-wood-beam ceilings and a collection of paintings by Mexican artists Rufino Tamayo and Abel Quezada, Nicaraguan Armando Morales and Colombian Fernando Botero. He wants to show off the house--one of several dwellings he owns, in Bogota, Cartagena, Barcelona, Cuernavaca and Paris--but also he wants to show his affection for journalists by sharing something intimate that will make for a better story. He wrote news before novels and always is thinking of the story. As one writer to others, he leads us upstairs to see his bedroom and the books beside his low, white bed.

Garcia Marquez awakens at 5 a.m. every day to reach into the pile of books, which this day includes Kenneth S. Lynn’s biography of Ernest Hemingway, a biography of the late Mexican President Francisco A. Madero, the Italian translation of “The General,” Octavio Paz’s new collection of essays, “A Small Chronicle of Great Days,” a Spanish mystery novel and a copy of the Constitution of Colombia.

“I don’t read at night because I have gotten up early, and I fall asleep. And if I work at night, I will keep working in my sleep, and then I wake up tired,” he says.

Now we can picture Garcia Marquez in the dawn light made brighter by the white room, reading and correcting what he has written the day before, while Mercedes sleeps by his side. This is the only time he has without the interruptions of telephones, secretaries and visitors.

He begins his day’s work at 8 a.m. in the shower, imagining characters and inventing sentences under a steady stream of hot water. “Sometimes,” he tells us, “the bathroom fills with steam I take so long. You can’t see anything in the mirrors.” He had to install a second hot-water heater to support his inspiration.

As a boy on scholarship in boarding school, Garcia Marquez was taught to make his bed, shower in cold water and get fully dressed before breakfast. Of that, he has preserved only the habit of dressing for work. He cannot write in a bathrobe or sweat suit. On many mornings, he stands before his mirrored closets searching desperately for something to wear. He calls this ritual one of his “secret vices.”

“Many times I arrive late at my desk because I don’t have anything to wear. I can’t decide what pants to put on with what shirt. I have a closet full of clothes, and I scream, ‘I don’t have anything to wear.’ Of course, all of this is a pretext because of the fear of going to write.”

He admits that a blank piece of paper sparks the same terror in him today that it did at the beginning of his career. He dallies over the newspaper, makes telephone calls that simply cannot wait and rejoices at an electricity blackout that shuts down his computer. But he must go to work.

“If I invent an excuse not to write and I don’t write, then in the afternoon I have a tremendous attack of conscience. I really feel guilty, as if I have not earned my meal.”

After breakfast, Garcia Marquez crosses his back veranda and manicured garden, with its rosebushes, bougainvillea and citrus trees, to an old barn that he has converted into a comfortable, modern study as white as the rest of the house. The shelved walls are filled with expensive stereo equipment, records and tapes of classical music, and row after row of novels in Spanish, English, French and Italian--the four languages in which he reads.

When asked which current writer he prefers, he hesitates as if in fear of offending any of them. Finally, he volunteers that he especially likes the work of two close friends, Milan Kundera and Carlos Fuentes.

On shelves above the couch he has “two yards” of the complete works of Hemingway and William Faulkner. He pulls two volumes of Herman Melville from their place: “This is the greatest American author. But most writers won’t admit it.” Edgar Allan Poe is another of his American favorites. He is reading the memoirs of Bertrand Russell; he admires the compactness of Russell’s language.

“I will never manage to write like him. First of all, he wrote in English, which is boom, boom, boom. I like my own books better in English than Spanish. They’re not better written or more poetic, but they have fewer words than I can achieve in Spanish . . . because Spanish is such a sinuous language.”

To tighten his own writing, he has eliminated adverbs, which in Spanish all have the ending - mente. “Before ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold,’ ” he says, “there are many. In ‘Chronicle,’ I think there is one. After that, in ‘Love,’ there are none. In Spanish, the adverb - mente is a very easy solution. But when you want to use - mente and look for another form, it always is better. It has become so natural to me that I don’t even notice anymore.”

At 9 o’clock, Garcia Marquez sits down at his neat wood desk. With a lifelong aversion to the cold, he slips into an old tan sweater with a loose button, and, fighting the urge to procrastinate further, he at last turns on his computer. He inserts the changes that he has made on paper in the early morning and then begins to elaborate on the ideas that have come to him in the shower.

The computer, Garcia Marquez says, has saved him from his own perfectionist tendencies, which had become yet another means of stalling. When he wrote on a typewriter, he insisted that each page be flawless: no erasures, blotches or crossed-out letters. “I considered a typing mistake an error of creation,” he says. Once, he went through an entire ream of paper typing the final manuscript of a 15-page short story.

He used to write a page each day--250 words. “If you write several hundred words a day all your life, you will write as much as Balzac.” But the computer has changed his technique slightly--now he labors over longer sections and perfects them over several days.

Although his two children have been grown and gone for more than a decade, Garcia Marquez stops his daily writing sharply at 2 in the afternoon, the hour that he used to pick them up at school and bring them home for lunch. Before leaving his office, he makes a printout of what he has written, which he will edit in bed the following morning.

Garcia Marquez still occasionally writes pieces of journalism in addition to fiction. He tells us that he believes journalism is a literary genre, a rendition of reality, like the novel or the theater.

“When I write journalism, some people think I am writing literature,” he says. “And I am very rigorous when I write journalism, very careful of reality. But I have a way of selecting and seeing reality that is very literary. I use the same method of observation in journalism and literature. Because of literature I see things others don’t. On the other hand, journalism has helped me in literature precisely because it has helped me maintain contact with reality always.”

In journalism, he recounts stories that most reporters only think to tell their friends. “For example, when I met the Pope a month after he was named, two things grabbed my attention. We were talking like this, face to face, and I felt one of the buttons fall off my blazer. I heard it fall on the floor. I maintained a poker face, but he saw it, leaned down and picked it up. I would have left it.

“Then, when I was about to go,” says this journalist who was reared Catholic, “he went to open the door to his study, and it was locked. He had only been Pope for a short time, and he couldn’t get the door open. He made an exclamation in Polish. All I could think of at that moment was what my mother would say if she knew that I was locked in with the Pope and we couldn’t get out.”

AS GARCIA MARQUEZ tells it, he did not set out to write the story of Simon Bolivar. He wanted rather to recount the tale of his beloved Magdalena, the Colombian river that he traveled so often as a youth and later used as the setting for “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

“I know the Magdalena River port by port, and I have a great nostalgia for that era. I think nostalgia is the source of all literature and poetry,” he says. “I had thought I would write the story of the Magdalena River through Bolivar’s trip, without worrying much about his personality. But it wasn’t possible. He took over.”

The Great Liberator, Garcia Marquez discovered during two years of exhaustive research, was nothing like the one-dimensional hero presented to schoolchildren all across the continent. Garcia Marquez felt obliged to set history straight. So he wrote a novel of Bolivar’s last, ambiguous journey down the Magdalena as a haggard and dying man, old at 47, reviled, nearly friendless, with his hopes of a unified and independent Latin America in tatters.

Garcia Marquez’s Bolivar is a romantic aristocrat, as myth would have it, but “The General in His Labyrinth” also says that the legendary hero is part black--his is not the long Roman nose that it became in revisionist drawings. His language is vulgar, with a river man’s coarseness that has shocked the Latin world of letters. Having lost his wife at a young age, Bolivar fills his nights not only with his well-known mistress, Manuela Sasenz, but also with countless young girls, whom he eagerly takes to his hammock and then discards.

But most disconcerting for a sainted hero is the decrepit state of his body: He is a farting, foul-breathed insomniac who suffers periodic spells of delirium. This Bolivar is full of the contradictions that Garcia Marquez discovered in the 10,000 letters the General wrote over a lifetime. “He changed his opinion according to the circumstances. It was extraordinary to find that there was a human being in this myth that they had created.”

Unlike typical Bogota leaders, including his one-time vice president Francisco de Paula Santander, Bolivar was not at all cautious or formalistic. Bolivar was a republican who repeatedly denied that he was tempted toward a monarchy. A visionary gnawed by disillusionment, he wrote at the end of his life: “America is ungovernable, the man who serves a revolution plows the sea, this nation will fall inevitably into the hands of the unruly mob and then will pass into the hands of almost indistinguishable petty tyrants of every color and race.”

And yet, in the novel, Bolivar expects to keep on fighting for his ideals. He still dreams of a unified Latin America. “Bolivar has been criticized because he was a dictator,” Garcia Marquez says, “because at one point he wanted to establish a monarchy. One sees very clearly that what happened with Bolivar is that he wanted to create a free and united country, and he didn’t care how he did it.”

Some historians and intellectuals are angered by the book’s emphasis on Bolivar’s bitter quarrel with the other hero of Colombian independence, Santander. Other critics have dismissed the book as the work of a leftist trying to destroy democratic institutions.

“I haven’t tried to destroy anything but to show the man,” Garcia Marquez says. “All the veneration and all the respect that he gets as a myth are greater if he is seen as a human being.”

THE RIVER THAT Garcia Marquez would have written about will have to wait its turn. He says it will receive ample attention in his memoirs. The Magdalena was a symbol of freedom to the young Garcia Marquez, who left home by steamboat at age 13 to go away to school. It is a source of inspiration to the mature writer who remembers the throaty whistle of the boats and their macho captains.

Born in the small banana-growing town of Aracataca, Garcia Marquez was 8 when he moved with his parents to Barranquilla, at the mouth of the Magdalena. The story of his family is all there in “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Garcia Marquez says. Like Fermina Diaz, his mother went to high school and studied piano; his father wanted to be a doctor but ran out of money before he finished school and, like Florentino Ariza, became a telegrapher. Later, he opened a small pharmacy.

“We were very poor, but worse than that, we had pretensions. My mother and father had 11 children, and my father had four more outside of the marriage. Two of those were grown and didn’t live with us. When the other two were born, my mother reacted with the usual drama, but then she said my father’s blood couldn’t be running around out there and she brought them home. They lived with us.”

Growing up, Garcia Marquez spent a lot of time with his maternal grandparents in Aracataca. He has said that he learned a lot from his storytelling grandmother. And his grandfather’s Caribbean-flavored Spanish helped Garcia Marquez reconstruct Bolivar’s style of speaking.

As a boy, he loved comic books--Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates--and yearned to buy them, but they were too expensive. “I realized I had to leave the house because another mouth was born every year. I got the idea of a scholarship. In 1942, Colombia was such a centralized country that in order to win a scholarship, I had to travel 600 miles to take an exam in Bogota. The trip was very expensive. I don’t know where my father got the money. I knew I had to pass the test, because I didn’t have the return fare.”

This was his first trip on the Mississippi-style steamboats, whose whistles had called to him as boy. He passed the test, got the scholarship and enrolled in a boarding school outside of Bogota. But he continued to ride the river at each vacation for the next six years.

“It was a wonderful trip because we were singing and dancing, and the boat was full of students. I loved to ride up with the captains. I learned that they had lovers in every port, and when the boats arrived, the captains signaled with the whistles to let them know who it was. Those captains are a legend. Now it has become nostalgia. I was always conscious that some day I would write about this. I was aware that something was happening to me.”

At school, Garcia Marquez learned what he now considers a basic truth: “It may be dogmatic and probably reactionary, but I believe you find some people are born knowing how to tell a story. They have a sense of timing, of organization of facts. After that, it is a long way to becoming a writer. You have to learn to write well. It is a technical process, a process of elaboration and a capacity to elaborate experiences. There are many writers who are just technicians, and you can tell that right away.”

In the boarding school, he says, “I was probably the only one who knew how to tell a story. I enjoyed telling stories, and my teachers heard me.”

His teachers were political radicals from all over the country, sent into a kind of internal exile to the boarding school, a place where it was thought they could cause no trouble. They recognized Garcia Marquez’s interests and let him do as he pleased. He read every volume in the school library in the order they were arranged on the shelves. “I remember there were three volumes of the works of Freud. I read all without knowing what I was reading, but the clinical cases were marvelous. Now I understand why I was so interested--because of the clinical cases.”

He entered the National University in Bogota, choosing to study law because the morning classes allowed him to hold a job in the afternoon. “I wanted to study philosophy and letters, but no one would have forgiven a student as poor as I was for studying philosophy,” he says.

Still, he made his way through the 19th-Century Russian novelists, 17th-Century Spanish poets, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Then he discovered Franz Kafka, who “impressed me the most. He revealed a certain sense of literature because he was capable of anything.”

In Bogota, he wrote stories “that had nothing to do with my reality. It was someone else’s reality, the reality of other writers.” But he sold one to the local newspaper, El Espectador, and then another and another. Suddenly, he was a writer, without, he felt, really knowing how to write. The responsibility sent him into a panic. He began to study the Greek and Latin classics, and then, “something providential happened.”

On April 9, 1948, liberal political leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated. The city erupted in three days of riots that became known as el Bogotazo and resulted in years of political violence. Like most university students, Garcia Marquez went into the streets to break windows in protest. When he returned to his pension he found it in ashes. The university shut down. Nothing remained for him in Bogota, so he left for the Caribbean coast where he knew he could find a newspaper job.

“When I got to Cartagena, I rediscovered in the coast a reality and culture with which I completely identified,” he says. He never fails to identify himself as a Caribbean. In his books and conversation, Bogota, sitting on the high plains of central Colombia, is cold, formal and austere; the Caribbean and its people are hot-blooded and exuberant.

When he moved to the coast, his literary friends told him that the classics were fine but that the most exciting writers alive were the novelists from the Southern United States. He began to read them, and his great love for Faulkner’s work was born. “I discovered that he was writing about a world exactly like the one I had lived,” he says. It was a world of heat and slow-moving rivers, small towns and farming country, where storytellers spun long and fantastic tales.

About this time, when he was in his early 20s, Garcia Marquez returned to his hometown of Aracataca with his mother on a trip that he says changed his life.

“That is the day I really became a writer. I realized all I had written up to that point was invented. It had been due to a congenital capacity to tell stories, but I wasn’t recounting my reality. I found the town exactly as I remembered it, but in ruins, totally deserted. There weren’t any people in the streets. The banana company had left. Before, I had felt you had to write so that people identified and felt good. But when I suffered this shock, I realized that probably what I had to do was create a reality that would make people uncomfortable, transmit this sense of uneasiness and pain that I encountered. And that is what I found in the Southern writers from the United States. I returned to Barranquilla 24 hours later, tore up half a novel I had written and started over. Since then I haven’t changed my concept of literature.”

Garcia Marquez says he could not then bring himself to enter the small house in Aracataca in which he had been raised, and, although it is a museum today, he has yet to go inside. “If I do, I will stop being a writer. The key is inside,” he says. By way of explanation he offers only this: “I go on instinct. I’m a sentimentalist, not an intellectual.”

BUT OF COURSE he is an intellectual and, as such, his views on literature, art and politics command attention throughout Latin America. As in Europe, writers there are considered to have a moral authority that gives their opinions great weight. “I take care in every word I say, because I know it resounds in all of Latin America,” Garcia Marquez says, accurately and matter-of-factly.

His political views have been the subject of debate and controversy for nearly 30 years. They have been the source of his continuing troubles with the U.S. State Department, which considers him an undesirable leftist and restricts his entry visas. He can and does go to the United States but only by special dispensation from the State Department, a condition that greatly irritates him, especially since he admires much about this country. He says with a wry smile, “My name will be remembered for hundreds of years because of all those American graduate students writing theses about my books.”

Originally, his political opinions were shaped by Marxist professors who commonly taught in Latin American high schools and universities. From listening to his teachers, and from witnessing the economic misery in which so many Latin Americans lived, he became convinced that capitalism did not work.

“Probably in those first years I was very radical,” he tells us. “But later life taught me that no existing system is good enough, because certainly no system has a general application. Between high school and my first trip to socialist countries I was somewhat a victim of propaganda,” he says.

He was a 29-year-old journalist when he made an extended journey through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with friends in 1957. He wrote a series of plain-spoken articles on the countries’ gloomy cities and disillusioned people.

“Those articles were written with great care so that they were clearly a criticism of socialism without being a praise of capitalism. My newspaper, El Espectador, didn’t publish the articles because they considered them very favorable to the socialist countries. And the Marxist left considered them paid for by the State Department. When I returned, it was clear to me that, in theory, socialism was a much more just system than capitalism. But that in practice, this wasn’t socialism. At that moment, the Cuban Revolution occurred,” he says.

One cannot talk about Garcia Marquez without considering his intimate relationship with Cuba and his unwavering defense of Fidel Castro, who has read several of Garcia Marquez first drafts. The author is not prepared to unmask the myth of Fidel as he has with Simon Bolivar; he will not, and possibly cannot, bring himself to criticize seriously Castro’s aging revolution.

“With Fidel, there is great coherence between the myth and the man. I believe in that yth.” Besides, he explains, “Fidel is my personal friend. It is very difficult to be Fidel’s friend and to live in this world.”

The one time Garcia Marquez grows angry during days of interviews and telephone calls, it is over Castro. He believes the United States has an “almost pornographic obsession with Castro. The U.S. press has made him into a devil. I have many friends,” he says furiously, “and in the world they have been reduced to one. I am friends with seven, eight, nine world leaders, with many presidents.”

Clearly Garcia Marquez feels that to criticize Castro would be to betray his friendship and the fundamental values for which Castro stands. They are the values that drew Garcia Marquez to Cuba in the first place and prompted him to enlist in its revolutionary news service, Prensa Latina, in 1960.

“The Cuban Revolution was about national independence and social justice. It was a revolution based on national independence and Latin American consciousness,” he says. “The importance of Cuba is its defense of its sovereignty in the face of the United States, its resistance during 30 years to the economic blockade -- which is much more serious than is said.”

To Garcia Marquez, Castro is the necessary thorn in the lion’s paw; if it weren’t for this visionary leader’s defiance of the empire, “the United States would be into Latin America all the way to Patagonia.”

Prensa Latina sent Garcia Marquez to the United States to open its New York bureau, but he quit after a short time when hard-line communists began taking over the news agency. He was disturbed by Cuba’s growing dependence on the Socialist Bloc; 13 years passed before he revisited the island to meet Castro personally. Their friendship was born during that meeting in 1973, when they established an immediate bond over the issue of Chile. President Salvador Allende, a popularly elected Socialist, had died during a coup led by right-wing Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Garcia Marquez was working with Chilean exiles against the military dictator, and Castro supported their cause.

“Fidel as a human being is dazzling,” he says. “Of course I had too much experience as a journalist to let myself be dazzled. But all the doubts I had about his dependence on the socialist countries were resolved with his position on Chile, because he was an indispensable ally in that struggle.”

Over the years, Garcia Marquez has become an unofficial ambassador for Cuba, arguing its case to heads of states, the press and the rest of the Western world. He has just returned from, he says, his most interesting visit ever to the island, where he stays in a guest house provided by the government. Animated and adamant, he insists that Castro is searching for ways to democratize Cuba and that Castro is the only one who can bring about such change without creating chaos.

“The process Cuba is living today is very interesting. Things are being discussed at all levels. They’re questioning the defects of the system but not the system. They’re taking apart all I didn’t like about Cuba, which was all that was Soviet.”

He believes Castro will separate the state from the Communist Party and that Cuba’s links with its old socialist allies will be reduced to those of preferential trading partners. But he does not believe Castro will ever hold general elections.

Even on the issue of intellectual freedom, and Cuba’s restriction of it, Garcia Marquez defends his friend. Castro’s original conception of revolution was perverted by U.S. aggression, by the Bay of Pigs invasion and by the U.S. economic blockade, he says.

“When I raise the issue of intellectual freedom, he first tries to demonstrate to me that the freedom there is greater than anywhere else. Then he tells me the first priority is national security. There is a constant threat, and the minute he lets his guard down, Yanqui troops will be there. That is his analysis. It is correct. But at the same time, it becomes a pretext for many things, not necessarily on Fidel’s part, but on the part of many people around him,” Garcia Marquez says.

In his defense of Castro, Garcia Marquez returns to his own recurrent theme--that Europe and the United States should not impose their values and timetable on Latin America but rather must allow Latin America to develop at its own pace.

“Venerable Europe would perhaps be more perceptive if it tried to see us in its own past,” he said in his 1982 Nobel speech. “If only it recalled that London took 300 years to build its first city wall, and 300 years more to acquire a bishop; that Rome labored in a gloom of uncertainty for 20 centuries, until an Etruscan king anchored it in history, and that the peaceful Swiss today, who feast us with their mild cheeses and indifferent watches, bloodied Europe as soldiers of fortune as late as the 16th Cenury.

“Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change?”

Several years later, making his way through Bolivar’s letters, Garcia Marquez discovered the Liberator had embraced the same idea. In the novel, Bolivar says in a line from one of his letters, “Damn it, please let us have our Middle Ages in peace!”

Garcia Marquez says he shares Bolivar’s conviction that Latin America must be unified and independent; he also shares his commitment to social justice. Beyond that, his political views are ambiguous. “I have never subscribed to an ideological system,” he says. “This has created many political problems for me because they say it is very difficult to know what my position is. I think the world and human beings are ambiguous.

“It used to be that we were considered revolutionaries if we thought that everything must be in the hands of the state. Now we are democrats if we think everything must be privatized. Curiously, the person who is clearest on the issue of privatization in the world today is a Canadian-American, John Kenneth Galbraith. His clarity on the myth of privatization and the myth of statism is impressive. He has talked to the Soviets in the Gorbachev circle, and he is more advanced than they are,” he says. Galbraith, a mordant critic of the failings of modern industrial society, is basically an advocate of capitalism regulated by government for the common good.

Garcia Marquez, a man branded as anti-American by several U.S. Administrations, laughs at the irony: “At 62, I end up finding that the man who more or less sheds a light on what might be the solutions is a North American named Galbraith. That’s incredible!”

SOME EUROPEAN CRITICS have interpreted “The General” as Garcia Marquez’s metaphor for the decline of Castro. The author dismisses this with a wave of his hand. What’s interesting, he says, is not what Castro and Bolivar have in common but the qualities that all men of power share.

“All are enigmatic. It is impossible to know what they think. They are all very jealous and with petty jealousies,” he says.

Garcia Marquez has known many powerful men besides Castro. He is close to Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. He was friends with Panamanian Gen. Omar Torrijos, before the leader was killed in an airplane crash in 1981; he is friendly with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Spanish President Felipe Gonzalez and other rulers.

What about Garcia Marquez? Does he wish to follow other writers into politics, writers such as novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran unsuccessfully for president of Peru, or playwright Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia?

“No, I don’t have the vocation, the training or the determination to be president. Besides, in Colombia I have a power that is greater than a president could have. It is a moral power.”

He says he may use this power to influence or even to join the upcoming constituent assembly, which is to write a new constitution for Colombia this year. “I would like to work in laying the cultural basis of a new state. The problem is the country has outgrown its institutions. The drug traffickers haven’t eroded the institutions -- the institutions have permitted the drug traffickers to prosper.”

Besides that, Garcia Marquez says he will continue to write and to support his Latin American film school, which he set up three years ago in Cuba -- the only country to offer financial assistance. His plans include a trip to Japan to work with director Akira Kurosawa on the filming of his novel “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” which will be set in medieval Japan. He also wants to write a profile of Gorbachev and to continue work on his memoirs until an idea for another novel takes shape.

His ideas, he says, all come from life, from his experiences and observations. But his inspiration is a mystery.

“When one sits down to write, one begins somewhat mechanically. There arrives a moment at which you have such an identification with the subject that it carries you away and the words begin to come out on their own. This is the mystery that I don’t understand. This is what romantics call inspiration.”

This inspired chronicler of love, death and man’s fate calls himself an optimist. This century is ending on a note of hope, he says, with the death of dogmas and the search for new beliefs.

“If you add it up, probably by the next century there will be more people living than dead. Life is a force; death isn’t. I say what Faulkner also said: Probably things are going badly, everything is bad, but the human being is indestructible. The human being as an individual is mortal, but as a species it is immortal.

“What can we all do? The great revolution will come when everyone does his work well.”