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Gabriel García Márquez: Latin America’s Body and Soul

By Robert Valencia

As the world mourns the loss of one the most important writers in the 20th century, Gabriel García Márquez, people from far corners of the world are sharing some of his most memorable lines from his novels. Highlighting his propensity for magical realism, thousands are sharing quotes from the wondrous ascension of Remedios the Beauty in One Hundred Years of Solitude, to Florentino Ariza’s astonishing love confession to Fermina Daza 50 years later in Love in the Time of Cholera.

But few in the English speaking world know that Gabriel García was more than just the embodiment of magical realism. García Márquez considered himself, first and foremost, to be a journalist. His in-depth writing both on or inspired by Latin America, reveal that the writer was deeply concerned with the inner political workings of the region.

His journalistic writing includes, "News of a Kidnapping" and "The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor," as well as his initial work for Colombian newspapers such as Bogotá’s El Espectador and Cartagena’s El Universal.

His astounding work, "The Autumn of the Patriarch," documented the body and soul of Latin America with all its political turmoil and power struggles, borrowing examples of real-life autocrats such as Colombia’s Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo, and Venezuela’s Juan Vicente Gómez. Márquez’s interest in Latin America was so intense, that his he took the opportunity of winning the Nobel Literature Prize to let the West, and more specifically, Europe, know of “The Solitude of Latin America,” the title of his acceptance speech.

García Márquez told The New York Times that he had to take advantage of the Nobel Literature Prize opportunity to make a statement: ''I must try and break through the cliches about Latin America. Superpowers and other outsiders have fought over us for centuries in ways that have nothing to do with our problems. In reality we are all alone.''

His speech, in the end, instilled the importance of achieving a “second opportunity on earth,” that is, prosperity and joy for Latin America–and humanity–in general, the kind of joy Macondo inhabitants did not get to achieve in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The question on whether the region is attaining that second opportunity still lingers.

The writer’s 32-year-old acceptance speech accurately encapsulates the current state of the region in more ways than one. Márquez opened his speech by describing how the first native that Magellan and his assistant Antonio Pigafetta encountered “lost his senses to the terror of his own image.” Latin American is emerging from a dark past riddled with dictatorships, genocides, and often intervention of external forces into Latin American politics, such as the military coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende.

His speech took place at the apex of the Cold War, whose “two masters of the world” (the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc) as he described later on in his speech, controlled the destinies of the region. Was the region ever really able to determine its own future? Today, Latin America is still a region that sits atop wealth and natural resources that bring with it opportunity for corruption and exploitation. If given the chance to reflect itself in the mirror, the region would feel the same shame the Patagonian native felt.

Countries like Venezuela have fallen into the chaos of trying to determine populism amid corruption. Venezuela is now facing extreme polarization and goods scarcity, as well as a dire need to renovate its infrastructure (ironically in the midst of oil abundance, whose revenues if well managed could have taken Venezuela out of its shambles). Several countries in South and Central America, as well as Mexico, still grapple with the rage of the war on drugs and its futile policies. Colombia is still trying to end its 50-year-old armed conflict, Brazil—an emerging juggernaut—is still trying to find its own identity and role at the global scope, and Argentina recently faced tight exchange controls in light of its plummeting currency

Perhaps the most staggering prophecy in his acceptance speech goes as follows: “Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration.” In the last couple of years, after the fall of the Cold War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Latin America began a time of rapid change.

The solitude Latin America underwent after the so-called “war on terror” pushed Latin America to find its own integration: the rise of new blocs such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); and the recent rise of the Pacific Alliance, an economic bloc comprised of Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile, and Peru that seeks stronger integration of their economies and stock markets in order to face the fierce competition Asia-Pacific markets pose.

The “solitude” somewhat paid off during the economic meltdown in the late 2000s, as Latin America weathered the global crisis better than any region in the world thanks to its macroeconomic policies and strong financial systems. Poverty levels in Latin America have decreased considerably. According to a latest article by The Economist, since 2011 Latin America’s society is classified as being middle-class than being in poverty (or living on US$4 a day or less). The newspaper underscores that Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay’s middle class represent “the largest slice of the population.” Nevertheless, 80 million in the region are still living under extreme poverty. Twenty-six percent of the population does not have access to basic sanitation, and it’s forecast that by 2052 the average Latin America will have the same standard living that rich-world inhabitants “were enjoying back in 2000.”

In many ways, Latin American has begun to realize and carve out its own destiny. The rise of emerging markets in Latin America has become a marvel for the Western world, a marvel that García Márquez referred to in his Nobel Literature Prize acceptance speech –  a phenomenon he hoped the world would support.

Developed markets have turned their eyes on Colombia, now considered one of the most important markets along with Peru. Nevertheless, the search of identity in Latin America has two faces and is a continuing one. Case in point: Wall Street Journal’s David Lunhow explains there is a a continental divide  between one bloc (Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela) that “mistrusts globalization” and the second one (Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Colombia) that “embraces free trade and free markets.”

García Márquez revealed that, despite any ideological divide, Latin America, and the world in general, must strive for an “opposite utopia,” that is, seeking the prosperity of all mankind. He concluded in his speech that the world must continue to strive for “a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”  

The best way to honor the legacy of García Márquez is to tirelessly pursue that second opportunity for the Latin American people, leaving aside the narcissism and populism that still plague some of our countries, as well as the poverty and social inequality that still affect millions of its inhabitants. He should be remembered by many generations as the genius who wanted to enhance the realities of Latin America without undermining its magic.

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Robert Valencia is a New York-based political analyst and is a contributing writer for Global Voices Online.

[Photo Courtesy of Muldar News]

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