Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Chronicle of a journalism untold

“It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of Jose Arcadio Buendia with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Marquez

Were the ghost of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to come back for a one-off special appearance, he would have plenty to work with.

Imagine a bloated autocrat with a penchant for bathing in oranges, floating in the air; the inhabitants of a small country surrounded by water and drowning in amnesia; an army captain from an Amazonian country who rises to power after sending a swarm of WhatsApp messages to gain followers.

We live in strange times when it comes to truth and fiction, so The Listening Post’s Marcela Pizarro thought a closer look at a writer who straddled both would be interesting.

In the 1960s, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novels elevated the literary genre of magical realism and turned it into a Latin American export.

His novels wove history together with myth, reality with fantasy – mixed literary modernism with the oral traditions of his native Colombia and produced stories of social realities, political upheaval, the search for Latin American identity, landing him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.

Garcia Marquez used to say that the journalist should be like a mosquito, which is there to irritate those in power, buzzing incessantly.

Juanita Leon, director, La Silla Vacia

Garcia Marquez is mostly known for his literature, but he always considered himself a journalist.

The son of the telegraph operator of his home town, Aracataca, Garcia Marquez was just 12 years of age he launched his first newspaper: “El Comprimido” – a reference to those small pieces of paper crammed full of condensed facts that students use to cheat in exams.

The newspaper lasted just six days; his journalistic career spanned decades. He began as a reporter in the early 1950s in a period known as La Violencia (“The Violence”) which led to a period of civil conflict in Colombia that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

He went on to narrate the story of a continent that underwent military coups, dictatorships, guerrilla insurgencies and drug wars, with perspective typically silenced by official accounts.

His dream of owning a paper materialised on several occasions, launching news magazines like El Alternativo, El Otro and a newspaper, Cambio as well as a TV news channel – QAP – which lasted until its licence was not renewed: a thinly veiled move by authorities in a country where power bristles at anything that fails to tow the political line.

“Garcia Marquez used to say that the journalist should be like a mosquito, which is there to irritate those in power, buzzing incessantly,” says Juanita Leon, director at La Silla Vacia, one of the few independent news outlets in Colombia that operate outside the auspices of big private media organisations.

Leon studied at the Journalism Foundation School (Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano) set up by Garcia Marquez and whose journalism was heavily influenced by the writer’s insistence on celebrating the Latin American literary tradition, “La Cronica”.

“‘The Chronicles of the Indies’ is the genre from which much of Latin American journalism was born, they were the first stories written about America after the conquest, where the Spanish started to describe America (which they thought was India – hence the name),” according to Leon.

“They were super-detailed, full of life and anecdotes about what was going on in this new world that they had just started discovering. Garcia Marquez wanted us to use that genre to narrate our continent.”

Journalist Maria Jimena Duzan elaborates, “the ‘cronica’ is the cousin of reportage. Latin Americans aren’t like Anglo Saxons, who have very fixed categories about things are. A chronicle has colour, has flavour, has feeling. It’s a story told with embellishments. And Gabo knew how to tell them.”

Duzan has spent decades covering the conflict in Colombia and was the first journalist to gain the trust of The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

At a time when facts have become precarious commodities in the market of information, and have become all the more reified by the traditional news outlets, it may seem out of key to spotlight the work of a man who was often caught out for embellishment and exaggeration. But to concentrate on empiricism is to miss the point.

“Garcia Marquez’s journalism distanced itself from the positivist gaze – that need for the dry fact, for precision,” says Leon. “I was once at a workshop organised by his school, it took place in Mexico City and Rychard Kapuchinski was there with Gabo and we were talking about some elements they’d put in their stories which really had nothing to do with reality.”

“And for some of us, we were around 25-years old, we thought it was a bit shocking. But Garcia Marquez had this great expression, which was that ‘if to speak the truth you need to put one tear more in, then what’s the problem?’ Clearly, we shouldn’t be making facts up, but there is something important we can learn from these writers.”


Juanita Leon – Director, La Silla Vacia
Jaime Abello – Director, New Ibero-American Journalism Foundation
Maria Jimena Duzan – Journalist, Semana

Source: Al Jazeera

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