Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez sent U.S. President Bill Clinton a letter in 1999 to re-establish the nation’s foreign relations with Cuba, on behalf of President Fidel Castro, a Portuguese book recently revealed.
Although Marquez hinted at his involvement as a confidant of Castro in his magazine “Cambio,” the details were not released until the recent publication of the book “Os Ultimos Soldados de Guerra Fria” (The Last Soldiers of the Cold War) by Brazilian writer Fernando Morais.
Castro unsuccessfully tried to make direct contact with the U.S. president for 14 years, and in 1998 Cuban intelligence became aware of an alleged plot by Miami-based Cuban exiles to blow up an airplane full of tourists bound for Cuba from Europe, Canada or Latin America. Castro knew that Cuban officials were unable to counter the attack by themselves, and needed the support of then-current President Bill Clinton.
The possibility of Castro’s contact with the Oval Office hinged on the friendship Bill Clinton had with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Colombian writer and the former American president met when Castro was in command and forged a strong friendship based on their common interests and love of literature.
Marquez visited Cuba in early 1998 to meet with Castro and discuss the armed conflict in Colombia, ongoing obstacles their countries faced, and Casto’s desire to make contact with the U.S. They decided to write a seven-point document, typed in Spanish and translated into English, that was stored and sent in a sealed envelope without signature or sender.
Marquez claimed to have taken two committments from his meeting with Castro: to deliver the letter personally, and to try and ask two questions, the responses of which could mean the restoration of contact between Washington and Havana.
In April 1998, Marquez taught a writing workshop at the University of Princeton in New Jersey, and asked Bill Richardson, a confidant of the Clinton administration, for an appointment with the president. Marquez revealed only that he had “an urgent message for the president,” without giving details of the sender or content.
However, U.S. governmental security procedures and the president’s temporary absence from the capital for vacation significantly delayed the delivery of the document and led Marquez to meet instead with Thomas McLarty, Clinton’s best friend, who was eventually given the document destined for President Clinton.
Marquez met with McLarty at the White House in May 1999 along with three officials from the National Security Council. McLarty reviewed the document from Cuba while the Marquez posed his two off-text questions. McLarty gave occasional indications of his opinion on the matter, ranging from “terrible” to a smirking “we have common enemies.”
Afterwards, Marquez inquired, “do you think the FBI may establish contacts with their Cuban counterparts to operate in a common struggle against terrorism?”
Richard Clarke, Clinton’s adviser in drug-trafficking and terrorism, argued that “the idea is very good, but the FBI is not involved in research with results published in newspapers. Could it be that the Cubans are willing to keep the matter secret?”
“There is nothing that the Cubans like better than keeping secrets,” Marquez replied.
The second question, about the United States’ attitude towards boosting U.S. travel to Cuba, was reportedly answered evasively by the presidents staff. Clarke reportedly promised that the Americans would take “immediate steps” to set up a joint American-Cuban plan to counter terrorism, and McLarty, for his part, agreed to deliver the message to Clinton with the necessary urgency.
“It would be reckless to try to give an exact quotation,” Marquez reported back to Castro, “but the spirit and the tone of his words expressed his appreciation for the great importance of the message, worthy of the full attention of his government, of which they would urgently take care… I left the White House with the firm impression that… sooner or later the document would end up in [Clinton’s] hands.”