Mixed feelings for Garcia Marquez in his Colombian hometown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2014, 2:51pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 5:02am

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his homeland had a relationship as conflicted as any in the Nobel laureate's twisting and impassioned novels.

Colombia inspired and dismayed Garcia Marquez in equal measure, and the feeling was often mutual.

Nowhere is that ambiguity more evident than in Aracataca, a sweltering hamlet that was the inspiration for the fictitious Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Since the author died on Thursday at the age of 87, residents and holidaymakers have been flocking to the zinc-roofed home where he was born and raised by his grandparents until the age of eight, paying their final, tear-filled respects to a man who was a symbol of pride for a country long torn by violence.

Still, some in the impoverished Caribbean town regret, with rancour, that he didn't use his considerable wealth and fame to help residents overcome their perennial neglect.

An aqueduct officials have promised for decades to relieve water outages has never been completed despite numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies. And when authorities converted his childhood home into a museum, Garcia Marquez didn't donate to its US$350,000 restoration.

"He should've thought more about his people and not left us on our own," said dentist Mariby Zapata. "I guess he preferred fame and abandoned us."

A few steps away, Robinson Leyva countered that putting the town of 45,000 on the map was generous enough.

"Of course he helped us," said the 49-year-old teacher. "But officials here didn't know how to take advantage of his influence."

Some of Garcia Marquez's mixed feelings stemmed from the way he was treated for his leftist political views. He fled the country in 1981 after friends and government officials warned him that the army wanted to interrogate him about alleged ties to the now defunct M-19 guerilla group.

When he won the Nobel Prize a year later, conservative president Belisario Betancur attempted to quash the international backlash against the writer's treatment by offering him ambassadorships in Europe. But it was too late. Garcia Marquez would always maintain a critical distance from his homeland, proclaiming himself a "wandering and nostalgic Colombian".

Although he evoked his homeland's beauty in his novels and visited frequently, he never again lived there permanently, spending his time in Europe and Mexico City, where his cremated remains will be displayed at a memorial service tomorrow. Aracataca's mayor, Tufith Hatum, hopes the author's ashes are returned to his birthplace.