The 'Gabo' connection

One of the fascinating sidebars to the story of the Cuban Five is the cameo role Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez played in the unfolding drama that led to the arrest of the Five in September 1998.

In this excerpt from the manuscript-in-progress, Fidel Castro asks his friend ‘Gabo’ to undertake an important secret mission on Cuba’s behalf. 


April 18, 1998

Gabriel Garcia Marquez had to call Bill Richardson. Immediately. He needed to let the American Ambassador to the United Nations know that plans for his upcoming visit to Washington had taken a sudden, “unforeseen and significant turn.”

Castro Marquez
Fidel Castro with Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning author, had stopped in Havana for a few days on his way to the United States, partly to clear up some literary loose ends for an article he was writing on Pope John Paul’s recent visit to Cuba and partly to spend some time with his old friend Fidel Castro. The two men had known each other for decades.

In January 19978, in fact, Marquez had been Castro’s front-row guest during the Pope’s historic speech to hundreds of thousands of Cubans—believers and non-believers alike—who had jammed into Revolution Square.

It had been a fascinating speech. The Pope had publicly called for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners while, at the same time, chastising the United States for its ongoing blockade of the communist island nation and attacking what he described as a “capitalist neo-liberalism [that] subdues human beings and nations’ development to the blind forces of the market…allowing for the exaggerated enrichment of a few at the expense of impoverishment of a growing minority, making the rich richer and the poor poorer.” Marquez was looking forward to writing more about the visit and its larger meaning. 

Given their long history, it wasn’t all that surprising that Castro would take the occasion of Marquez’s visit to ask “Gabo” to carry a message form him to another of Marquez’s good friends, United States President Bill Clinton.[1]

What was surprising—shocking, even horrifying—was the content of the message Castro wanted Marquez to deliver to the president of the United States.

During the course of their discussions earlier today, Marquez had talked to Castro about his upcoming visit to Princeton University in New Jersey to conduct a literary workshop, and mentioned that he also hoped to make a side trip to Washington to meet privately with Clinton to discuss “the Colombia situation.” 

That’s when Castro had suggested his plan. Cuba had just discovered what he described as a “sinister terrorist plot” against Cuba, he told Marquez, and he wanted Bill Clinton himself to know about it so he could take the appropriate actions. But Castro didn’t want to put this information in an official letter in order “to avoid putting Clinton in the predicament of giving an [official] answer.” Instead, Castro would prepare a written summary of the plot and “other subjects of mutual interest,” which Marquez could then use as source material when he spoke with Clinton.

Castro had then personally drafted the note, entitled SUMMARY OF ISSUES THAT GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ MAY CONFIDENTIALLY TRANSMIT TO PRESIDENT CLINTON. It touched on seven different subjects, but it was “Point 1” that really mattered: 

“An important issue. Plans for terrorist actions against Cuba continue to be hatched and paid by the Cuban American National Foundation using Central American mercenaries. Two new attempts at setting up bombs in tourist resorts have been undertaken before, and after, the Pope’s visit. In the first case, those responsible failed, they were able to escape and return to Central America by plane leaving behind the technical means and explosives, which were then seized. In the second case, three mercenaries were arrested with explosives and other means. They are Guatemalans. They would have received $1,500 USD for every bomb exploded.

 “In both cases they were hired and supplied by agents of the ring organized by the Cuban American National Foundation. Now, they are plotting and taking steps to set up bombs in planes from Cuba or any other country airline carrying tourists to, or from, Cuba to Latin American countries. [Italics mine.] The method is similar: to hide a small device at a certain place inside the plane, a powerful explosive with a fuse controlled by a digital clock that can be programmed 99 hours in advance, then easily abandon the plane at foreseen destination; the explosion would take place either on the ground or while the plane is in flight to its next destination.

“Really devilish procedures: easy-to-handle mechanisms, components whose detection is practically impossible, a minimum training required for their use, almost absolute impunity.

“Extremely dangerous to airlines and to tourist facilities or of any other type. Tools suitable for a crime, very serious crimes. lf they were revealed and their possibilities exposed, they might become an epidemic as the hijacking of planes once became. Other Cuban extremist groups living in the United States are beginning to move in that direction.

 “The American investigation and intelligence agencies are in possession of enough reliable information on the main people responsible. lf they really want to, they have the possibility of preventing in time this new modality of terrorism. It will be impossible to stop it if the United States doesn’t discharge its fundamental duty of fighting it. The responsibility to fight it can’t be left to Cuba alone since any other country of the world might also be a victim of such actions.”

 Garcia Marquez read the words again, then he picked up the telephone. He had promised to call Richardson a week before he was to arrive in the United States to find out whether Richardson had been successful in lining up a personal meeting with Clinton. But now his trip was no longer “a simple personal visit.” On the phone he explained to Bill Richardson that he was carrying an “urgent” message for the president. “Out of respect for the agreed secrecy I didn’t mention on the phone who was sending it,” Marquez would write later, though he assumed Richardson would make the connection, “nor did I let it transpire that a delayed delivery could be the cause of major catastrophes and the death of innocent people.”

He also didn’t make mention of the “two unwritten questions” Castro had suggested he could raise face-to-face with Clinton “if the circumstances were propitious.”


You can find out how the story unfolds and the unexpected, unintended consequences Marquez’s visit would have for the members of La Red Avispa, the Cuban intelligence agents now known as the Cuban Five.

[1] Marquez had carried messages between the two men in the past. In August 1994, in the midst of the crisis over the prospect that as many as 300,000 Cuban balseros, or boat people, might seek asylum in the U.S., Clinton and Castro used Marquez to open confidential talks on finding a solution to the exodus. During a dinner party on Martha’s Vineyard hosted by writer William Styron and his wife and attended by the vacationing Clintons, Marquez had steered Clinton aside to outline Castro’s proposals to settle the issue and to personally urge Clinton to “try and come to an understanding with Fidel, as he has a very good opinion of you.” Clinton, according to Styron’s wife, seemed amenable. It was the beginning of a brief interlude of fruitful discussions that ended abruptly in February 1996 when Cuban MiGs shot down two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in the Straits of Florida.


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