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Love in the time of surveillance: FBI agents tracked Gabriel García Márquez

19:15, Monday, 07 September, 2015
Love in the time of surveillance: FBI agents tracked Gabriel García Márquez

Newly arrived in Manhattan with his wife and infant son, 33-year-old Gabriel García Márquez plunked down $200 for a month’s stay at the Hotel Webster and set about establishing himself as a professional writer.

He had no idea the FBI was watching.

The year was 1961, and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI quietly opened a confidential dossier on the skinny, mustachioed Colombian. The file accumulated intelligence for the next 24 years, even as García Márquez became an intimate of world leaders and was awarded the Nobel Prize for his gritty and magical novels about Latin America.

The file’s existence has remained secret until now.

The FBI’s motivation in monitoring him is unclear, but García Márquez had just traveled to the United States to help establish a Cuban government news service; in later years, he became a high-profile leftist and friend of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The FBI at times stumbled in its foray into the literary world, originally thinking the writer’s first name was José and misfiling its classified intelligence under the name José García Márquez.

Later, when an FBI official sought to update photos in the covert dossier, agents simply copied the dust jacket of one of García Márquez’s best-selling novels and slapped the portrait into a file stamped “SECRET.”

Agents mocked García Márquez’s limited English, and the dossier is flush with profiles of the writer published in Time magazine, the New York Times and Spanish-language publications. In one 1982 Newsday article, about García Márquez’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in literature, an agent underlined a passage describing him as “a close friend of Fidel Castro.”

The bureau declassified and released 137 pages of the file at the request of The Washington Post. It withheld an additional 133 pages, making it unclear precisely what sparked the agency’s interest in the writer. But news of the dossier’s existence places García Márquez in the rarefied company of Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and other acclaimed writers whom Hoover’s FBI closely tracked for its own purposes, part of a vast domestic monitoring operation often far removed from evidence of any wrongdoing. The García Márquez records give no indication that the bureau ever opened a criminal investigation of him.

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