Fifty Years of Disquietude

On Gabriel García Márquez’s tour as an accidental propagandist

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The road from the capital to Acapulco was riddled with deadly switchbacks. Navigating the sharp turns left him just enough residual focus to daydream about his novel. Gabriel García Márquez was driving his family to its first vacation after long stretches of poverty. Ad work and then films had somewhat stabilized the thirty-seven-year-old Colombian writer’s finances, and some awards had come. But he’d been stalled on a novel, one he had dreamed of writing since his teens. His working title had been The House, conceived as a tribute to life in his family’s ancestral home in the little Caribbean outpost of Aracataca. Suddenly a string of words came: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” It was perfect: a first sentence which entailed the ending, a circular loop.

What happened next is shrouded in myth. The most common version has García Márquez turning around the family’s white 1962 Opel (he’d bought it with prize money from an earlier novel), returning to Mexico City, and canceling all of his hard-won work. He went into debt with his landlord and for a year he secluded himself in his “mafia cave,” as he called his smoke-filled writing studio. The book was highly anticipated; his move to Mexico City had exposed him to the city’s literati and he’d dramatized his writer’s block as the precipice above a great discovery.

The final chapters were still being written when requests came for advance excerpts. One such request came from a Uruguayan critic named Emir Rodríguez Monegal, who was editing a new literary magazine, Mundo Nuevo. But it wasn’t just any literary magazine. Gringo spy money buttressed it, went the rumors. Like much of the Latin American literary world, Rodríguez Monegal heard about the novel nearly a year before it appeared. Latin American intellectuals were still bitterly at odds over the Cuban Revolution, which Mundo Nuevo’s paymasters opposed. However willing García Márquez was to contribute to a magazine that openly sought to publish work from both sides, as this one claimed, he was not interested in doing covert cultural propaganda for the gringos.

And yet . . . as One Hundred Years of Solitude was being published to immediate and universal acclaim—the literary equivalent of Beatlemania, as one critic has written—and as the book’s author had a new empire to manage, between the foreign rights, translations, sales numbers, requests from fans, interviews, film options, and what he would write next, something like a barnacle clung to his newfound success. Newspapers were reporting that much of the cultural world had been ensnared in a CIA scheme to marshal culture for Cold War gain against the Soviets. It must have been an “oh shit” moment equal and opposite to his Acapulco epiphany: Mundo Nuevo was one of those magazines, and he had been stupid enough to say yes. He wrote his editor-friend to protest his evident ensnarement in the scheme. What did it feel like? In a quietly seething letter, he wrote that he felt like a cuckold.

In Dubious Congress

As García Márquez’s great novel turns fifty and panels and thinkpieces debate its legacy, and as the book’s U.S. boosters focus on its mechanics, its inspiration, and its influence on future writers and those who influenced it, it’s high time to unravel the novel’s incidental and almost invisible weaponization in the Cold War—its politics and the politics that helped García Márquez write it. For decades, the story has gone that the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, its covert propaganda front, was one of the best things the CIA ever did. It never censored, and it published a string of great writers. But as one of those writers can attest—one who happens to have been the 1982 Nobel laureate—at least some of them were tricked into the scheme.

García Márquez was nothing if not a politically minded Latin American writer with a stubborn memory for historical misdeeds. As a young man coming of age near the coastal city of Barranquilla, he was inducted rudely into the manipulative foreign policy of the northern behemoth. On December 6, 1928, when he was nearly two, United Fruit colluded with the Colombian Army while it massacred striking banana workers who had rallied in the town square of Ciénaga. His hometown, Aracataca, sat about thirty-five miles away. Too small to remember the tragedy directly, García Márquez claims he grew up fluent in the legend of those massacred workers. This was due to the endless retelling of the assault, including by his family. “I knew the event as if I had lived it,” he wrote,

having heard it recounted and repeated a thousand times by my grandfather from the time I had a memory, the soldier reading the decree by which the striking laborers were declared a gang of lawbreakers; the three thousand men, women, and children motionless under the savage sun after the officer gave them five minutes to evacuate the square; the order to fire, the clattering machine guns spitting in white-hot bursts, the crowd trapped by panic as it was cut down, little by little, by the methodical, insatiable scissors of the shrapnel.

In García Márquez’s literary recreation of the massacre and its aftermath, a plague-like pall is cast over the town. Stories about his life tend to focus on the unique character of his inspiration, or his publishing success by the numbers (fifty million copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude sold worldwide), or his friendships, or his reading: all valid. Meanwhile, a paucity of English translations of his nonfiction means that it is easy to ignore his political convictions. When stories do focus on his politics, they tend to point at his friendship with Fidel Castro, for the sole purpose of condemning it. A blind spot, it’s euphemized. Lost from his legacy are the political events that actually mattered to García Márquez: our blindspots. From this standpoint, One Hundred Years of Solitude was an attempt to help others see what he saw.

As García Márquez’s great novel turns fifty and panels and thinkpieces debate its legacy, it’s high time to unravel the novel’s incidental and almost invisible weaponization in the Cold War.

In 1948, for instance, he was a twenty-year-old studying law in Bogotá when Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the Liberal candidate for president, was gunned down in broad daylight a block from García Márquez’s home. A Gaitán supporter, García Márquez was preparing to eat lunch when he heard the uproar. He knew exactly what must have happened and ran a block to Seventh Street, where the killer was being kicked and beaten to death. The city burned, including García Márquez’s house. A friend was stunned to find García Márquez crying. “I didn’t realize you were such a devoted disciple of Gaitán,” said the friend. “No, what are you talking about?” he said. “It’s that my stories burned.”

On a stage much later, Fidel Castro, who had been in town for a youth summit, told a tongue-in-cheek story of that day of infamy and its mayhem. García Márquez sat quietly with him until the very end of the tale. “The most vocal unleashed their frustration by shouting from the street corners, garden terraces, and smoky buildings,” Castro began. “One man,” he continued, “vented his fury by attacking his typewriter, beating it, and then to save himself the laborious effort, he threw it up into the air, and it smashed to bits when it hit the pavement. . . . As I was finishing telling my story, I knew that Gabo had been there too, and . . . I asked the question with my usual dispassionate curiosity . . .” “And what were you doing during the Bogotazo?” Castro asked him. “And he, calmly, entrenched within his vibrant, provocative, exceptional imagination, answered simply, smiling . . . ‘Fidel, I was that man with the typewriter.’”

Much later in life, García Márquez suspected the CIA, which had only recently launched itself out of the remains of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, may have had a hand in the Gaitán killing; the agency’s director later admitted under oath that it had indeed been surveilling Gaitán.

Chronicle of a Shipwreck, Revised

After things quieted down, García Márquez returned to Bogotá to work at the newspaper El Espectador. But on June 13, 1953, came a coup. General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla took power, his four-year rule marked by restrictions on civil liberties across the country and tentative U.S. support. Though at first his junta was seen as a respite from the brutal war between the Conservative government and Liberal opposition, he increasingly packed the courts with cronies, strong-armed opponents, and censored the press.

In late February 1955, meanwhile, after undergoing repairs in Alabama, the Colombian Naval destroyer Caldas lost eight crew members sailing for Cartagena. After four days, the search for survivors was called off. Rojas Pinilla’s government blamed the shipwreck on a storm. Ten days after the incident, a crewman named Luis Alejandro Velasco washed ashore in Northern Colombia. Velasco had been tossed overboard and had survived on a simple raft. The media was ravenous for stories about his survival and resilience. A Naval hero’s photograph splashed across the newspapers is rarely a bad thing for a military dictatorship. But this one had a secret: there hadn’t been a storm. As the attention waned and his credibility strained under relentless self-promotion, Velasco turned up at El Espectador’s offices hoping to tell the full, detailed version of his story for the first time.

According to Velasco, the great weight of the cargo, not a storm, had hindered the ship’s maneuvering. This was what had led to the crew being thrown overboard. The ship had carried heavy goods from the United States: refrigerators, washing machines, and TVs, purchased with the crew’s back pay but prohibited on a military ship. The true saga of the Caldas afforded Colombians an all-too-vivid reminder of the human costs entailed in the dictatorship’s sluggish reign of low-level corruption and high-level coverup. Rojas Pinilla’s regime had endorsed the story of Velasco the hero. But when García Márquez revealed a version laced with greed, the administration denied it. El Espectador printed photos confirming the illegal merchandise, and García Márquez was chased from Colombia by anonymous death threats.

Truth and Consequences

By 1959, García Márquez had been jobless in France, forced to resign from another job in solidarity with a friend in Venezuela (rather than write lies praising U.S. vice president Richard Nixon); his hopes for a democratic socialist government now focused on Fidel Castro. Castro had built Latin American leftists a revolution, and through a plan called Operation Truth, the writers came to visit Cuba. After his revolutionary forces took Havana on New Year’s Day, Castro called the world’s writers to witness the changeover. The CIA was even sympathetic enough to the new regime to sponsor its own junkets, in another program called Operation Amistad, which offered free flights from North America to writers and intellectuals so they could visit during the revolution’s early days. Writers like George Plimpton, Kenneth Tynan, and Tennessee Williams came to see the new Cuba. But the agency’s approval proved short-lived.

Operation Truth featured trials in which functionaries of the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista’s regime were read their records, allowed a defense, and in many cases, eventually executed. Few were pardoned, though there was a formal means to appeal. Covering the trials as “Venezuelan” journalists, García Márquez and his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza were persuaded of the fairness of Operation Truth. After Castro had greeted them personally, they “immediately attended the trial of Jesús Sosa Blanco, a colonel of Batista’s army, accused of murdering various locals from a small rural area known as El Oro de Guisa who had supported the rebel army. He was sentenced to death. His wife and children asked many of the journalists to sign a document requesting a revised sentence.” García Márquez and Mendoza signed the appeal, but it was ignored. They nevertheless deemed the trial fair, as revolutionary justice went—particularly in view of the American record of supporting state-sanctioned executions of leftist dissidents. They even signed on to work at Cuba’s new press conglomerate, Prensa Latina, or Prela for short.

A picture from his time at Prela’s Bogotá office shows García Márquez with a thin mustache and prominent cheekbones. A tightly rolled cigarette dangles from his thin lips. His hair is greased back and he wears a fine suit. This was the young man who trained in Havana, joking later how he did nothing but work and could name only the small circle of restaurants around Prela’s Havana headquarters. But it wasn’t all so boring. One day in early 1961, García Márquez’s colleague Jorge Masetti “stumbled” across an encrypted telex to Washington, which he supposed could be important. Indeed, it was for the American CIA, he surmised. He gave it to their colleague, Rodolfo Walsh, who spent several days in his dining room, blocks from the Prela office, until he successfully decoded it using a book on decryption. What it laid out were plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Masetti, García Márquez, and Walsh brought it to the Cuban government with a plan to surprise the Americans. But the three writers learned that the Cubans already knew about the invasion and had their own plan.

García Márquez would have been safer on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, he wrote, than where he was during the invasion, in New York City. Since witnessing his colleagues decode the telex, he had been transferred to Prela’s New York office. The threats he described in New York, from Cuban exiles possibly working for U.S. intelligence, were aimed both at him and his family. As in the aftermath of his reporting on the Velasco shipwreck, the threats he faced again came from the reactionary right, from characters whom he called gusanos, or worms. But Prela itself had grown overrun with Communists, and this new threat from the totalitarian left also niggled at him. He resigned from the Cuban press agency.

Opening and Closure

Jump ahead to 1965. We’re back on the road to Acapulco. García Márquez is driving his wife, Mercedes (a dead ringer for Sophia Loren), and two boys to the sea. One route was the four-hour drive due south through Cuernavaca and Chilpancingo. Suddenly, not just that magical sentence, but everything that comes with it announces itself as he navigates the sharp turns. This was the book he had struggled to describe to Mercedes when he spoke upon their engagement of his vision for a great Latin American novel. He pulled over the car and told her they had to go back to the capital. He knew how to make the novel go. In addition to the great sentence about discovering ice, which would give the novel its circular form, he understood that he must use the narrative style of his grandmother, Tranquilina. She told fantastical stories, he said in an interview, but told them “with a brick face.”

Today we’d call the García Márquez of 1966 an emerging voice in the literary mainstream.

García Márquez and Mercedes’s two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo, were real responsibilities that he took very seriously. But when he finally conceived how to write the novel, he couldn’t let the voice or the vision fade. They sold the Opel, and he secluded himself in his “mafia cave” at Calle Lomas #19 in Mexico City. Once ensconced, he left the work of getting by to her while he chain-smoked (at a clip of about sixty cigarettes per day) and wrote out page after page at an incredible speed. What was coming into focus was a family saga, but also a love letter to Latin American history, told through the Buendía family. The novel’s unprecedented success would change his and his family’s lives, and he could already anticipate some of what that change would augur. The book’s anti-imperialist politics were just one element of its masterful voice and structure, embedded within its so-called magical elements. The politics were important both for Latin Americans, who often saw themselves as a common people, and for citizens elsewhere in the developing world, who recognized themselves, too, in the prismatic novel. “I knew García Márquez’s colonels and generals,” wrote novelist Salman Rushdie, “or at least their Indian and Pakistani counterparts; his bishops were my mullahs; his market streets were my bazaars. His world was mine, translated into Spanish. It’s little wonder I fell in love with it—not for its magic . . . but for its realism.” The Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli pronounced García Márquez the “biggest hero that Latin America has ever had. He did more for us than Bolivar, Martí, and Sandino. [He united us] in a recognizable identity.”

Part of that unity involved purging the worst of U.S. hostility, along with the region’s self-inflicted misery. In one of the book’s iconic depictions of political violence, García Márquez records something he may have felt watching the execution of Jesús Sosa Blanco in Cuba, the colonel in Batista’s army whose trial he witnessed: “For the rest of his life he would remember the livid flash of the six simultaneous shots and the echo of the discharge as it broke against the hills and the sad smile and perplexed eyes of the man being shot, who stood erect . . . and who was still smiling even when they untied him from the post and put him in a box filled with quicklime. ‘He’s alive,’ he thought.”

His first impressions of the United States (via the United Fruit massacre) also underpinned the historical urgency of the book. The segment dealing with the banana company treats the massacre in a dispassionate tone of stark, documentary horror. In its immediate aftermath, José Arcadio Segundo has been mistaken for a corpse and wakes on a train among the real corpses: “Trying to flee from the nightmare, José Arcadio Segundo dragged himself from one car to another in the direction in which the train was heading, and . . . he saw man corpses, woman corpses, child corpses who would be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas.” This was García Márquez purging the horrific inheritance and justified resentment he has carried with him, but with the passions muted one last time by the need to capture the terrible scene perfectly. Summarizing his obsession, he wrote: “I never could overcome the bitterness with which my grandparents had evoked their frustrated wars and the atrocious slaughters of the banana companies.”

But the book’s success seemed foreordained on the basis of its sweeping literary vision as well as its historical restoration. “If everything is like this fragment,” said future Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, “the novel must be a marvel.” The so-called Latin American Literary Boom had already been under way. Of the four titans—García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, and Vargas Llosa—García Márquez may have been the least known when the CIA launched Mundo Nuevo. After more than a decade and a half of CIA-sponsored literary output, Mundo Nuevo was the result of a new philosophy in U.S. cultural propaganda that finally allowed what was called “an opening to the left.”

Emir Rodríguez Monegal had been a brilliant critic and editor for Marcha, a cultural supplement to the leading newspaper in Uruguay. Prior to his recruitment to Mundo Nuevo, the magazine’s predecessor, Cuadernos, had failed to draw intellectuals and leftists toward its hard-line anti-communism. Even prominent anti-communist liberals from the region, such as the Mexican poet Octavio Paz, had largely avoided Cuadernos for its overt North American bias. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, based in Paris, had launched in 1950. Its American offshoot, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, preceded the Paris headquarters by a decade and engaged in frequent missionary red-baiting. The new organization took a somewhat softer tone in its own array of publications, which numbered more than two dozen, with at least half a dozen for Latin America and Spanish speakers alone. The CCF also sent writers and artists for junkets and exhibitions in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. Acting out of a palpable fear of the Soviets penetrating cultural organizations, the CIA’s leaders made sure that writers and activists in its employ preemptively penetrated the same organizations: student and labor unions, refugee relief organizations, the media, the municipal symphony orchestra.

The Cuban Revolution and decades of Yankee imperialism made hardline anti-communism untenable in the region, since it failed to lure the people who mattered into the conversations that mattered. It was in recognition of this shift that Mundo Nuevo was born. Today we’d call the García Márquez of 1966 an emerging voice in the literary mainstream. He was an important contributor for Mundo Nuevo, not just for the cultural legitimacy that came with his latest novel or the award he’d received for the last one. He was also one of the influential Latin American leftists actively courted by the magazine’s brain trust. Bringing on au courant writers like García Márquez would perfectly fulfill the magazine’s new posture, its opening to the left. He was temperamentally inclined against the Soviet Union and the imposition of its clunky system onto the Eastern Bloc countries. But thanks to U.S. meddling in the region, he was favorably disposed toward the Cuban experiment.

Just Too Left Enough

Involving García Márquez through his fiction meant that the CCF’s embrace didn’t automatically translate into an endorsement of the writer’s leftist politics. In fact, publishing García Márquez’s fiction in Mundo Nuevo meant there were no explicit politics. The chapters chosen for excerpt would, by the magazine’s internal logic of self-censorship, have omitted mention of the United Fruit–sponsored massacre. And so the thinking went that an esteemed leftist writer could land on the cover of Mundo Nuevo in recognition of his creative output—while also telegraphing the journal’s apparent openness to leftist political views. But when readers proceeded to purchase Mundo Nuevo and inspect its contents, they’d encounter a steady barrage of pro-American and anti-Communist arguments. The head of CCF called it Fidelismo sin Fidel, or revolution without dictatorship; I’ve termed the approach “Just Too Left Enough.”

This was the case not only for García Márquez, but also for leftist poet Pablo Neruda, another CCF recruit whose poems about Paris, also published in an early issue of Mundo Nuevo, were hardly an assault on the Soviet Union. Nor were the works published by left-leaning writers in Mundo Nuevo a direct attack on imperialism, which would be anathema to the magazine’s Cold War mission. After reading the draft of his new novel in February 1966, before it was finished, Rodríguez Monegal wrote to García Márquez ecstatically, hoping Mundo Nuevo might participate in its release. García Márquez suggested the second chapter might be the best for excerpting, the “most rounded.” A year later, he would regret offering it to Mundo Nuevo.

This was partly because revelations of CIA support for the Congress for Cultural Freedom were timed with Mundo Nuevo’s second novel excerpt (from its ninth chapter), about Macondo’s chronic insomnia. So while Latin Americans debated the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s depth of penetration, the latest issue of its Latin American magazine, then on newsstands, had García Márquez’s name on the cover.

But his regret was more than just a matter of personal embarrassment; having come of age in the shadow of United Fruit’s Colombian henchmen, he knew what such support entailed in broader intellectual and political terms. In its short life, the magazine ran political scientist Robert Nisbet’s defense of a U.S./CIA attempt to infiltrate Chile’s intellectuals. The plan, Project Camelot, fanned out into Chilean universities, with CIA and U.S. military agents posing as social scientists, offering outwardly harmless questionnaires in the service of a plan to study what could be done to fortify a country’s institutions against revolutionary unrest. Project Camelot took on an especially ominous cast in light of later events; seven years later, General Augusto Pinochet mounted a successful coup against the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, with the backing of the CIA and several major American corporations—United Fruit among them. But even without that grim legacy, Camelot itself was creepy enough on its own terms. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, its sibling university project the National Student Association, and organizations such as Michigan State University’s Vietnam Project all engaged in a similar pattern of sponsoring benign cultural activity that doubled as a cover for CIA nation building, spying, and other repressions. These efforts operated alongside a concerted bid to stack U.S. media outlets and organizations with agents provocateurs, as in Operation Chaos, which was only exposed in the mid-seventies but already widely suspected to be an ongoing function of government by cultural leftists in the United States. These momentous revelations, appearing in Ramparts magazine and the New York Times, and translated in Marcha—the Uruguayan cultural supplement, where Rodríguez Monegal had worked prior to taking charge of Mundo Nuevo—echoed and grew to discredit the covert funding of culture just as the outed conspirators were tasked with defending their benevolent acts of patronage as coming, they insisted loudly, with no strings attached.

The secret funding of figures like Neruda and García Márquez while they were still legally banned from entering the United States paints the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s legacy in a similar light to the disastrous 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs.

Keith Botsford opted not to comment publicly, so the record of his dissent has sat for fifty years in archives, winding up most recently in Rodríguez Monegal’s archive at Princeton. Botsford was a Mundo Nuevo contributor and CCF operative in Latin America who had brought poet Robert Lowell to South America on an infamous junket. Cuadernos had been a “fink magazine”—its readers the “paralytic wing of the liberal reaction” and its editor himself a “fink”—Botsford complained. Claiming he hadn’t known of the CIA sponsorship of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, he alleged to CCF ally Daniel Bell that constant pressure from the organization’s Paris headquarters amounted to severe censorship throughout Botsford’s time in Latin America.

In a remarkable seven-page letter, Botsford set out to prove methodically, point by point, that Bell’s defense of the CIA’s “no strings attached” reputation was untenable. Echoing criticisms of the exposed program in Chile, Botsford used a revealing analogy to illustrate the compromised position of the CCF’s unwitting operatives—people such as García Márquez. He compared them to legitimate scientists who have been working for the advancement of science, but who find out that secretly their work was financed by the Department of Defense. In the wake of this revelation, Botsford noted, the “possibility has been introduced” that there were other purposes for their work “of which [the scientist] has no cognizance, over which he has no control, and of which he may not approve.”

No One Writes for the Generals

If the Congress for Cultural Freedom defended its record by pointing to its now-discredited no-strings patronage, it also hailed the roster of great writers it published. As a mere list of names, this was an irrefutable record of achievement. But many had no say in their being used this way, and this lack of choice explained the seething dissent of the likes of García Márquez—a dissent that has sat in that same Princeton archive all these years.

“When you invited me to contribute to Mundo Nuevo,” he wrote Rodríguez Monegal, “many friends with less political sense of humor . . . warned me . . . that the Congress for Cultural Freedom had certain extramarital ties to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. I didn’t worry that those suspicions might be well founded, because I . . . believe that when you write for a magazine it is you who influence it, not the other way around.” Still, he described the covert funding as “symptoms of a supreme idiocy.”

“Around it all,” he expanded, “there was a certain humor in the fact that part of the budget for North American spying was used to promulgate the work of this writer, who was not permitted to enter the United States as a tribute to his dangerous politics.” In the end, though, the news of the CIA’s funding for the magazine “scandalously surpasses the limits of humor,” he wrote, “and crosses into the slippery and unforeseeable terrain of fantasy literature. In these conditions, Mister Director, [you will] understand that I will not continue to collaborate with Mundo Nuevo, not while that magazine maintains any ties with the organization that has brought you and me together . . . in this oppressive state of cuckolds.”

The secret funding of figures like Neruda and García Márquez while they were still legally banned from entering the United States—alongside the revulsion many Latin Americans felt toward the more hard-core interventions of the American covert state, from the coup on Guatemala in 1954 to Vietnam to the toppling of Allende in 1973—paints the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s legacy in a similar light to the disastrous 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs. What the United States and its shadow corps of spooks and foreign contract workers had done in each case suffered greatly from the studied misrepresentation of the true aims of the architects of the American Cold War. True, on the surface, the longer-term consequences of the CCF debacle were not nearly as momentous as those of a botched foreign invasion. But it created its own species of cultural blowback, costing in this case the good will of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

But America’s blind spots ran deeper than this. As a result of the exposure of the CCF and NSA’s covert agendas in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the CIA chose to pursue a still-deeper plan of undercover media penetration to avoid future such embarrassments. As was subsequently recounted in exposés at Rolling Stone by Carl Bernstein and in the New York Times, the CIA proceeded to place operatives at the largest newspapers and news networks in the country and foreign papers around the world, in a new campaign called, without any evident trace of irony, Mockingbird. The same cycle of exposure and blowback was once more set into motion, and whatever residual credibility American sympathizers could claim in the Latin American cultural scene, or anywhere else in the non-aligned world, was destroyed once and for all. It was, as García Márquez prophesized, an act of supreme idiocy indeed.

 

The above essay is adapted from Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers.

Joel Whitney is the author of Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, and a cofounder of Guernica. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Republic, and elsewhere.

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