The presidents of Mexico and Colombia Monday evening stood before an urn containing the ashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and extolled him as the most transcendent Spanish-language writer in centuries.
“Garcia Marquez is the greatest Latin American novelist of all time,” Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto told a packed crowd in the ornate vestibule of the Palace of Fine Arts. “Gabo, as we affectionately called him, placed Latin literature in the vanguard of world literature.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Garcia Marquez incorporated in his writings “the very essence of the Latin American being.”
“What a privilege it is to call my compatriot the man who imagined Macondo and who wrote about the power of love,” Santos added, referring to the fictional town at the heart of Garcia Marquez’s most powerful novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Earlier in the day, escorts carrying the ashes of the 1982 Nobel laureate in Literature arrived at Mexico City’s majestic Palace of Fine Arts, placing the urn atop a black marble pedestal set on a brilliant red carpet in the palace’s ornate vestibule. Thousands of yellow roses gave bright color to the palace in an effort to recreate the butterflies and other magical creatures that characterized the writer’s novels.
A string quartet played music by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, and other musicians struck up romantic Vallenato music of northern Colombia, heavy with accordion and Caribbean bongo rhythms, both favorites of Garcia Marquez.
Throngs of admirers filed past the urn.
One bouquet of yellow and white roses came from former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and was dedicated to “my beloved friend.” Raul Castro sent another bouquet dedicated to “a great friend to Cuba.” Garcia Marquez, a staunch leftist, maintained a friendship of near adoration with the former Cuban strongman, and warm relations with his younger brother.
The Colombian writer died at his home in Mexico City last Thursday, a little more than a week after leaving a local hospital where he was treated for pneumonia.
Garcia Marquez is considered the father of the literary genre known as magical realism, the melding of reality, dreams and Latin American history that made his novels favorites in some two dozen languages. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” sold an astonishing 50 million copies worldwide.
His writing evoked lush, evocative and even erotic images of rural Latin American life, where the real and surreal blend together in sorrow and beauty.
In Madrid, Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska said Monday that Garcia Marquez “gave wings to Latin America.”
The first major event to commemorate Garcia Marquez unfolded in Mexico rather than Colombia, his country of birth. Garcia Marquez lived more than three decades in Mexico City, though he also maintained residences in Havana and Cartagena, the port near his Colombian hometown of Aracataca, renowned as the village of Macondo portrayed in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Commemorations continue on Tuesday, when the Colombian government will host a ceremony at the cathedral in that country’s capital, Bogota. The ceremony will be televised.
In addition to “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Garcia Marquez’s novels included "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," and "Love in the Time of Cholera.” A former journalist, he also wrote an account of the abductions of prominent Colombians by the Medellin drug cartel in the late 1980s and 1990s, “News of a Kidnapping,” and a memoir, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores."
Still unclear is where the writer’s ashes will end up. Both Colombia and Mexico would like them but Garcia Marquez’s family has not yet made its wishes known.
After his death last week, Colombia's ambassador to Mexico, Jose Gabriel Ortiz, said that the writer’s remains might be divided between the two countries.
“In Mexico, of course, one part of him will remain, and it's thought that they can take another part to Colombia ... and that some of his ashes will remain there," Gabriel Ortiz said.
The writer’s lifelong fascination with the political left also made him enemies. One incoming Colombian legislator, Maria Fernanda Cabal, tweeted after the writer’s death that she believed Garcia Marquez and Castro “will soon be together in hell.”
On Monday, supporters of Garcia Marquez filed a criminal complaint before Colombia’s Supreme Court demanding that Cabal be formally charged with discrimination and barred from taking her congressional seat.