"The men opened Maruja’s door and another two opened Beatriz’s. The fifth shot the driver in the head through the glass, and the silencer made it sound no louder than a sigh. Then he opened the door, pulled him out, and shot him three more times as he lay on the ground. It was another man’s destiny: Angel Maria Roa had been Maruja’s driver for only three days, and for the first time he was displaying his new dignity with the dark suit, starched shirt, and black tie worn by the chauffeurs who drove government ministers. His predecessor, who had retired the week before, had been the government agency’s regular driver for ten years."
This quote from the opening pages of News Of A Kidnapping has the unmistakable ring of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s world famous prose style – at once laden with pathos and yet tinged with black absurdity, it could easily have come from any of the Nobel Prize winner’s acclaimed novels. Yet News Of A Kidnapping is not fiction – in its documenting of cocaine baron Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror in Colombia, the book is solely concerned with the murderous realities of Colombian political life rather than the magic realism for which Garcia Marquez is famed. These are realities which leave no-one untouched: Garcia Marquez himself has recently become dangerously embroiled within the ongoing war between Colombia’s government and guerrillas, in a particularly twisted version of life imitating literature.
News Of A Kidnapping is the culmination of three years research by Marquez, marking a return for the 69 year old author to his days as a young journalist within the Colombian capital of Bogota. He traces the stories of those relatives of Colombian politicians who were abducted in the winter of 1990 by Escobar’s Medellin cocaine cartel, an organisation so powerful that it systematically undermined all of Colombia’s civil institutions by murder, abduction and bribery. Given that Colombia produces 80 per cent of the world’s cocaine supply and that Escobar was the most ruthless of the country’s drug barons, it’s not difficult to understand why he wielded such influence and was wanted by both the Colombian and Americans governments. Escobar ordered the kidnappings in order to give himself bargaining power with the then Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, who had embarked on a relentless manhunt for Escobar’s capture, with the added threat of supporting his extradition to stand trial in the United States.
Based on conversations with the survivors of Escobar’s abduction campaign, who were mostly middled-aged women, News Of A Kidnapping presents an unflinching reportage of the lives of those held in captivity, documenting their despair, fear and hope. At the same time, Garcia Marquez explores the struggle which continues to this day between the state and drug traffickers for the heart of Colombia.
Even though Escobar is now dead, killed during a police shootout in 1993, his legacy of corruption and murder lives on. While Garcia Marquez has attempted to bring his considerable influence as a world-renowned writer to bear on the political problems of his country, that selfsame influence has now caused him to be caught up in a fresh wave of terror to sweep Colombia. In April this year, a shadowy group calling itself Dignity For Colombia abducted the son of Cesar Gaviria, the former president who battled with Escobar.
The guerrilla group have already established their political credentials with the assassination of a three time presidental candidate and a murder attempt on President Ernesto Samper’s lawyer last year. Their main demand following the kidnapping of Gaviria’s son was that Garcia Marquez should take over the presidency from Samper, who has faced widespread calls for his resignation because of charges that his 1994 election campaign was partly financed by drug traffickers. Garcia Marquez has rejected the demand out of hand, saying that he was sure he would make "the worst president" in Colombia’s history.
However, Garcia Marquez has remained silent concerning the kidnappers more recent demands that he vouches for the absence of corruption during Gaviria’s presidency. Some have speculated that Garcia Marquez has now been given the horrific power of life or death over Gaviria’s son, depending on his future co-operation with the guerrilla group. In a further twist to the story, the man in charge of securing the young Gaviria’s release is Alberto Villamizar, whose wife and sister’s abductions in 1990 were the impetus for Garcia Marquez to write News Of A Kidnapping. "It’s unusual," Villamizar has commented, "but everything that happens in Colombia is unusual".