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Author and dictator, controversial friends

HAVANA, Cuba -- Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez met Fidel Castro after the Cuban leader grabbed power in the 1959 revolution — the beginning of a decades-long and controversial friendship.

Garcia Marquez, who died in Mexico City on Thursday aged 87, had arrived in the Caribbean island as a journalist to cover Castro's band of bearded guerrillas who ousted right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista in January 1959.

They quickly became friends, bringing together two of Latin America's most prominent figures of the 20th century. Garcia Marquez even worked for Cuba's Prensa Latina news agency in Bogota and New York.

Cuba's government-run media mourned the legendary writer.

“His friendship with Fidel and Cuba remained constant until his death,” the Cubadebate website wrote.

But the writer's closeness with his communist “amigo” contrasted with his fierce criticism of Latin America's right-wing dictatorships.

The two men had disagreements, which they both said were often exaggerated.

Castro, who handed power to his brother Raul after falling ill in 2006, once described Garcia Marquez as a man with “the goodness of a child and a cosmic talent.”

“He is a man of tomorrow whom we thank for having lived this life to tell it,” the Cuban leader said.

“Our friendship is the fruit of a relationship cultivated over decades, formed by hundreds of conversations that were always enjoyable for me,” Castro said when greeting the author and his wife Mercedes in 2008.

Castro's 'power of seduction'

The author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” had a home in Havana, where Castro would sometimes pop in in the middle of the night for a chat.

The writer praised the famously garrulous Castro for “his love of verbs, his power of seduction.”

“When he is tired of talking, he rests by talking,” Garcia Marquez said.

But this coziness between the pair irked some fellow intellectuals.

Peru's Nobel-winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa called his former friend Garcia Marquez “a courtesan writer of Fidel Castro,” accusing him of turning a blind eye to abuses committed by the government against dissidents.

U.S. writer Susan Sontag had voiced disappointment that Garcia Marquez had kept quiet after three men who tried to hijack a ferry to the United States were executed in April 2003.

The Colombian novelist countered that he condemned the death penalty anywhere in the world, and that he had quietly secured the release of dissidents over 20 years.

Garcia Marquez's list of friends included Bill Clinton, the former president of Castro's eternal bogeyman, the United States.

The writer acted as a special envoy for Castro to discuss with Clinton a bilateral migration agreement in 1994 to deal with the thousands of Cubans who crowded into boats to Florida.

Three years later, Garcia Marquez handed a message from Castro to Clinton, offering Cuban cooperation against terrorism. But the U.S.-Cuban cooperation was short-lived.

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 Garcia Marquez, godfather of magic realism, dies 
In this Nov. 26, 2002 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, right, and Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez check their watches during the inauguration of the first Cuban National Olympic games in Havana. (AP)

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