"Garcia Marquez is important to us of course because he was born here and to all Colombians because he generates positive news in a country which tends not to get so much of it," Jimenez said.
Martin, whose biography is due out next year, said that contrary to public opinion "One Hundred Years" didn't by itself initiate the "boom" in Latin American literature that began in the 1960s. Other major writers -- Julio Cortazar of Argentina, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico and Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru -- had already written their best novels by then, Martin said by telephone from Cartagena.
"But Gabo made the boom explode, without a doubt," said Mendoza.
Success at 40
"One Hundred Years" was published when Garcia Marquez was 40 and, Martin says, considering giving up writing.
After a career in journalism in which he published novels and stories on the side, he worked briefly with J. Walter Thompson ad agency in Mexico City to make ends meet, before his big novel's release.
Birthday festivities in Cartagena began Friday night at the Cartagena Film Festival. The March 26 homage will open the IV Spanish Language Congress to be attended by the king and queen of Spain. Also attending is President Alvaro Uribe and several former world leaders. Clinton, who became good friends with Garcia Marquez while both vacationed on Martha's Vineyard, specifically asked for "space on the program" to pay tribute to his friend, said a spokesman for Colombia's culture ministry.
Not expected to attend is Garcia Marquez's close friend Fidel Castro, who turned 80 last year and is ailing. The writer has taken much criticism from fellow scribes for maintaining his long-standing friendship with dictator Castro as an implicit approval of policies that have included suppression of free speech in Cuba.
In a 1990 interview with The Times, the Colombian author responded to such criticism by saying that the United States should quit its "pornographic obsession" with the Cuban leader. "I have many friends in the world, and they have been reduced to one," Garcia Marquez then said.
But Garcia Marquez can do no wrong in Colombia, where he dropped out of law school and worked on several newspapers before taking up fiction writing full time. In the March 26 tribute, Mexico's Fuentes will speak and Victor Garcia de la Concha, director of the Royal Spanish Academy, the Spanish language authority that prints a definitive dictionary, will give Garcia Marquez a commemorative copy of a new edition of "One Hundred Years of Solitude." That act will officially launch a new 1-million copy printing to be sold "at an affordable price" throughout Latin America and Spain.
Colombian culture minister Elvira Cuervo de Jaramilllo said the fabulous confluence of so many important anniversaries in one year could "only happen to a personage like Garcia Marquez."
"Gabo is our liberator who has made us reincorporate in our literature the fabulous element that is an everyday part of our lives," said Conrado Zuluaga, editorial director at Panamericana publishers in Bogota. "There is no other writer in his league."