UncategorizedGustavo Castro Caycedo: The Bearer of Good News

Gustavo Castro Caycedo: The Bearer of Good News

Por Iván Beltrán Castillo
Fotos: Lisa Palomino

Like an odd character in a Gothic novel, Gustavo Castro Caycedo comes alive at dusk. His schedule resembles that of the vampires of legend, given that he stirs at five in the afternoon and winds down with the coming of dawn. But his purpose is quite different from that of the mythical bloodsucker. He is interested in the halcyon and optimistic side of a country that is alternately beautiful and terrible; the lost memory of exemplary inhabitants; and the life plans of people who broaden our horizons and fill them with unexpected light.

When night falls, the writer from Zipaquirá can be found sitting at the computer in his pleasant apartment in northern Bogotá, attacking his work with commendable dedication and rigor. This is the time when executives loosen their ties and try to slough off the difficulties of the day, and the murmurs of children and office workers lining up for their homeward buses are heard. Gustavo sits down, savors the music of silence for a moment, and then sets to work on information, words, figures, and memories.

“Don’t consider myself an author in the strictly traditional sense of the word. I’m more a reporter who loves investigating. That may be why I have published thirty-six books to date, but I hope that number will grow, because hidden stories that cry out to an author are everywhere. In Colombia, home of dark tales and scandal sheets, it is essential to reclaim our share of a kinder, albeit concealed, lighter side,” he said as he prepared for a new nocturnal crusade.

He swears that his day-to-day work is more of a necessity than anything else. Now that he no longer works in an office and has left ordinary professional routines behind, he seems to have drunk from a fountain of youth and experienced a rebirth that allows him to mine rich veins of stories day after day. “The dreadful, evil influences that have prevailed in Colombia force journalists and communicators to maintain a strict watch. Otherwise, the country will suffer an irreparable collapse,” he asserts. He proffers a worrying anecdote as proof: a few months ago a survey tried to determine the dreams, goals, influences, and future paths of children. The result was dramatic: 36% of them said they wanted to become mafia bosses.

The Box of Lost Hopes

Gustavo Castro has always had a close relationship with television, dubbed by some “the box of hopes.” Like so many others, he was a constant and passionate viewer, and he followed the trends and nuances of the programming. But he soon noticed that this source of dreams and images was becoming dominated by violence, sorrow, and gloom, trafficking in sensationalism and banality.

This prodded him to undertake one of his most ambitious endeavors: a collection of books that use the metaphor of color to analyze the alarming phenomena hidden behind seemingly ingenuous images. The black, red, white, yellow, and blue books of television appeared one after another. Each one of these carefully crafted books took readers on a journey through phenomena that taint the small screen and often inject evil poison into the messages transmitted.

“As you might expect, those books did not please everyone, and they threatened those who, for one reason or another, wanted to keep things as they were,” states the author, who was frequently employed as a worker and an executive in the press and television. He served as director of Inravisión, a post that entailed problems and pressure; president of RCN Radio and the Bogotá Journalism Guild; director of Noticiero Cinevisión; popular columnist for El Tiempo and El País; advisor to the Anti-Corruption Institute of the University of Rosario; and, until recently, as a viewer advocate for Canal Capital, where he methodically and rigorously toiled for those anonymous multitudes who plant themselves in front of the box day after day. “I have never given my articles, columns, or other writing a political slant, nor have I drawn on any particular ideology. Nonetheless, I had to leave my job when Bogotá got a new mayor.”

Bye-Bye to Bad News

During his adventurous life as a reporter eager to capture and narrate the reality of Latin America, he came face-to-face with violence. Those were intense and sometimes sad, but certainly unforgettable, times. Gustavo recognizes that he has a formidable talent for research and an iron will, and he applies both to rescuing hidden stories.

“I worked in areas where the sound of machine-gun fire echoed continuously for decades. I knew the conflict’s protagonists well, both in our bloody Colombia and other places where death and destruction reigned,” remembers Gustavo, who was a war correspondent and a special envoy to conflict areas long before he became a renowned writer. He never really allowed himself to be drawn into that hell on earth, instead retaining the hope of writing stories that would renew our faith in humanity.

The good news brought to us by Gustavo’s books would take a while to relate. His calling is exemplified in his most memorable books, which are perhaps the most popular with his readers. The first is Cuatro años de soledad (Four Years of Solitude), a reconstruction of Gabriel García Márquez’ adolescence in Zipaquirá, where the famed author took his first steps toward growing up and experimented with being a poet, balladeer, composer, and even actor. Since Castro Caycedo is himself from Zipaquirá, he wanted to compose a triple tribute: to his home town, to the writer from Aracataca, and to childhood. Working like a detective, the journalist spent several years on this creation and succeeded in pulling back into the present those days dimmed by time and unknown to more well-known biographers of “Gabo.”

Two more meaningful stops on Castro Caycedo journey were Su segunda oportunidad (A Second Chance), stories of people who managed to come back from the brink of physical, economic, or moral precipices; and Historias humanas de perros y gatos (Human Stories of Cats and Dogs), chronicles featuring humankind’s most beloved pets in a homage to a sweet and fondly-remembered pet still missed by Gustavo.

Sublime Gallery

He devoted many nights to his most recent book: Grandes momentos de Colombia (Great Moments of Colombia) —published by Ediciones B— not to mention research, visits, letters, and endless searching on Google and social networks. “I think it could also be called ‘The Optimist’s Book,’ since whoever reads this summary of good fortune will completely change their impression of the country and alter their notion of what ‘homeland’ means,” says the author, adding, “I was always looking for a constructive way forward, which is why twenty-five of my thirty-six books emphasize the positive.”

This work is a kaleidoscope, an aggregate, a universe containing professionals, athletes, painters, and scientists working, dreaming, and burning the midnight oil. Some are very famous, familiar to the whole world, and constantly in the headlines, whereas others are barely known in their own spheres and specialized intellectual circles. Shining with otherworldly light are García Márquez, Álvaro Mutis, Fernando Botero, Shakira, James Rodríguez, Santa Laura de Jericó, “El Pibe” Valderrama, Lucho Herrera, Antonio Cervantes “Kid Pambelé,” Martín Emilio “Cochise” Rodríguez, Carlos Vives, and Fernando Gaitán.

But there are also other more obscure figures like archer Sara López, gymnast Jossimar Calvo, skater Diego Rosero Calad (one of the ten best in the world), and the members of the Colombian women’s soccer team. Midstream during his splendid creative night, Castro throws out a thought that is as beautiful as it is conclusive: “I want many people ―youth, children, adults, seniors, professionals, amateurs― to see this line-up of stars. If there are two million evil, twisted, and undesirable characters in the country, the remainder represent a wonderful hope. So, are we going to ignore 47 million good prospects because of misapplied stigmas?”

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