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Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012)

Carlos Fuentes

On May 15th, Carlos Fuentes died at the age of 83 in a Mexico City hospital. He was one of the most influential novelists and essayists of Latin America. His works were translated in many languages and made him famous around the world. He was also a prominent human rights advocate, a pacifist and a campaigner for social justice.

Fuentes was born November 11th, 1928 in Panama City while his father was a Mexican diplomat in Panama. Then they moved to Chile, Argentina and in 1934 to Washington, D.C., where his father worked at the Mexican Embassies. In 1938, progressive Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized all assets, minerals and oil in Mexico. These expropriations led mostly to the eviction of American international corporations. Under the intense right-wing propaganda, a national outcry shaped against Mexico in the United States which led young Fuentes to be excluded by his American classmates. For him, this event played a key role to begin understanding himself as a Mexican. His father persuaded him to read Mexican history. Fuentes later wrote: “I learned to imagine Mexico before I ever knew Mexico”. By living in different Latin American countries, Fuentes witnessed there the plight of the majority and the gross gap between the rich and the poor. As a rebellious young man he chose to be a writer, but with the advice of a family friend, he first entered law school in Mexico and became a lawyer in 1948 and then studied economics in Geneva, Switzerland. During their stay in Chile and especially by reading Pablo Neruda’s poems, Fuentes became interested in socialism: his lifetime passion. In the 1950s, Fuentes joined the Mexican Communist Party and was active in different labour organizations. He began writing short stories for daily newspapers and was also working as an active Mexican diplomat.

In the wake of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Fuentes moved to Havana, where he wrote pro-Cuban Revolution and pro-Castro articles. He condemned the brutal repression of Mexican students’ protests which took place just before the 1968 Olympic Games and he strongly criticized the policies of Mexican Governments as corrupted savage capitalists: concentrating wealth in the hand of a minority in the expense of the miserable lives of the majority.

In the Article “Victims of Pinochet”, he condemned the Fascist Coup of 1973 against the elected Socialist Government of Salvador Allende. He supported and praised the Sandinista Revolution of 1979 in Nicaragua and sympathized with the 1994 Rebellion in the Mexican State of Chiapas.

Fuentes was a staunch opponent of the war mongering US policies around the world, especially in Latin America, thus became persona non grata in the US and forbidden to enter that country. This decision was overturned later and was invited to teach courses in different US universities like Colombia, Princeton, Harvard, and Cambridge.

In 1959, Fuentes married Mexican actress Rita Macedo; they divorced in 1966. They had a daughter, Cecilia, born in 1962. In 1973 Fuentes got married to Sylvia Lemus, a journalist. They had 2 children, Carlos died from complications related to hemophilia at the age of 25 and Natasha died of an apparent drug overdose at the age of 30.

From 1975 to 1977, he was the Mexican ambassador to France and resigned in opposition to former President Gustavo Diaz being selected as ambassador to Spain: the President that was mostly involved in the massacre of students in 1968.

Fuentes was ardently involved in supporting human rights and justice, no matter the ideological and political views of the subjects. In the remaining years of his life he was relentlessly critical of G.W. Bush’s “antiterrorism” tactics and immigration policies. He was also critical of the way his own government was handling the “War on Drugs” without addressing the root causes.

During his life time, Fuentes created a vast collection of literatures and received different awards and recognitions at home and at the world stage. His most famous novel “The Old Gringo” (1985) is based on the true story of Ambrose G. Bierce (1842- 1913), the American writer and journalist who went to Mexico to report and witness the Revolution, but disappeared without a trace. This novel like many of Fuentes’ works look at the way in which revolutionary ideas become corrupted by the influence of money and power. In 1989, The Old Gringo was filmed by American director Luis Puenzo, played by Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda, and Jimmy Smith. Fuentes became widely known in the US and around the world, especially after the release of this movie based on his best-seller novel, “The Old Gringo”.

His novels, essays, short stories and screen plays are translated in many languages, the most famous of them are:

  • Los dias emmascarados, 1954

  • Where the Air Is Clear, 1958

  • The Good Conscience, 1959

  • Aura, 1961

  • The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1962

  • The Argument of Latin America: Words for North Americans, 1963

  • Las Dos Elenas, 1965

  • Pedro Paramo, 1966

  • A Change of Skin, 1967

  • Holy Place, 1967

  • Paris: La revolucion de mayo, 1968

  • Birth Day, 1969

  • Casa con dos puertas, 1970

  • Poemas de amor, 1971

  • Tiempo mexicano, 1971

  • Cuerpos y ofreadas, 1972

  • Chac Mool y Otros Cuentos, 1973

  • Obras completas, 1974

  • Terra Nostra, 1975

  • The Hydra Head, 1978

  • Burnt Water, 1980

  • Distant Relations, 1980

  • Orchids in the Moonlight, 1982

  • High Noon in Latin America, 1983

  • On Human Rights: A Speech, 1984

  • Christopher Unborn, 1987

  • Myself with Others: Selected Essays, 1988

  • Constance and Other Stories for Virgins, 1990

  • Ceremonia del alba, 1990

  • The Campaign, 1992

  • The Orange Tree, 1994

  • Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone, 1995

  • A Novel of Nine Stories, 1996

  • The Crystal Frontier, 1997

  • The Years with Laura Diaz, 1999

  • Inez, 2001

  • En esto creo, 2002

  • The Eagles’ Throne, 2003

  • Contra Bush, 2004

  • Los 68, 2005

  • Happy Families, 2006

  • Destiny and Desire, 2008

  • Adan en Eden, 2009

  • Vlad, 2010

  • Carolina Grau, 2011

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