Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s most famous writer, and a world-known public intellectual, died Tuesday, depriving the nation of its most internationally recognized voice.
Mr. Fuentes, a novelist, poet, diplomat, critic, public man and essayist who wrote more than 30 books, died in a Mexico City hospital where he had gone for treatment for heart problems. He was 83 years old.
His death was first announced by President Felipe Calderon in a twitter message. “I profoundly regret the death of our Carlos Fuentes, writer and universal Mexican,” wrote Mr. Calderon. Mr. Fuentes’ death was immediately lamented by writers and others around the world. “RIP Carlos my friend,” wrote novelist Salman Rushdie on his twitter account.
“I believe he was the most known and admired Mexican in the world, and a great voice within the country,” said Jorge Castaneda, an author and former Mexican foreign minister. “Mexico loses its voice in the world. It’s very sad for all of us.”
In the tradition of Latin American writers, Mr. Fuentes was one of the region’s most well known public intellectuals, frequently taking stands on the issues of the day. He kept active until the very end of his life writing columns on political developments around the world. His last column, on the French elections, was published on Tuesday in Reforma, Mexico’s most influential newspaper.
In recent articles and comments, Mr. Fuentes seemed to despair for Mexico’s future. He caused a furor when he called Enrique Pena Nieto, candidate of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, who is widely expected to win the presidency in July elections “ignorant” and not up to solving the country’s problems. In the final post on his twitter account last year he lamented that “there must be something beyond massacres and barbarism to sustain the existence of the human race,” an apparent reference to the drug violence that afflicts Mexico. The same day he wrote “The world is turning very dark.”
Among Mr. Fuentes’ most well known books are “The Death of Artemio Cruz,” and “The Most Transparent Region in the World,” which profiled the new class which took power in Mexico after the Mexican Revolution of 1921 enriching itself while doing little to solve the country’s social problems. “The Old Gringo,” was turned into a Hollywood film starring Gregory Peck and jane Fonda.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian writer, and a close friend, once said that Mr. Fuentes often helped younger writers and was always enthusiastic about literature, unlike many writers who like to think of themselves as unique. Mr. Fuentes, said Mr. Garcia Marquez, adored literature, loved writers, and thought the ideal world would be made up solely of novelists.
Francisco Goldman, a U.S. writer, remembers being inspired when he took a literature class with Mr. Fuentes at Columbia University in the 1970s. “He was just the most dazzling lecturer,” said Mr. Goldman. “I remember him talking about being at the Prague cemetery where Kafka is buried and claiming he could hear the ghosts of demonic cats hissing and snarling.”
Mexican intellectual Hector Aguilar Camin called Mr. Fuentes Mexico’s best living writer, and one of the best in the Spanish world.
Mr. Fuentes’ death begins to draw the curtain on an era of the intellectual as political commentator – a role many Latin American intellectuals have taken but one which has faded as political analysts and economists, rather than writers, take a lead role in commenting on politics.
“The figure of the intellectual as beacon for society has been slowly fading,” said Mr. Aguilar Camin.
He said he planned to take down a few of Mr. Fuentes’ books and re-read them. “That’s the ironic thing. In his death, his literature will be re-born as people re-read his books again,” said Mr. Aguilar Camin.
Mr. Fuentes was born in 1928 to a diplomat father in Panama, and followed his father into the diplomatic service after obtaining a law degree from Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
He combined the careers of a novelist and a diplomat, serving in Geneva, Switzerland, among other posts. He was one of the generation of writers, along with Mr. Garcia Marquez, and Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who in the 1960s formed part of the “Latin American Boom” introducing the literature of the region for the first time to a world audience.
“He was one of the most important and versatile writers of the boom, and the most cultured,” said Carlos Alberto Montaner, a Cuban-born writer and political analyst based in Miami.
Mr. Fuentes served as ambassador to England, where he lived much of the time. In 1968, he caused a furor when he resigned from the Mexican diplomatic service to protest a student massacre. He rejoined the service and served as ambassador to France in 1975, resigning again when former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, who had been president during the 1968 massacre was appointed ambassador to Madrid.
“He never toed a party line, any party line,” said Mr. Castaneda.
Mr. Fuentes, like many of his colleagues, was an early backer of the Cuban Revolution and was for some years banned from coming to the U.S. During the 1980s, Mr. Fuentes was a strong critic of U.S. policy in Central America, where tens of thousands of people died in civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, as part of the U.S.’ Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union.
More recently, Mr. Fuentes criticized U.S. immigration policy, and the U.S. war on terrorism. But he has been equally unsparing on some left wing populists such as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.
“I am sad for Mexicans,” said Deborah Holtz, a publisher in Mexico City. “He was one of the few Mexican voices heard internationally.”