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June 25, 2013

The FBI monitored “communist writer” Carlos Fuentes for decades

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Carlos Fuentes

Recently released documents have revealed that the FBI and the US State Department closely monitored the activity of the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, whom they regarded as a communist and a supporter of Fidel Castro, over several decades.

The dossier, which was released last Friday, includes both internal documents and newspaper clippings, and refers to a “long history of subversive connections.” Fuentes was twice denied an entry visa to the U.S. in the 1960s and, though he made several visits to the country and was granted permission to teach at American universities, his activities were closely monitored by the FBI.

According to the Associated Press, the FBI was very cautious about its investigation:

In a memorandum from October 1970 addressed to the FBI’s director, the bureau suggests finding sources and informants at Columbia and New York University who could monitor Fuentes. The memo warns against an active investigation because of media attention.

“Because of Fuentes’ prominence as an author, the publicity which has attended his prior visa refusals and his indicated connection with two New York City universities, no active investigation regarding him is desired at this time,” the document reads.

By the mid-1980s, the agency seems to have warmed up to the award-winning novelist. Although they acknowledge that Fuentes had been previously denied an entry permit for belonging to the Mexican Communist party in early 1960s, he should be allowed to teach at Harvard because he was an “outstanding 20th century Mexican author.” Fuentes died last year.

In its obituary, the Los Angeles Times had this to say about the outspoken author’s political views:

As a young man, Fuentes was a leftist who sympathized with Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in Cuba and was highly critical of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country as a virtual one-party state for seven decades. His endorsement of the Nicaraguan leftist revolutionary Sandinistas led to a permanent rift with his former mentor, Octavio Paz, the Mexican man of letters and Nobel laureate.

Gradually, Fuentes shifted to a more moderate liberal position on many issues, criticizing the excesses of both the left and the right. In recent years, he labeled Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chavez, a “tropical Mussolini.” He also argued that conservative President Calderon’s crackdown on drug cartels, which has left 50,000 Mexicans dead since 2006, would be futile as long as the United States failed to recognize and rectify its own part in the illegal drug trade.

Yesterday, NPR asked Fuentes’s biographer Julio Ortega if the writer was a communist:

“Not at all! He was critical of Communism, and a close friend and supporte[r] of [Milan] Kundera [a writer whose works were banned in communist Czechoslovakia] in difficult times for him. It is true that Fuentes supported the Cuban revolution as well as the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, but because both were rooted in Latin American history of utopian will and emancipatory ideals.

Fuentes’s FBI file was released as the result of a freedom of information request made by NYCity News Service last fall. While the 170 page dossier is shocking in many respects, the United States government’s interest in Fuentes had been widely known for sometime. He was banned from entering the United States until Congress intervened in 1967. After being refused permission to attend his own book release party in New York in 1963, Fuentes angrily said, “The real bombs are my books, not me.”

 

 

Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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