MAY 17, 2012
Truly great writers come in different forms. With the death of Carlos Fuentes, Mexico loses – we all lose – a writer of the grandest form, as strong in fiction as in non-fiction. He was an intellectual who could serve the state, but until the last moments of his life, was ready to go into public halls to argue for the public good, and to attack with the vigour of a young man, all forms of corruption. A great artist and a great defender of free expression.
During November of last year, Carlos Fuentes was in Toronto, and we sat down for a long discussion about the violence in Mexico, the corruption, the killing of writers, the attacks on free expression. I was about to lead a large delegation of writers from PEN International to Mexico City to protest the situation, in collaboration with PEN Mexico.
His advice was exact – sharp like the severe stylist he was. He knew he would be in Colombia when we were in Mexico City, but helped us on a number of fronts, including asking the mayor of Mexico City to receive us.
And when the moment came in January, while we were in Mexico City working together with Mexican writers, he was sending devastating messages through the speeches he was giving in Cartagena.
We all die, and Carlos Fuentes filled a long and remarkable life. But I must admit that when the news of his death came, it shot through me in a deeply disturbing way. This was a pen, a voice, we could not afford to lose, inevitable though it was. That combination of ethical anger and artistic genius is so rare.
One practical thought comes to me. We owe him, we owe ourselves, that an enormous effort be made to ensure that freedom of expression takes its place at the center of the Mexican debate.
John Ralston Saul