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INTERVIEW Carlos Fuentes BY DONALD DEMAREST CARLOS FUENTES IS THE author of several acclaimed novels, including Where the Air is Clear, Terra Nostra, and The Death of Artemio Cruz, as well as numerous plays, essays and short stories. His novel The Old Gringo was the first by a Mexican writer to appear on the New York Times best-seller list. The son of career diplomats, he was born in Panama in 1928. He served as Mexico’s ambassador to France during the 1970s. He continues to write and lecture. He was recently in Minneapolis to speak at the Guthrie Theater. Before his speech, he was interviewed by Donald Demarest, who first met Fuentes when Demarest went to work for the Centro Mexicano de Escritores, which helped produce the explosion of writing that put modern Mexican fiction on the map. La Region mas transparente, Fuentes’ first novel, sold a record 200,000 copies in Mexico alone, when sale of 2,000 copies usually constituted a bestseller. Demarest told Fuentes that he, Fuentes, would have been better in the role Robert Redford played in the film of The Old Gringo. Fuentes replied: ” I didn’t dare watch it… The only good picture based on a good novel was the one they made out of Pedro Paramo. That one they made about Zapata wasn’t bad. Was that Marlon Brando?” Almost all your novels are involved in some way with the Mexican Revolution. I particularly liked the last one, The Campaign which was an amusing take-off from Mcirquez’s The. General in His Labyrinth and which will, I gather, in the proposed trilogy, take in all of Latin America’s wars for independence. The publishers said that the next volume would center on the Mexi Donald Demarest was Mexico City correspondent for the Texas Observer in 1955, presumably its first. His first novel, Fabulous Ancestor, has been re-issued by the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He has lived in Mexico, off and on, for some 10 years and now lives in Minneapolis. can Revolution. No, I’ve changed my mind. It’s going to be about France, when the characters of The Campaign choose exile in Parisnow very rich, oligarchs. They admire the painter Courbet and want him to paint their daughters, but he would rather paint cows. He is also more of a rebel than they are now, these former warriors for independence. His last gesture of protest is to blow up the column in the Place Vendome. And the third book? It is going to be a trilogy? Yes, fmally in Mexico. It takes place in 1910, a few weeks before Mexico will celebrate the centennial of Hidalgo’s grito in Dolores, which started the War for Independence. All the heads of Europe are sending messages of homage to President Diaz, there are special operas and concerts, the army parades in its Austrian helmets. And then the revolution begins. I will finally get there. In an interview with Selden Rodman in 1958, you said that no Mexican could ever be unbiased about the U.S. You spent some of your childhood in Washington, D.C., and quite a bit [of time] since, teaching at Harvard and Princeton. Are you biased, Carlos? Still? No Mexican could be unbiased. The fact that I am a Mexican makes it impossible for me to be impervious to the sheer weight a more powerful, homogeneous neighbor imposes on us. Not resent that sense of complacent superiority. As Diaz said, “So far from God,” et cetera. You have had continuous trouble with the U.S. immigration people. Even when you were invited to deliver a speech here, they hedged you with petty restrictions. In 1959 they even refused to allow you to debark in San Juan to stretch your legs. They have never forgiven Graham Greene, Garcia Marquez and myself for backing the Castro revolution. But, as Gabriel said, if they are so afraid of our ideas they should ban our books, not our persons. What do you think of Castro now? Can he survive without Russian support? He’s an anachronism. It’s a stand-off between the embargo and Castro. When the embargo ends, he will be through. It’s the only thing that guarantees him support. That’s the only card he has left. I remember one of the first stories you read to the group at the Centro involved the division of the world between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Mexico at first refused to join either camp until the U.S. made it the fiftieth state. But the Mexican politicians, who quickly bribed their way into Congress, began to take over the government. Finally, to get rid of them, the U.S. had to return Arizona and New Mexico. Mexico was offered Texas but refused. Rather prophetic. That story has never been published. If I were to print it now no one would ever believe it was written in 1954. An even more prophetic piece of fiction is toward the end of Terra Nostrawhich is my favorite book of yours, by the way, Balzacian, immense. Mexican guerrillas are fighting U.S. Marines in the Lacandon Rainforest. The elected president of Mexico has been assassinated and his PRI-appointed successor has set up a right-wing government that the people revolt against. He has to ask the U.S. to come in and save his country from the “Communists.” That was published in 1975. It’s rather scary. It could still happen if you get another Reagan in, who will make Oliver North his Secretary of State. And we elect a demagogue. Still, the most depressing picture of a future Mexico came in Christopher Unborn. That depicts a Mexico that is completely given over to corruption, pollution and a desperate struggle to survive in a police state. That was written in a period of Swiftian disgust with all of humankind. These days I feel a lot more hopeful about Mexico. And that our problems are increasingly capable of solution. You told Selden Rodman again in 1958 that the main problem with the Mexican Revolution was that it had no ideological base that the revolutionary leaders, Villa, Zapata, even Carranza, distrusted intellectuals. And so, the political party that came out of the Revolution, PRI, has never had any organizing philosophy. That’s right, but the main advantage of this lack of ideology is that we were saved from totalitarianism. There might be a one 18 DECEMBER 9, 1994