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Mexican author Carlos Monsivais dies at age 72

In this Nov. 25, 2006 file photo, Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais looks on during the opening ceremony of the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico. Monsivais died Saturday, June 19, 2010, at age 72, of a lung disease. In this Nov. 25, 2006 file photo, Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais looks on during the opening ceremony of the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico. Monsivais died Saturday, June 19, 2010, at age 72, of a lung disease. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias,file)
By Mark Stevenson
June 19, 2010

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MEXICO CITY—Renowned Mexican journalist, critic and political activist Carlos Monsivais died Saturday at 72.

Examining his own country like a pop anthropologist, Monsivais chronicled Mexico's historic upheavals, social trends, and literature for over 50 years. He was also known as a tireless and ubiquitous activist for leftist causes.

"He was a chronicler and witness for his era," President Felipe Calderon's office said in a statement. "We Mexicans will miss his critical, reflective and independent vision."

His death came one day after that of fellow leftist and Nobel-winning Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, with whom he once toured Zapatista rebel encampments in southern Chiapas state.

"I think he is one of the great minds of Mexico, and an intellectual of the left," said writer Elena Poniatowska, who was friends with Monsivais since about 1957. "He knew about everything, politics, poetry, art."

The Health Department said Monsivais died at Mexico City's National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition of a respiratory illness. It said he had been admitted to the hospital April 2, and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks.

The Estanquillo Museum -- which Monsivais founded in 2006 with his extensive collection of pop art pieces ranging from comic books to miniature reproductions of household objects -- confirmed his death in a statement.

"Carlos Monsivais dedicated his prolific life to reflecting upon Mexico, its history, and the many facets of our society," the museum staff wrote. "Today, Mexico has lost a fundamental part of its identity, a part of itself, a part of its national conscience."

Born May 4, 1938, Monsivais was part of a generation of Mexican writers -- Poniatowska, Carlos Fuentes and Jose Emilio Pacheco -- who came of age in the 1950s and '60s.

Like Poniatowska, Monsivais was deeply affected by the 1968 massacre by security forces of protesting students in Mexico City's Tlatelolco neighborhood. Official reports put the death toll at 25, but rights activists say as many as 350 may have been killed.

He was an early and enthusiastic defender of the leftist Zapatista rebels who staged a brief armed uprising in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas in 1994 for Indian rights.

But Monsivais never left behind his independent, critical spirit. He publicly spoke out against Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos' 2002 letter expressing sympathy for a Basque separatist group linked to terrorist attacks and criticizing crusading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

"I, for one, don't associate the struggle of the Indians in Chiapas with support for indefensible causes, intolerant language, cheap jokes and radical vanity," Monsivais wrote.

Monsivais' best-known works include the books "Dias de Guardar" and "Escenas de pudor y Liviandad" and his long-running newspaper column "Por Mi Madre Bohemios," in which he explored everything from the often-strange language of politicians to the most recent soap opera phenomena.

In his cutting and ironic journalistic work, Monsivais wrote about presidents and pop singers, cartoons and coups d'etat.

He was one of the best analysts of Mexican movies, especially those from the country's "golden age" of film that ran from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Over the course of a career studded with recognition, Monsivais won the National Prize for Journalism in 1977, the Jorge Cuesta Prize in 1986, the Mazatlan Prize in 1989 and the Villaurrutia Prize in 1996.

He continued to receive recognition in his later years, winning the Premio de Literatura Latinoamericana y del Caribe (now known as the FIL de Guadalajara Prize) with $100,000 in 2006. The jury said Monsivais had "created a distinctive language to represent the richness of popular culture, the spectacle of urban modernization, and the codes of power."

Poniatowska said Monsivais is survived by several nephews. A memorial service was scheduled for Saturday in Mexico City; burial plans were not immediately announced.

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