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Taibo II: reading is a unifying element of Latin Americans

Writer for biographies of heroes of the Latin American left, among which several works stand out he learned to write with the History of the Spanish Revolution of 34, and – he says “Che Guevara taught me to write a book”.


Text and photos: Jorge Petinaud Martínez


The Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II confessed in an interview to Prensa Latina here that he truly understood what it was to wr  ite a book when he finished his work Ernesto Guevara also known as Che.

“I learned to write with the History of the Spanish Revolution of 34, and Che taught me to write a book,” he told the news agency when referring to the conversation that, together with the Bolivian historian Gustavo Rodríguez, took place in the Vice Presidency Hall of the plurinational state during his stay in Bolivia.

In the talk, organised in the context of the XXIV International Book Fair (FIL) of La Paz under the title of Diálogo sobre el Che (Dialogue on Che), both researchers addressed various facets of the life of the Argentine-Cuban guerrilla hero killed on orders from the United States’ government on 9th October 1967 in La Higuera.

Current manager of the Fondo de Cultura Económica de México (FCEM, or Fund of Economic Culture of Mexico), a guest country of the FIL of La Paz, Taibo referred to the difficulties he faced during the creation of the book in 14-hour daily sessions in which he consulted hundreds of sources.

In his opinion, history is a narrative art, and that factor meant great pressure in searching for a style that would appeal to readers.

In expressing his admiration for Che Guevara, he stressed that he was very demanding, first and foremost with himself, and related that he felt that demand in relation to volume.

“He was a man who did what he said and said what he did,” he said, noting that the author of Guerrilla War felt a “fascinating disregard for power, for material goods, which was very critical and true to his emancipatory project.”

Taibo said that after many years since he finished the work on the figure of Che, he still feels it as ‘a great emptiness, a huge emptiness in Latin America’.

When questioned about his next biographical book, the author who also wrote Tony Guiteras, a handsome man anticipated to Prensa Latina that his next challenge would be an investigation into Mordechai Yanilevich, a young Jewish socialist who led the Warsaw Ghetto insurrection against the Nazi occupiers.

Taibo II publicó en 1976 su primera novela policial, Días de Combate, con el detective Héctor Belascoarán Shayne como protagonista.

In 1976, Taibo II published his first police novel, Days of Combat, with the detective Héctor Belascoarán Shayne as the protagonist.

His preference for and success achieved as a creator within this genre led him to establish the International Association of Police Writers in 1986 with his compatriot Rafael Ramírez, the Cubans Alberto Molina and Rodolfo Pérez Valero, the Uruguayan Daniel Chavarría, the Russian Yulián Semionov and the Czech Jiri Prochazka.

Another of his contributions was the creation of the multicultural festival Semana Negra de Gijón in Spain in 1988, which he directed for several years, and in which hundreds of authors of police, historical, fantasy and science fiction novels participated.

However, Taibo II also distinguishes himself as a writer for biographies of heroes of the Latin American left, among which several works stand out. Some of these include Ernesto Guevara, also known as Che, Pancho Villa and Tony Guiteras, a handsome man (1906-1935), a text that addresses the life of one of the most important figures of the anti-imperialist struggle in Cuba between 1930 and 1935 in depth.

Apart from the creation of more than 50 books, many of them translated into several languages, the Mexican intellectual has been a union and political activist, university professor and a director of television series and print media.

Fernández Retamar

The talk was not lacking in reminisces of the recently deceased Cuban intellectual and president of the Casa de las Américas Roberto Fernández Retamar, with whom Taibo II maintained a long friendship, which was interrupted by the death of the creator of Calibán.

Photo: Pixabay

‘I remember Roberto Fernández Retamar a lot, a lot …, he was one of those characters that go and leave a void behind them,’ he confessed with a certain sadness.

‘I met him in very agreeable circumstances at a meeting of Casa de las Américas many years ago,’ the Mexican writer recalled.

‘I had to accompany him to a poetry reading in Casilda in the centre of the island, and he read the famous poem to his father, one of the best he wrote, and left me deeply moved.’ “I always have a very pleasant image of Retamar, coupled with the fact that I think he is an excellent poet. For empty days that we must burn is a poem that I have kept in my head since I first read it,” he said after quoting some verses.

Integration and reading

For Paco Ignacio Taibo II, reading is an element that unifies Latin Americans, a concept that in his opinion is at the heart of Casa de las Américas.

The intellectual said that this cultural institution created by the Cuban Revolution six decades ago played a fundamental role in the era of isolation to the socialist island.

“There was a time when we were connected through the Mexican, Argentine, and Spanish publishing industry, until the crises arrived,” he said.

He recalled that even in the toughest moments of the Cuban economic crisis known as a special period in the 1990s, after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the socialist system in Eastern Europe, Casa de las Américas continued to perform that role of very important interconnection.

Photo: Pixabay

An example of this integration already underway is the Mexico Economic Culture Fund’s project with Bolivia, which will be operating within two months with a bookstore in downtown La Paz.

‘I can anticipate that the project is very advanced since there is the Mexican Economic Culture Fund in Havana,’ he said exultantly, ‘this is something very important because Cuba is one of the great bastions of Latin American readers, and the Fund had no presence there.’ he said.

This project will be in full force for the Havana Book Fair in February 2020.

Questioned about the Helms Burton Act, the blockade against Cuba and the damage to culture, Taibo II said that he is faithful to the Mexican Constitution and to Juarismo, which see Latin America as a continent, and said that nothing will prevent Cuba from being connected to the world and having as rich a cultural relationship as possible. (PL)

(Translated by Hannah Phelvin-Hartley – Email:

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