Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes’ Marxist leanings and criticism of the Vietnam War led the U.S. State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to purposefully delay — and deny — the author’s visa applications during the 1960s, newly released documents reveal.
The FBI’s file for Fuentes, one of the 20th Century’s most influential Latin American authors, chronicles more than two decades of monitoring that included keeping tabs on him through sources who worked at New York University and Columbia University.
Fuentes, best known for “The Death of Artemio Cruz” and “The Old Gringo,” was the first Mexican novelist to make the New York Times bestseller list. He died in May 2012 at age 83 after suffering an internal hemorrhage in his Mexico City home.
The NYCity News Service filed a request for Fuentes’ file under the Freedom of Information Act – which requires the agency to release certain documents to the public once a person has died – in September 2012. The file was posted Thursday to the FBI’s website. The 170-page dossier doesn’t include dozens of documents that the file indicates were destroyed.
The file, which tracks Fuentes’ movements within the United States and abroad over a quarter century, begins in 1962 with a note about an intentionally delayed visa that prevented the writer from coming to the U.S.
His purpose for travel: a televised debate with then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Richard Goodwin.
An urgent message sent by the FBI in April 1962, about a month before the scheduled debate, advised the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City of “Instruction from Washington to delay if (visa) application is made.”
The file makes clear that the FBI’s upper echelons were interested in Fuentes’ movements. Long-time FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson – widely known as founding FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s right-hand man – was copied on several updates about Fuentes.
When Fuentes did make his way into the U.S., he often visited and taught at Ivy League colleges and other top academic institutions. The FBI’s files on Fuentes indicate that the agency developed sources at universities throughout the country during the 1960s and early 1970s, including New York University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan. While tracking Fuentes, the FBI frequently turned to contacts at NYU and Columbia, who furnished the agency “with a considerable amount of information,” according to the dossier.
In one instance in September 1965, the FBI discovered that Fuentes was listed as a speaker in a flyer for a “teach-in” about the Vietnam War that had been held at the University of Michigan. The next four months saw a flurry of memos circulating between agents at field offices in New York, Washington, Detroit and Mexico City, all trying to determine if their efforts at barring Fuentes had failed.
“Discreet inquiries” made by an NYU employee to “people in the education field had failed to produce any information,” according to one memo.
An agent “reviewed records at the morgues of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune,” and sifted through education publications at the New York Public Library, in search of any record that Fuentes had made it to the discussion.
The FBI would later discover that Fuentes actually had entered the U.S. during that time period, arriving by train in Laredo, TX apparently headed to New York City to meet with his literary agent.
That same year, the FBI also “discreetly” was attempting to procure a copy of “Una Alma Pura” a film written by Fuentes that the agency determined to be “anti-American.” During production, an actress who feared she might lose her citizenship for appearing in the film contacted a U.S. Attorney. Her name was not divulged in the documents.
“They had impression all persons connected with production of film were communists,” an agent wrote.
Fuentes managed to bypass the FBI’s restrictions on several occasions during the 1960s, by using a position with the Mexican Institute of Fine Arts to obtain “a-2” diplomatic visas, the file notes. Memos reveal that in the late 1960s, the FBI and State Department debated whether it was wise to continue barring Fuentes, in light of media coverage that was typically critical of the policy.
In 1969, Fuentes was removed from a transatlantic cruise ship, traveling from Barcelona, Spain to Veracruz, Mexico, when it docked in San Juan, PR. Newspapers around the world covered his detainment and a State Department telegram lamented the coverage.
The memo quotes one editorial in particular, which stated: “Immigration regulations keeping out men like Fuentes are both sad and silly.”
Fuentes soon managed to gain regular access to the United States.
The FBI continued to track him closely throughout the 1970s, even after, as an agent noted on September 7, 1970 “he claims to have divorced himself from Marxism.”
The last document in Fuentes’ file, from 1987, documents his efforts to travel from England, where he lectured at Cambridge University, to the United States, where he had recently taught at Harvard.
The memo advised that the State Department should grant Fuentes a waiver for travel, due to his popularity at colleges around the country.