Carlos Alberto Montaner: My Last Column

Carlos Alberto Montaner is retiring after a lifetime writing for the best newspapers in Latin America, Spain and the US. (Archive)

With great sadness and, at the same time, with the satisfaction of having been accompanied from the beginning by one of the most brilliant adversaries of the Castro regime, ’14ymedio’ publishes the “last column” by Carlos Alberto Montaner.

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Madrid, 5 May 2023 — I’m retiring without a retirement. I’m retiring from “columnism”. For years, my column was distributed by my closest collaborator, Lucía Guerra. I turned 80 years old. I have Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). The name says it all.

It is a rare brain disease. I was diagnosed at the Gregorio Marañón hospital – one of the best in Spain – after an MRI. It affects three in 100,000 people. It is not contagious and it is not hereditary. There is no cure for it. They don’t know how it begins nor why. It is in the Parkinson’s family, but without tremors. Hence the confusion in the diagnosis. It is characterized by interfering with my ability to carry out a conversation and read anything beyond headlines (Linda, my wife, and our daughter, Gina read the newspapers to me), and so unable to write all of the “good” it allowed me to write for more than a half century – among other things – a syndicated weekly column.  I have written thousands of columns and I owe everything I accomplished afterward to my articles.

This PSP that now affects me is characterized (just like the other, the one of the Cuban communists) by “slowed or slurred” speech” which made me stop commenting on CNN en Español 

This PSP that now affects me is characterized (just like the other, the one of the Cuban communists) by “slowed or slurred speech” which made me stop commenting on CNN en Español (where I shared so much with Andrés Oppenheimer, Camilo Egaña and other notable journalists), despite the efforts of the chain’s president, Cynthia Hudson to retain me.  And on 20 radio stations, beginning with El Sol de la Mañana under the direction of the Dominican couple Espaillat, Montse y Antonio, followed by La Hora de la Verdad on RCN in Bogota a space led by Fernando Lodoño, even the very modest online station Orlando Gutiérrez directs toward Cuba, which has one of the most solid bulwarks in Julio Estornio. Furthermore, for years my comments reached Cuba through Radio Martí. Thank you for tolerating me in your ranks.

I saw Cuban journalist Carlos Castañeda arrive in Puerto Rico toward the end of the 60s with a job which, to me, seemed very difficult: elevate Ponce’s El Día to a level where it can compete with San Juan’s El Mundo. If I’d known Carlos’s plans with enough notice, I’d have stayed to fight that battle, but we already had our plane tickets to Spain. I’d been accepted at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid to complete a doctorate. My family and I embarked on a new European adventure.

It was the first half of 1970. Castañeda moved El Día to San Juan, changed its name to El Nuevo Día and made a tabloid with large headlines, ad hoc photos and large caricatures. Soon, it was the only one in its field. El Mundo closed.

Since that time before I settled in Madrid, I’ve held onto advice that was very important in my professional life: “In New York, find Joaquín Maurín, Castañeda told me. He is a Spanish exile. Tell him you want to write columns for his agency ALA (American Literary Agency). The best of the language are there, among others, Germán Arciniegas and Pablo Neruda.” I did. Maurín asked me for a sample. I gave him one. When I found it reproduced in 156 newspapers I swore to take care of my columns. And that is what I’ve done since then.

Joaquín Blaya called me in Madrid. He was Chilean, president of Univisión. Later of Telemundo. He asked me for one commentary a week and allowed me to choose the topic. It would be, of course, current events. Maurín’s promise was fulfilled. ALA would share my ideas and these would open doors for me in other areas such as TV, much better paid than the print media [NOTE: “prensa plana”?]. But Blaya proved to be an executive of the highest quality. At one point, they gave me one minute to explain the hypothesis of an anthropologist priest, a professor at a university in New York, on a program about welfare, designed mostly by men, and its impact on low-income women. Without a doubt, a controversial topic. Channel 41 in New York understood the political gains, or acted out of fear, under management orders. The truth is that Al Sharpton, Baptist minister, went to the channel to ask for my head, without hearing my commentary in Spanish, and Blaya defended me with complete firmness.

When The Miami Herald spawned an insert in Spanish they thought it would be a fleating phenomenon. But they later proved that the limits for Castilian were growing. Since the world of newspaper editors is small, everyone spoke of Carlos Castañeda with great respect and of his prowess in Puerto Rico. They called him, and El Nuevo Herald was born in the early 1980s. Appearing there were Roberto Suárez, Gustavo Pupo Mayo, Sam Verdeja, Armando González, Roberto Fabricio and the great Carlos Verdecia, former director of El Nuevo Herald.

At the end of my memoir,  ‘Sin ir más lejos’ [Without Going Further], I cite Julián Marías for his humble phrase. Today, I do so once again, “I did what I could”

I believe it was Pupo Mayo. He offered me the directorship of El Nuevo Herald. I did not accept it. I didn’t want to be uprooted from Spain. They offered me the head of the  Opinion page. I placed two conditions so they wouldn’t accept: I would only be present the first week of the month. The other three I’d be in Spain. (In the end, I started remote work, which became so popular during the pandemic). The second condition was that my adjuncts would be Araceli Perdomo, of whose integrity the editors spoke very highly, and Andrés Hernández Alenda, so as to not commit any errors or injustices. To the point that, later, after my resignation, Araceli and Andrés replaced me in that role. Throughout time, El Nuevo Herald has been my home.

I’ve had the opportunity to write for the best newspapers of Latin America, Spain and the U.S. Recently my weekly column appeared in El Libero, Chile’s best digital newspaper and El Independiente, an excellent digital newspaper produced by Casimiro García-Abadillo, Victoria Priego (two great veterans of Spanish journalism) and – in the international section – Ana Alonso. These two newspapers round out the field in the language in which I’ve had the privilege of fighting for freedom. At the end of my memoir, Sin ir más lejos [Without Going Further], published in Debate by Silvia Matute, also editor of Penguin-Random House, in Spanish, I cite philosopher Julián Marías for his humble phrase. Today, I do so once again, “I did what I could.”


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