Carlos Alberto Montaner, a writer who fled Cuba shortly after its communist revolution, then built a career as a leading opponent of the exiled community’s Castro regime, died June 29 at his home in Madrid. He was 80 years old.
His son, Carlos, confirmed death, by euthanasia. Mr. Montaner suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disease similar to Parkinson’s.
in a published column Four days after his death, Mr Montaner praised Spain for making it legal to end one’s life in cases of terminal illness like his. “I fulfill my wish to die in Madrid,” he wrote. “I do this while still enjoying the ability to express my will.”
Throughout his career as a novelist, essayist, and political commentator, Montaner has developed a reputation as a fierce critic of the Castro government and defender of classical liberalism.
“He was someone who was able to articulate the hopes, aspirations, frustrations and opinions of Cuban exiles better than anyone,” Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the nonprofit Cuba Study Group, said in a telephone interview.
Although Mr. Montaner considered himself slightly left of political center, he was embraced by anti-communist conservatives in the United States and Europe. Like them, he saw the situation in Cuba as part of a global conflict between dictatorships and liberal democracies.
“We must tell the international community and democratic countries that we all share a moral responsibility with those countries and societies suffering the consequences of totalitarianism,” he said in a 2011 interview with the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Mr. Montaner wrote frequently for conservative opinion pages such as that of the Wall Street Journal, and was close friends with like-minded Latin American intellectuals, including Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. He was a commentator for CNN en Español and a regular contributor to The Miami Herald.
He has drawn frequent criticism from Cuban exiles to his right, especially in 2020 when he endorsed Joe Biden for president and recorded a Spanish-language commercial dismissing the charge, common in the Cuban American community, that Mr. Biden was a socialist.
Mr. Montaner was equally disliked by the far left. The Castro government had long accused him of being a tool of the CIA, a charge repeated by leftist critics.
Mr. Montaner has written more than 25 books, including five novels and a 2019 memoir, ‘Sin Ir Más Lejos’, published in English that year as ‘Without Going Further’.
In novels such as “Perromundo” (1972), translated as “Dog World”, he often addressed themes of exile and the existential choices faced by people trapped in the web of totalitarian oppression. His nonfiction work outlined a counter-narrative to the traditional Latin American leftist view of a region under US imperial control.
One of his best-known books is “Manual del Perfecto Idiota Latinoamericano”, which he wrote in 1996 with Alvaro Vargas Llosa (the eldest son by Mario Vargas Llosa) and Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza. It was published in English in 2000 as “Guide to the Perfect Latino Idiot”.
“The perfect idiot,” wrote the trio, “leaves us in third-world poverty and backwardness with its vast catalog of dogma presented as truth.”
Carlos Alberto Montaner Suris was born in Havana on April 3, 1943. His father, Ernesto, was a journalist; His mother, Manola (Suris) Montaner, was a teacher.
When Fidel Castro led the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista’s government in 1959, Carlos was initially a staunch supporter. But he soon turned against the Communists and joined a group of anti-Castro rebels.
He was arrested in 1960. Because he was 17, the government placed him in juvenile detention, from which he escaped in early 1961.
He fled to the Honduran embassy, where he remained for months, along with 125 other dissidents. Finally, in September 1961, he got on a plane and headed to Miami.
Mr. Montaner studied Hispanic American Literature at the University of Miami. After graduating in 1963, he taught American literature at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
He moved to Madrid in 1970 and in 1972 he founded a publishing house, Editorial Playor. He kept his home in Spain, but returned to Miami frequently and for long periods of time, especially as his career as a political commentator took off.
Mr. Montaner was not a bomb thrower, which highlighted an incident in 1990. Appearing on a Univision news program, he claimed that one explanation for poverty among Puerto Ricans in the United States was that there were “thousands of mothers singles” who “seek to escape poverty through affluence”.
More than a dozen Puerto Rican groups have called on Univision to drop Mr. Montaner, even after he apologized. The network stayed with him, but El Diario, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, canceled his column.
He married Linda Periut in 1959 and she survives him. Together with her and her son, he also leaves behind her daughter, Gina; his brother Ernesto; and three grandchildren.
Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main supporter, in 1991 and Castro’s death in 2016 failed to remove the country’s Communist government, Mr. Montaner continued to be optimistic about a democratic transition on the island.
At the same time, he acknowledged that his decades of optimism had left him emotionally homeless, having failed to put down roots in Miami or Madrid in anticipation of an imminent return to Havana.
“Don’t do what I did,” he said in a 2020 interview with the PanAm Post website. “For wanting to return to my country in the long term, for the certainty that my return was imminent, I have never tried to adapt to the countries in which I have lived”.