Publishing and Politics: Cold War in Latin American Culture in the Sixties

The children of Kafka, my dear doctor, have taken revenge on the children of Sanchez.

Carlos Fuentes, letter to Orfila Reynal, Rome,

November 16, 1965

“Resign the Socialist Alien from the Direction of the FCE!”

The first publication of Los bijos de Sanchez (The Children of Sanchez) by the Fondo de Cultura Economica, in October 1964, precipitated a schism in Mexican culture. For a sector of intellectuals linked to power, Oscar Lewis’ ethnography was an affront to national dignity. In light of the dominant theories of social change, the lives of the members of a “poor” family in Mexico City and the strength of their persistent traditional behaviours showed cracks in economic development. Their testimonies, impregnated with “obscene and vulgar” language, were highly valued by the American anthropologist, who interpreted them as signs of exclusion in an unequal society controlled by authoritarian policy. In February 1965, Luis Catano Morlet, a prestigious jurist and diplomat, led the attack against the author and the publisher, in a conference held at the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics (SMGE), attended by Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, president of the Republic since December 1964.1 Under his mandate, the most conservative wing of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) sought to close down Mexico as the cradle of the Cuban revolutionary offensive and the first country to recognize the Caribbean government. The Orfila affair, following his stigmatization as a “communist foreigner”, was one of the first acts of State violence that anticipated the “dirty war”, the apex of which was marked by the massacre of students in the Plaza de Tlatelolco shortly before the 1968 Olympic Games began.

Five hundred intellectuals from all over the continent supported Orfila and encouraged him to create another publishing house: Siglo XXL More than the figure, it is interesting to note their convergence around this publisher. This international of intellectuals expressed a history of social relations woven - at least since the mid-1940s - during the integration of struggles undertaken in the different fields of power in Latin American countries. By the time of Orfila’s resignation, the Cuban Revolution had more clearly demarcated the principles of action and opposition among all the groups confronted by power in much of the West.

For the agents who promoted the changes of command in the FCE, Orfila’s displacement was a condition for advancing a process of nationalization and ideological control over a centre of international irradiation of the country’s cultural greatness, which, they felt, had turned dangerously to the left, because of the action of the Argentine publisher. These events, framed in a context of an era marked by what some authors call “the cultural cold war” (Saunders 2001), had repercussions throughout Latin America. What social and symbolic structures did the State intervention in the FCE attack? What were its objectives and what effects did it produce? How can we explain such a spontaneous and massive mobilization of intellectuals in support of the foreign and progressive publisher? What relations in international intellectual space can be observed in the political disputes in this regard?


In the mid-1950s, Orfila had been one of the first to welcome Ernesto Guevara Lynch when he arrived in Mexico. His gift of FCE’s edition of Capital is remembered as a rite of passage.2 Orfila and his wife Laurette

Orfila Reynal’s meeting with Che Guevara, Havana, 1962

Figure 4.1 Orfila Reynal’s meeting with Che Guevara, Havana, 1962.

Source: Sora, Gustavo. 2008. “Edicion v politica”. Revista del Museo de Antropologia 1 (1): 103.

Sejourne gave material and logistic support to the revolutionaries from the very first hour, that is, “from the assault on the Moncada Barracks” in 1953. They felt part of the Cuban Revolution, a fact that renewed their vital energies and centralized their political and intellectual interests from then on.

Marti Soler portrayed the FCE of the early 1960s as a meeting place for left-wing intellectuals. According to Tatiana Coll,3 Orfila was “a very open, very restless man, who had thousands of contacts with many people”. She also reported that the newspapers of the time named the publisher as one of the individuals who, a few weeks after the revolutionary triumph of January 1,1959, took over the Cuban embassy in Mexico to demand the resignation of Batista’s representative and to name in his place the exiled Tete Casuso. Orfila was a close friend of Raul Roa, Cuba’s foreign minister between 1959 and 1976, a well-known writer before the Revolution and one of its main chroniclers. In a copy of La guerra de guerrillas (1961), Ernesto Guevara wrote the following dedication to Orfila Reynal: “To my great friend, a disseminator of culture, from a friend, diffuser of the guerrillas”. Cuban president Osvaldo Dor- ticos himself visited Orfila at the publishing house during his first trip abroad. The expression of Arnaldo and Laurette’s sympathy for other revolutionary movements was curbed by their public visibility. However, in their environment and at the publishing house they did their best to support and shelter combatants, exiles, and politically persecuted people. Orfila did not hesitate to offer a position in the sales department to Rodrigo Asturias, son of the Guatemalan Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, when he had to go into exile as a leader of the Central American guerrillas.

In those days of the Cold War, the publisher left behind the sobriety of his public exposure to express his ideas without any hindrance, in two articles of his authorship published in La Gaceta, FCE’s house organ. This was a polemic with Franklin Publications Inc., a US-based book development project that the publisher saw as an outrage by imperialism and the Alliance for Progress on the Latin American publishing industry.


The Alliance for Progress was an economic development programme established by the United States and 22 Latin American countries in the Charter of Punta del Este (Uruguay) in August 1961. Objectives centred on “the maintenance of democratic governments” and the achievement of economic and social development. More troubling to American officials was the threat of communism in Latin America. In 1954, the Central Intelligence

Agency had funded and supplied a revolution that overthrew the leftist government of Guatemala. The new goal was to block the spread of the Cuban example. The success of the Alliance was very limited. There were many reasons that the programme was ultimately a failure. American congressmen were reluctant to provide funds for the land redistribution programme in Latin America because they felt it smacked of socialism. The Alliance certainly failed in its effort to “stabilize democracy”: by the time the programme faded away in the early 1970s, 13 governments in Latin America had been replaced by military rule, all of them promoted by the United States.

In October 1961, representatives of Franklin Publications Inc. (a noncommercial educational organization) toured the region to enter into agreements with major enterprises in the book industry. Franklin was made up of representatives of the largest publishing companies and US government agencies. It publicized its mission as a technical-professional and economic contribution to the development of book markets, and sought to legitimize its work with its Asian achievements.4 After receiving the representatives at the FCE and reading internal Franklin documents, Orfila concluded that behind the “cooperation” there was a plan for cultural colonization. What Franklin Publications ultimately provided was a system of low-interest loans for the translation of American authors:

Having noted the fact that this study was presented as a prelude to the action to be taken to launch the Alliance for Progress, many imaginative (and commercial) minds imagined that part of the promise of the twenty billion dollars that Latin Americans welcomed with tears in their eyes in Punta del Este would be poured into the long- suffering publishing industry to make it as “vigorous and original” as the publishers and rulers of the United States ardently desire.5

Three months later, La Gaceta published a retort by the directors of Franklin Publications, portraying the “bitter and sarcastic attack by a respectable source south of the border, Dr. Orfila, a very influential Latin American publisher”, as “a very pronounced display of national pride”.6 In the same issue of La Gaceta, Orfila closed the dialogue with another text in which he declared, “They put their fingers on the wound”. He also demanded that the United States open its own territory for the extensive Latin American intellectual and publishing production, a condition for the “possibility of an egalitarian dialogue that opens the way to a free and fair collaboration”. After 1965, Orfila’s statements in the press often broke through the restraint of his distinguished position, to emphatically protest against US imperialism and the colonization of the thinking of the continent’s writers and researchers, subtly imposed by means of scholarships and funding programmes for higher education coming from the North.

The Children of Sanchez

The excuse for starting the process of Orfila’s dismissal was the publication of Lewis’ The Children of Sanchez. In the view of some Mexican intellectuals, academics, journalists, and politicians, the book offended their culture by proposing a theory of “the culture of poverty”, supported by testimonies plagued with “indecent” vocabulary regarding the nature of Mexican politics, violence, and development. The criticism of the book and Orfila’s attitude in allowing its publication was the corollary of a process of indignation from conservative cultural and political sectors towards certain books published on Orfila’s initiative. This unrest began in April 1961, when Escucha, yanqui! (Listen, Yankee!) by sociologist Charles Wright Mills appeared. In other words, The Children of Sanchez was the factor that tried the patience of the most conservative intellectuals linked to power. The reaction against Orfila was an onslaught against the foreigner who, heading a State-supported enterprise, promoted books that were, if not revolutionary, at least critical or “subversive” for the standards of a chauvinist, Western, and Christian morality. The vicissitudes of the edition of Wright Mills’ book allow us to recover the sequence of some of the most significant events and representations that triggered the Orfila affair.

Listen, Yankee! was published in the United States in 1960, and a year later by the FCE. Why would a four-year-old edition add to the 1965 attacks on Orfila? The book was the testimony of a radical concerned with characterizing in Cuba the motivations and objectives of the revolutionaries. It was not a study located in Mexico nor did it necessarily imply moral damage to the Mexican nationality. Its mention in the episode of Orfila’s resignation was a clear sign of the ideological control that the United States applied to the circulation of subversive ideas, thanks to a complex network of subordinations and mediations with which the Alliance for Progress marked its presence on the stage of printed culture in Latin America.


Charles Wright Mills was a professor at Columbia University and his work was valued as a counterpoint to Chicago’s sociology. He was the author of a ground-breaking book on The Power Elite in the United States. Its translation was published by the FCE in 1957, one year after its edition by Oxford University Press. Listen, Yankee! was written in 1960 and published by McGraw-Hill. It was not an academic text but a testimonial one, written as a chronicle

Cover of Wright Mills, Ch. 1961. Escucha, yanqui! Mexico

Figure 4.2 Cover of Wright Mills, Ch. 1961. Escucha, yanqui! Mexico: FCE © Bibliographic source - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

of a trip to Rio de Janeiro and Mexico, decided and carried out shortly after the outbreak of the revolution in Cuba, in view of the author’s inability to accompany the intense debates on the subject in Latin America. When he arrived on the island, the author’s prestige and the value that The Power Elite had allowed him to interview the heads of the revolutionary government, soldiers, intellectuals, journalists, and professors.

The aim of the book was to “show Cuban revolutionaries’ thinking with the greatest clarity and strength”, to shed light on the disinformation of American public opinion, and to motivate their fellow countrymen to become aware of the transformations of the world to come.

The voice of Cuba is today the voice of the block of hungry nations, and the Cuban revolutionary now speaks - with great effectiveness - on behalf of that block. What Cubans say and do today, other hungry peoples of Latin America will say and do tomorrow.

(Wright Mills 1961: 9)

For the authorities who pressured Orfila’s removal from the management of the FCE, Lewis and Wright Mills were extremely deviant. The two authors articulated the national and international arguments of a political decision to refocus the directions of Mexican official culture. Critical studies by Latin American or European authors could be supported, but not those by gringos,8 with all that this social category means in Mexican political and cultural history. Escucba, yanqui! opened the Tiempo Presente section of the Popular series, along with four other books: El reto de Africa (The Challenge of Africa) by Ndabaningi Sithole (a black Anglican pastor from Rhodesia); Yugoslavia, democracia socialista (Yugoslavia, Socialist Democracy) by Jovan Djordjevich (university professor and State advisor); La China Popular у su economia (China People’s Rule and its Economy) by Trevor Flughes and D. Luard; and El Estado del futuro (The State of the Future) by Gunnar Myrdal. The series was placed in a clear Third World frame. In April 1961, it was presented in La Gaceta. The cover note was signed by Wright Mills, whose fascination was affirmed line by line:

What impresses me most about the cultural possibilities in Cuba is the desire to learn and the open-mindedness of many of the young people who make up the revolutionary government. [...] In 20 years of teaching, constant work as a writer and frequent travel, I have never found such a sustained passion for knowledge or such an intelligent awareness of what it takes to study.

Escucba, yanqui! also stood out in the Tiempo Presente series for the consecration of the original title launched in New York on November 28, 1960: it sold 338,000 copies in 40 days! The translation published by the FCE was also an impressive success: the first edition, in April 1961, sold out in a month, and the third, in August of the same year, had a circulation of 70,000 copies. The latter was released simultaneously with another book by Wright Mills, La imagination sociologica (The Sociological Imagination).9

In the early 1960s, La Gaceta’s articles included references to Third World political dilemmas, including articles or reviews by American academics and intellectuals. During 1961, the pages of the newspaper privileged the publicity of the Popular series, and Escucba, yanqui! and the work of Wright Mills were the subject of several reviews and related works. This cycle closed around April 1962, when the death of the sociologist, at age 46, was announced. In the profile, Mario Monteforte pointed out:

With Escucba, Yanqui!, for his plea in favour of justice for the Cuban Revolution, Mills joins the family of our great pamphleteers who in days of anger point to the culprits and hopes for the future

Tiempo Presence series. Advertisement published in La Gaceta, September 1961 © Bibliographic source - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library

Figure 4.3 Tiempo Presence series. Advertisement published in La Gaceta, September 1961 © Bibliographic source - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

of the oppressed peoples. [...] It was already difficult to judge from a scientific point of view this militant of a solitary ideology, this ruthless critic of society that we also resent.10

In 1961, the FCE also published Antropologta de la pobreza (Anthropology of Poverty) by Oscar Lewis, in the Anthropology series. During the process of the Attorney General’s Office against him, Orfila recalled that this publication by Lewis had been decided after sharing with the author extensive auditing sessions of field records and supporting the consecration of his novel techniques, such as “a day in a life”, in important international social science forums of the time. In the cover story of the issue of La Gaceta announcing the publication of this translation, there was an interview with Hector Chavez in which Lewis set out the objectives of his work:

I set out to provide an intimate and objective picture of the daily lives of five Mexican families - originally from the same town in the interior and migrants to Mexico City - four of whom have alarmingly low incomes. I also set out to contribute to an understanding of poverty in Mexico today and, since the poor around the world have something in common, to an understanding of the lives of poor people in general.

In large print, the editors of La Gaceta highlighted the political implications of this study: “Although Mexico’s welfare has increased, he says, its unequal distribution has allowed the disparity between the incomes of the rich and the poor to be even sharper than in past times”. The Children of Sanchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family had been published by Random House in New York in 1961. It was launched by the FCE in October 1964 and, judging by the appearance of a second edition in December, the book was a bestseller.

The Children of Kafka

For people like Gustavo Diaz Ordaz (who joined the public attack), writer and academic Salvador Azuela (later director of the FCE), or Luis Catafio Morlet (judge of the capital’s Superior Court of Justice, diplomat and president of the SMGE), Orfila was the axis of articulation of an extensive cultural and political network on both sides of the Atlantic, bringing together a dominant segment of the post-war progressive intelligentsia. A blow to that centre would affect the whole. On February 9, 1965, Catafio Morlet condemned Los hijos de Sanchez as an obscene and denigrating work for the country, during a conference given at the SMGE, attended by Diaz Ordaz. Part of the audience supported his criticism and, as a result, it was resolved by a vote that the institution would mobilize legal action against the author and publisher.11 Two days later, the Attorney General’s Office began taking statements from the complainants and the director of the FCE. The press coverage of these events was immediate, but on April 6 the Public Prosecutor’s Office refrained from initiating criminal proceedings because it considered that there was no crime to be prosecuted.12

Faced with the judicial setback, the SMGE continued with its plan to displace Orfila through the channels of high politics. On November 7, the publisher was reprimanded by Jesus Rodriguez and Rodriguez, the nation’s undersecretary of finance, who had asked the publisher to appear before them. As a “proprietary member” of the FCE’s Governing Board, he asked for his resignation, apparently because of his status as a foreigner.13 The next day, the official arrived at the publishing house accompanied by el licenciado14 Salvador Azuela, the new director of the publishing house.

Orfila’s attitude was one of aplomb and restraint: he said goodbye to the officials and employees with words of gratitude, toured the FCE building with Azuela, and planned the terms of his departure, which included leaving the apartment occupied by the publisher and his wife on the premises within 24 hours. Within the company, the change of command produced widespread indignation, as Marti Soler remembers:

It was the most dramatic thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, a surprising moment for us. Orfila probably knew about it a day or two before, not much more. He knew that he was going to be dismissed and he called all of us. There was a representative from the Treasury and he told us that “Orfila is going to stop being the director from that moment”, and that Mr. Azuela was going to be the new director. That caught us all by surprise... Then the journalistic scandal began. Several employees decide to boycott the issue, provoke the new authorities and end up being thrown out. One of them, Jas Reuter, became our leader. The day Mr. Azuela arrived at the FCE, he had the locks changed on all the doors, on all the premises, because he considered us a gang of thieves. I can’t explain it. That he had differences from the political point of view or whatever, [...] very well. He had everything audited, and of course he found nothing. I don’t know who put that idea in his head.15

The tension generated by numerous employees led to a series of redundancies, so that the company had to use a quarter of the annual general budget for 1966 for compensations. Salvador Azuela was the son of the well-known writer Mariano Azuela, which indicates a certain closeness to the FCE.16 He had a close relationship with Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, at least since the 1940s, when the latter was a senator and the writer the director of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). This link would have continued in the 1950s, when the former was secretary of the interior and the latter was founding director of the National Institute of Studies on the Mexican Revolution, where he did some publishing.

Azuela was quick to express his disagreement with the cultural and political orientation of the catalogue. In October 1966, the remaining founding members resigned from the Governing Board: Gonzalo Robles, Eduardo Villasenor, and Emigdio Martinez Adame. In December 1967, the statute of the trust was altered to allow the control of the FCE by the Ministry of Finance, through a technical committee composed of Jesus Rodriguez у Rodriguez, Salvador Azuela, Francisco Monteverde, and Victor Urquidi. The end of Azuela’s mandate coincided with a new change in the presidency of the nation: in 1970 Luis Echeverria Alvarez took office and at the end of the year, the secretary of finance Hugo Margain appointed Antonio Carrillo Flores as head of the FCE. He sought to rescue the original project and asked for the return of some of the founders. However, his administration lasted only 18 months. A “nationalization” of the catalogue was sought, guided by the creation of the Vida у Pensamiento de Mexico (Mexican Life and Thinking) series.

As we saw, the Orfila affair was a milestone in the Cold War and the “dirty war” that characterized Mexico in the second half of 1960s. At the beginning of this millennium, the details of Operation Litempo, which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had implemented at the time with the aim of recruiting senior Mexican officials for US intelligence against the advances of communism, were revealed. Winston Scott was in charge of this programme, and in 1956 he recruited Emilio Bolanos, nephew of Diaz Ordaz, who was known as Litempo 1. That same year Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was recruited as Litempo 2. Both he and Luis Echeverria Alvarez (Litempo 8) worked closely with the CIA from the end of the 1950s.17

Expressions of disapproval or support for Orfila extended until the arrival of Antonio Carrillo Flores. The scandal was a watershed in the areas of culture and politics. In 1967, for example, Orfila was invited by the University of Chile to promote a publishing project similar to the one he planned in 1957 for the University of Buenos Aires (EUDEBA), recognized as a very successful model. There he met Salvador Allende and his presence had a wide repercussion, both for his account of his dismissal and for his manifest political and cultural alignments. His statements Azuela’s indignation:

The presentation of Mr. Arnaldo Orfila Reynal, an Argentine who was presented during his tour as a martyr to freedom and a politician persecuted by the Mexican government, attacked him and the Governing Board, attributing to them his dismissal for publishing Los hijos de Sanchez, which is a solemn lie.

(declarations published in La Prensa, Mexico,

October 13, 1967)

In an attempt to attribute Orfila’s “resignation” to mismanagement, Azuela circulated a press release dated October 12, with the results of a financial report: “the bankrupt company had received 2,536,000 pesos owed in unpaid royalties”. He also denounced the large sums of money spent on compensation to Orfila (560,000 pesos) and 19 other officials, who were receiving “special remuneration”. The note, signed by M. Mondragon, ended in a moralistic tone, usual in such trances:

“The case of Orfila, say several writers, is one of many foreigners who have made a lot of money and only respond to the hospitality and generosity of Mexico with ingratitude. [...] The concrete facts that I am pointing out,” says Azuela, “reveal the veracity and civil courage of Orfila, who, aggressive in South America, in Mexico withdraws and flatters himself in public, while he creates an ambush so as to attack from behind. Given these facts, the probity of his conduct can be judged.”18

The government of Diaz Ordaz tightly controlled the press and dominated important newspaper companies.19 The tone of the attacks against Orfila seems to corroborate these battles for information; for example, in the pages of El Sol de Mexico, on January 5,1968, Bernardo Ponce wrote:

We cannot stop writing about the publishing efforts that continue to be made in Mexico and, above all, on the side of the Fondo de Cultura Economica, the very important company [...] that was rescued from the hands of an Argentine communist -Orfila-, to be directed [...] by Mr. Salvador Azuela, whose intellectual honesty is well known since his student days and throughout his fruitful life.

The Children of Orfila

On November 7, 1965, on his way out of the meeting with Rodriguez у Rodriguez, Orfila met by chance with journalist Eduardo Deschamps. He told him about the dismissal episode and Deschamps had the story placed on the front page of the newspaper Excelsior the next day. The news spread like wildfire. At the end of that day, 70 friends went to Orfila and Sejourne’s apartment; among them, Elena Poniatowska, Fernando Benitez, Guillermo Haro, Jesus Silva Herzog, and Pablo Gonzalez Casanova. There they agreed on a plan to found a new publishing house, and Orfila calculated that this would require at least one million Mexican pesos. The proposal was to set up a corporation with shareholders willing to renounce dividends and to reinvest the profits in publishing projects. Fifteen days later, a dinner was organized at the

Club Suizo; 300 people attended and each paid 100 pesos. The Argentine friends raised money so that the historian Jose Luis Romero could represent them there. Three months later, the Siglo XXI publishing house was formally created, a name Orfila had previously reserved for a magazine project that never came to fruition. In a matter of weeks, the network expanded to nearly 600 shareholders, with an initial capital of US$ 250,000.

Twenty-four hours after the dismissal, the current of solidarity with Orfila was articulated in an epistolary network that crossed the continent to the south and across the Atlantic to join the community of Latin American writers based in Europe. The renowned novelist Carlos Fuen- tes wrote to Orfila:

Thanks to our friend Nora Velasco and an article [...] in Excelsior, I learn today about the infamous robbery that has just been committed at the FCE. I want to immediately convey my feeling of solidarity with you as a person, as a friend, as an intellectual, my solidarity with the work you have done on behalf of [...] each of us as writers and on behalf of our entire Hispanic American community - which to a large extent can today possess those attributes of a living cultural organism thanks to [...] the fact that you cultivated it, brought it together, gave it consciousness on a thousand occasions - indignation at the typically fascist procedure used to dismiss you, to deny the permanent homage you deserve from the Spanish language culture, with a vile and cold bureaucratic dossier, to warn, finally, that intellectual independence is in very serious danger in our country. [...] the children of Kafka, my dear doctor, have taken revenge on the children of Sanchez.

I cannot emphasize enough, at this moment, the conviction that accompanies me in writing to you: the conviction that the best, the authentic intellectuals of Latin America and the world are with you and will continue to be with you. [...] Please tell me how can I help; [...] I want you and all our friends, the best and most loyal, Fernando, Vicente, Elena, Jose Emilio, Julieta, Enrique, Victor, Laurette, to count on me unconditionally, without prior consultation, permanently in everything necessary to win this battle

(Rome, November 16, 1965)

On the same day, he wrote to the above-mentioned Vicente to ask his advice in order to get his books out of the FCE:

I do not want to continue for one more minute in this Gestapo of mediocrity that has installed a Hitler in the FCE - and whose hon- ourability I seriously doubt [...]. I don’t want to continue publishing with them; they make my blood boil with rage. Tell me if I can send you the opinions of people like Neruda, Asturias, Vargas Llosa, Cortazar, Alberti, etc., about Orfila. [...] Am I wrong in thinking that, in the Mexican way, this has been the revenge, and the warning, of the Uruchurtu-Ortiz Mena clique for Los bijos de Sanchez?

Fuentes was so much in tune with the project of Siglo XXI that on June 2, 1966, he told Orfila that Zona sagrada (Holly Zone), his next novel for the publisher, would be a kind of “anthropology of wealth”:

Its social framework is that of the culture of abundance in Mexico, the other side of ‘the five families’, to continue with Lewis’ argument. From there the principal character leaves to a fantastic world in which the Actress is Mother, Sorceress, Lover, Circe, Transfig- urator. The world of the Middle Ages meets the world of Vogue magazine. The dolphins of the post-Artemio Cruz generation enter to inhabit the climate and mansions of Aura.

Fuentes, Pellicer, Rulfo, Carpentier, and many other writers were ready to end contracts with the FCE and offer all their works to Siglo XXL Others, such as Vargas Llosa and Asturias, also proposed to move from their Argentinean publishers to the Siglo XXI catalogue. This carte blanche would have allowed Orfila to monopolize the publication of the central core of what was considered the booming new Latin American narrative. However, he decided that Siglo XXI would not reprint any works; he only set out to publish books from their first edition. Each of the intellectuals who showed loyalty to Orfila was asked to search for novelties among the European and Latin American cultural and political vanguard of those years. This is how Orfila communicated it to Fuentes:

From now on I grant you the honorary position of representative of Siglo XXI to European authors and writers you may find. As you will understand, I intend to present a publishing plan covering several disciplines, and in literature, for the time being, we will stick to the top-quality Latin Americans. We will leave the foreign literature to other colleagues; but if you find titles of books that you consider useful to have translated and distributed in our language, send me the bibliographical information or ask for the first options, from now on, to the publishers that you can visit.

(December 9, 1965)

In letters to other writers, Fuentes presented himself as Orfila’s conse- jero princeps (principal advisor). On June 27, 1966, for example, Orfila asked him to approach Claude Gallimard and Ugne Karvelis, “who had offered their greatest help and sympathy to Siglo XXI”, and to speed up the contract for Michel Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, for which he had paid an advance of US$ 1,000. The mediators experienced the new publishing house as a renewed source for their creative projects:

Later, I would like to publish with Siglo XXI a book of essays. Help me think about this. I have so much faith and enthusiasm in that company, in what it means for Mexico and Latin America... We could perhaps think of two volumes: one of literary criticism, travel, chronicles; another of political articles and essays.

The testimonies of Fuentes would be intertwined with those of Cortazar (Sora 2017, chapter 6), Carpentier, Paz, Asturias, and “an army of intellectuals” who expressed to Orfila, through hundreds of letters, that he was a catalyst for their self-representation as an intellectual community and for the imagination of “a Latin American culture”. The source publishers of the most prestigious works with whom Orfila did business from the FCE were also the object of a painstaking effort to contact and attract the projects of Siglo XXI.20 In a conversation with Lopez (1993), the publisher said, “A typewriter, paper, books, catalogues from all the publishers... we are planning Siglo XXI strategies with Laurette, my wife. [...] We worked out the plan of the publishing house and its series in eight or ten days [...]”.

This is evidence that in the publishing world, agents are often guided by personal relationships rather than by monetary equations; hence, for Gallimard, Seuil, PUF, and, obviously, Maspero, Orfila became the publisher of the Spanish-speaking world to whom they first communicated their news in order to offer the first options for translation into Spanish. Literature, politics, social sciences, all overlapped at the dawn of Siglo XXL As time went by, each genre found its own space in the catalogue. The essence of the publishing lines that Siglo XXI designed can be anticipated in an accurate description by Carlos Monsivais:

In its initial stage Siglo XXI is the publishing house that promotes some of the most important tendencies of the period marked by the Cuban Revolution, the new Latin American thought, the boom of the narrative, the theory of dependence, the rise and the tragic failure of the continental guerrilla movement, the emergence of the Theology of Liberation, the new methods of community teaching, the revisions of Marxism. Siglo XXI publishes Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, Paulo Freire, Poulantzas, Lacan, Marta Harnecker, the Central American revolutionaries, the classics of Marxism, Argentine sociology. [...] For a decade, the groups and parties of the left, the Church’s base communities, the students of social sciences, the revolutionary nationalists, the discontented with poverty and exploitation, go to the Siglo XXI series to inform themselves, to create a horizon of revolutionary expectations, to define and redefine the sense of their action.

(Monsivais 1993: 35)

In that “epochal climate” marked by Cuba, Siglo XXI radicalized the publishing of political thought. It was “natural” that, from then on, Che Guevara would be read under this label. After the publication of his Diaries, in 1969 came Escritos economicos (Economy Essays) and in 1977, El socialismo у el hombre nuevo (Socialism and the New Man), a 500-page publication edited by Jose Arico, the mentor of the Cuad- ernos de Pasado у Presente and another decisive Argentine publisher in the Orfila networks. Siglo XXI, although not recognized as a literary house, energized the circulation of works that were the flagships of the Latin American literary boom and was at the forefront of publishing the academic vanguard on both sides of the Atlantic. This action, thanks to the singularity of its capitals of origin and the triangle of subsidiaries based in Mexico, Madrid, and Buenos Aires, had an effect on all Iberian-America. This position was unquestionable between 1965 and 1976. As a typical expression of the history of this continent, Siglo XXI was born in reaction to an act of State violence and was seriously damaged by military coups and State terrorism.


  • 1 Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was born in 1911 in Puebla, where he graduated as a lawyer in 1937. Since 1943, he held high political positions as a deputy and national senator. He was secretary of the interior during the presidency of Adolfo Lopez Mateos (1958-1964). He began his presidential term on December 1, 1964. He encouraged economic development based on oil and industrialization, and maintained belligerent and intransigent attitudes.
  • 2 “For example, he said that Che arrived in Mexico in the dark. He received him [at his home] as the Argentine that he was.... and he gave him the [FCE translation of] Capital” (interview with Marti Soler, conducted in February 2007). According to Tatiana Coll, Guevara met Orfila in 1955, possibly after the Peron government was overthrown.
  • 3 Interviewed in Mexico City, February 2007.
  • 4 This included the translation of books by American authors into languages such as Arabic, Bengali, and Indonesian, and the printing of over 17 million educational books, especially in Afghanistan, Iran, and the United Arab Republic (the union of Egypt and Syria).
  • 5 A. Orfila Reynal. 1962. “Las verdaderas proporciones de una ‘Operacion Libro’”. La Gaceta, January.
  • 6 “Los programas de actividad para el extranjero у el orgullo nacional” у “La Franklin Publications contesta al Fondo de Cultura Economica”. La Gaceta, May 1962: 4.
  • 7 “Un dialogo fructifero entre los editores mexicanos у sus colegas de los Es- tados Unidos” (“A fruitful dialogue between Mexican publishers and their colleagues in the United States”).
  • 8 Native term that means United States’ people.
  • 9 This book included a foreword by the influential Italo-Argentinean sociologist Gino Germani. Like La elite del poder (The Power Elite (1959)), La imagination sociologica (The Sociological Imagination (1961)) and Poder, polttica, pueblo (Power, Politics, People (1964)) appeared in the FCE Sociology series, directed by Jose Medina Echavarria.
  • 10 Mario Monteforte Toledo. 1962. “Life and death of Wright Mills”. La Gaceta, April: 3.
  • 11 Diaz Arciniega (1994: 141) defends the idea that Orfila’s replacement by Azuela was tne result of previous criticism of the FCE by people such as Luis Garrido (lawyer, philosopher, and rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) between 1948 and 1953) or Jose Chavez Morado (a sculptor recognized as a bastion of figurative art by the Mexican School of Painting) because of the scarcity of Mexican publications.
  • 12 After the scandal generated throughout 1965 by the publication of Los hijos de Sanchez and after Orfila’s resignation, this title was published by Joaquin Mortiz. The ideological commitment assumed by the authorities of this firm was manifested by annexing to the book the documents generated by the Attorney General’s Office on the Lewis-Orfila case. This rich documentation allows us to reconstruct the different vicissitudes: the events that led to the trial, the arguments of the prosecution and the defence, the ideas and the conditions triggered by the affair. In the present chapter, I decided to shorten the analysis of these events for the sake of space.
  • 13 Around 1987, Orfila recalled this situation:

Well, we thought you should be replaced.

  • -Why? -I answer.
  • -Well, because you are a foreigner, you are Argentine.
  • -But you already knew that when I came from Buenos Aires in 1948;

but listen, I have a Mexican soul. [...] I am as Mexican as you!

  • (Lopez 1993: 61)
  • 14 Usual term used in Mexico to refer to learned people.
  • 15 Interview with Marti Soler, already mentioned.
  • 16 Mariano Azuela, a doctor, participated in the revolutionary struggles among Emiliano Zapata’s troops, an experience on which his novel Los de abajo (1916) is based. In 1958, the FCE reissued it in the Popular series. As the years went by, it became the title with most sales of the label (FCE 1984: 124).
  • 17 This information was revealed from declassified CIA documents in 2006, at the request of the NGO Archives for National Security, and coincides with the findings of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Social and Political Movements of the Past (Femospp), created during the Vicente Fox presidency (2000-2006); see Jose Carreno, “Echevema у Di'az Ordaz enganaron a la CIA”. El Universal, October 19,2006). Philip Agee (1975) also analyses the link between these two politicians and the CIA.
  • 18 These statements were reproduced by numerous media outlets. “Orfila Rey- nal attacks our government”, El Redondel, October 22, 1967. That same day, the daily Novedades concluded that the most absurd thing was that “tfie statelessness of the mafia [sic]” had paid Orfila “a tribute of ‘reparation. Other articles appeared in Excelsior (Manuel Mejido, October 14, 1967) and in the magazines Sucesos (November 11, 1967) and Gente (Antonio Estrada, November 16, 1967).
  • 19 According to journalist Jacobo Zabludovsky, who in the 1960s was in charge of the telenews programme of the Telesistema Mexicano (now Televisa), at that time the government of Diaz Ordaz established an iron grip on the information that was transmitted throughout the country. He himself received a phone call from the president asking for explanations for the tenor of the news about the student massacre (“Nunca cref que hubiera conjura comuni- sta en 68: Zabludovsky”, La Jornada, September 28, 1998).

20 With mesages like this: “Cinq cents personnes [...] deciderent [...] fonder cette maison d’edition, que nous croyons deviendra, bientot, une des en- treprises les plus fortes et les plus interessantes dans la langue espagnole”. Orfila Reynal, letter to PUF directors, December 20, 1965.


Agee, Philip. 1975. Into the company: CIA diary. New York: Penguin Books.

Cosio Villegas, Daniel. 1986. Memorias. Mexico: Joaquin Mortiz - SEP.

Fondo de Cultura Economica. 1984. Libro conmemorativo del 45 aniversario. Mexico: FCE.

Lopez, Alejandro Lopez (ed.). 1993. “Conversaciones con Don Arnaldo Orfila Reynal”. In Arnaldo Orfila Reynal. La pasion por los libros. Edicion bome- naje. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara: 37-66.

Monsivais, Carlos. 1993. “Arnaldo Orfila у la ampliation del lectorado”. In Alejandro Lopez (ed.), Arnaldo Orfila Reynal. La pasion por los libros. Edicion bomenaje. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara: 27-36.

Saunders, Frances Stonor. 2001. La CIA у la Guerra frta cultural. Barcelona: Debate.

Sora, Gustavo. 2017. Editar desde la izquierda en America Latina. La agitada bistoria del Fondo de Cultura Economica у Siglo XXL Buenos Aires: Siglo XXL

Suarez de la Torre, Laura, ed. 2001. Empresa у cultura en tinta у papel (1800-1860). Mexico: Instituto Mora-UNAM.

Universidad de Guadalajara. 1993. Arnaldo Orfila Reynal. La pasion por los libros. Guadalajara: Edicion homenaje.

Wright Mills, Charles. 1961. Escucba yanqui! La Revolucion en Cuba. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica.

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