In a 1983 Harvard commencement speech, Mr. Fuentes admonished the United States for its “brutal diplomacy” in Nicaragua while President Reagan’s secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, was sitting in the front row. The author had been a longtime supporter of the left-wing Sandinista government, which the United States tried to overthrow with help from the rebels known as the contras.
“You must demonstrate your humanity and your intelligence here in this house we share, our hemisphere,” Mr. Fuentes asserted in his Harvard speech, “or nowhere shall you be democratically credible.”
Within Mexico, he was often the target of printed attacks from peers and literary critics angered by the declarations made by an expert on Mexico who lived mostly outside the country. (“The language of Mexicans springs from abysmal extremes of power and impotence, domination and resentment,” he once wrote.)
The most scathing volley was fired by Mexican historian Enrique Krauze in a 1988 article about Mr. Fuentes titled “The Guerrilla Dandy.”
Arguing that Mr. Fuentes was “a foreigner in his own country” who “claimed credentials that he does not have” and used Mexico as a “theme” to further his career abroad, Krauze declared that his writings about the country were simplistic, “frivolous” and “all too often, false.”
The article caused a scandal, in part, because many readers interpreted it as an effort to oust Mr. Fuentes from serious consideration for the Nobel Prize for literature. The article was published in the New Republic and Vuelta, a magazine edited by Krauze’s mentor, the eminent Mexican poet and critic Octavio Paz.
After it was published, Paz and Mr. Fuentes, who had been friends for almost 40 years, never spoke again. Mr. Fuentes later brushed off the affair when speaking to New York Magazine. “I love having critics for breakfast,” he said. “I’ve been having them for 30 years in Mexico — just eating them like chicken, then throwing the bones away.”
Carlos Fuentes Macias was born in Panama City to Mexican parents on Nov. 11, 1928. His father was a career diplomat who was posted to the Mexican Embassy in Washington from 1934 to 1940 and who later served as Mexico’s ambassador to Italy and Portugal.
While in Washington, the younger Fuentes became fluent in English and an enthusiast of American movies and magazines.
It was also a period in which he began to understand himself as Mexican. The catalyzing event occurred on March 18, 1938, when Mexico expropriated its foreign-owned oil holdings. As a result, Mr. Fuentes was ostracized at the District’s H.D. Cooke Elementary School.