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Paco Taibo’s Republic of Readers

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On a recent Thursday night, thousands piled into Mexico City’s Palace of Mining to attend, of all things, a book festival. Neither books nor mines were the main attraction, however: Just inside the doors, in a chandelier-studded ballroom, some three dozen reporters and a half-dozen network camera crews waited quietly for the 70-year-old writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who had recently been appointed to run the storied Fondo de Cultura Económica.

The FCE is a publishing house primarily funded by the Mexican government, with a staggering back list of some 10,000 titles, as well as some 30 bookstores in Mexico and another dozen or so abroad. Its prominence positions Taibo as a kind of culture minister. With full command of this prestigious and influential institution—which, in the course of its 85-year history, has published 65 Nobel Prize winners—Taibo has tremendous sway over Mexican publishing and, by extension, book culture in all Spanish-speaking countries.

Standing 5-foot-4 and arriving in his signature baggy jeans, an open work shirt over a faded tee covering a bit of a paunch, Taibo received a rock star’s welcome. He had with him his two omnipresent companions: a bottle of Coke (he drinks three liters per day) and a yellow pack of H. Upmann Cuban cigars rolled with a dark, harsh tobacco.

Before landing his new job, Taibo was one of Mexico’s best-known, most irascible, and most prolific writers, with over 80 books under his belt (and surely more to come). He’s known as a radical, profane, and outspoken critic of just about every institution in Mexico. His down-to-earth humor, sarcastic swipes at the privileged, and informal vocabulary laced with street vulgarities make him an unusual choice for public office—imagine a somewhat younger Noam Chomsky being appointed US Secretary of State, and you’ll get the drift.

Before the event, Taibo’s wife of 40-plus years, Paloma Saiz, whispered to me: “I told Paco that now…he’s got to be more careful, as every word he says is scrutinized.”

Indeed, having first met Taibo more than 30 years ago while reporting a story in Mexico City, I was probably as stunned as anybody when his appointment was first floated last fall. Taibo’s one of the most intriguing people I’ve ever met; if you computer-designed a government official, he would be the exact opposite. Taibo is a full-time provocateur—not the loud and clownish type, like Abbie Hoffman, but a relentless literary and political activist who focuses his prodigious talents on the multiple targets of corruption, deceit, and arrogance that mark the Mexican political class.

At the same time, Taibo’s presence is no more or less surprising than the near-daily aftershocks of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s election. The maverick politician known as AMLO bulldozed the country’s three traditional parties and took 53 percent of the presidential vote; in the process, he rather casually smashed open the Mexican political piñata and left the establishment empty-handed.





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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !