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Carlos Monsivais, renowned Mexican journalist, social critic, leftist activist, dies at 72

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Renowned Mexican journalist, critic and political activist Carlos Monsivais died Saturday at 72.

Examining his own country like a pop anthropologist, Monsivais chronicled Mexico's historic upheavals, social trends, and literature for over 50 years. He was also known as a tireless and ubiquitous activist for leftist causes.

"He was a chronicler and witness for his era," President Felipe Calderon's office said in a statement. "We Mexicans will miss his critical, reflective and independent vision."

He died the day after the death of fellow leftist and Nobel-winning Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, with whom he once toured Zapatista rebel encampments in southern Chiapas state.

"I think he is one of the great minds of Mexico, and an intellectual of the left," said writer Elena Poniatowska, who was friends with Monsivais since the 1950s. "He knew about everything, politics, poetry, art."

The Health Department said Monsivais died at Mexico City's National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition of a respiratory illness. It said he had been admitted to the hospital April 2, and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks.

His death was confirmed by the Estanquillo Museum that Monsivais founded in 2006 with his extensive collection of pop art pieces ranging from comic books to miniature reproductions of household objects.

"Carlos Monsivais dedicated his prolific life to reflecting upon Mexico, its history, and the many facets of our society," the museum staff wrote. "Today, Mexico has lost a fundamental part of its identity, a part of itself, a part of its national conscience."

A memorial service was held Saturday at the Museum of Mexico City, and admirers also gathered nearby at the Estanquillo museum. "God blessed him with a mind that was able to cover every aspect of the country," said Sonia Prado, 55.

Indeed, Monsivais appeared to have an opinion on almost every topic except for soccer and bullfighting, two activities he disliked.

Born on May 4, 1938, Monsivais was part of a generation of Mexican writers — Poniatowska, Carlos Fuentes and Jose Emilio Pacheco — who came of age in the 1950s and '60s.

Like Poniatowska, Monsivais was deeply affected by the 1968 massacre by security forces of protesting students in Mexico City's Tlatelolco neighborhood. Official reports put the death toll at 25, but rights activists say as many as 350 may have been killed.

He was an early and enthusiastic defender of the leftist Zapatista rebels who staged a brief armed uprising early in 1994 demanding rights for Indians in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state.

But Monsivais never left behind his independent, critical spirit. He publicly spoke out against Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos' 2002 letter expressing sympathy for a Basque separatist group linked to terrorist attacks and criticizing crusading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

"I, for one, don't associate the struggle of the Indians in Chiapas with support for indefensible causes, intolerant language, cheap jokes and radical vanity," Monsivais wrote.

Monsivais' best-known works include the books "Dias de guardar" and "Escenas de pudor y liviandad" and his long-running newspaper column "Por Mi Madre Bohemios," in which he explored everything from the often-strange language of politicians to the most recent soap opera phenomena.

In his cutting and ironic journalistic work, Monsivais wrote about presidents and pop singers, cartoons and coups d'etat.

He was one of the best analysts of Mexican movies, especially those from the country's "golden age" of film that ran from the 1930s to the 1950s.

His career was studded with recognition, from winning the National Prize for Journalism in 1977 to the Premio de Literatura Latinoamericana y del Caribe, also known as the FIL de Guadalajara Prize, in 2006.

Poniatowska said Monsivais is survived by several nephews. A cousin, Beatriz Sanchez Monsivais, said the writer's remains would be cremated.