Mauricio Vicent (Madrid, 59), historical correspondent of El PAÍS and of the SER chain in Havana, died this Sunday in Madrid following an asthma attack which caused a cardio-respiratory crisis. He has been in contact with the paper up until this weekend. Few international journalists have been able to reflect with such depth and nuances on life – social, political, musical, human – in Cuba. His work has been recognized with numerous awards and he has written books, directed a film and participated with Juan Padrón in a comic on the island, where he spent an important part of his life.
All those who were lucky enough to know him describe Mauricio as a generous and funny guy who knew everyone in Havana. Indeed, he was not only a point of reference for foreign correspondents on the island: any international delegation visiting the island or foreign diplomats knew where to get the best information. In addition to his political chronicles, Vicent was a great specialist in Cuban music.
“He was our man in Havana,” explains journalist Isabel García Zarza, who was a Reuters correspondent between 1999 and 2005 and who was one of her great friends. “He wasn’t just another correspondent or a typical correspondent, he was so much more. Mauricio was ‘the’ correspondent in Havana, the first person called upon arrival, not only by the new correspondents, but also by diplomats, businessmen… Anyone who wanted to know what was happening in Cuba called Mauricio”.
In 1998 he won the prize for the best journalistic work abroad, awarded by the International Press Club of Spain. He was a finalist of the Cirilo Rodríguez Journalism Award in 1999. He wrote the book of interviews Che’s companions Made with the photographer Francis Giacobetti. He is the author of the script of the documentary Live music, filmed in 2009 by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón. In 2011 he directed his first documentary, Baracoa 500 years later, which he also wrote. In 2014 you published the book with Norman Foster Havana: cars and architecture, and in 2016, in collaboration with Juan Padrón, the comic Chronicles of Havana.
The Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, his great friend, evoked him this morning: “From pain, we must remember Mauricio with his joy, his optimism, his human and intellectual perseverance. With his expansive character, in which traits of his Spanish origins and his acquired Cuban origins were mixed in an organic and profound way, arming him with the ironic intelligence that characterized him. Like the extraordinary journalist that he was, full of the old ethics of the trade and the ability to see beyond the obvious and to know how to convey it. And, of course, like the good person and friend that he was. Like a decent person.”
In 2011, the Cuban government withdrew his press credentials after covering major news events on the island for 20 years. Vicent was then summoned to the International Press Center (CPI), under the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was informed that his work credential, essential to perform the work of a correspondent, would not be renewed.
The Cuban regime has accused him of offering “a partial and negative image” of Cuban reality. The management of EL PAÍS therefore responded to what was obvious to all international observers and the rest of international journalists: it considered that the news coverage of its correspondent in Havana was an example of professionalism, impartiality and balance, and that it was approved for a long career. After spending some time in Spain, he returned to Cuba, where he continued to write mainly on cultural subjects.
“He moved like a fish in the water in his beloved Havana, always from here to there in his car, to talk to people and find out what was going on,” continues Isabel García Zarza. “If something characterized Mauricio it was that he knew everyone, his phone book was overflowing with telephone numbers, from the central committee of the Communist Party to the best artists in the country. He was an excellent conversationalist, inexhaustible, endowed with exceptional empathy and humanity, and this was reflected in his chronicles of him. He knew how to explain like no other, counting between the lines, with humor and sarcasm, the very complex Cuban reality. No one like him to decipher and interpret what was happening in Cuba, a country he loved madly”.
“I’ve written about politics, economics, diplomatic relations, and even Santeria or baseball. No area of Cuban reality has escaped him,” adds the journalist. “But above all he loved to write about music, his passion, of which he was an expert connoisseur, as well as a personal friend of the greatest musicians of the country. When the Cuban authorities withdrew his correspondent accreditation, he left Cuba and returned to Spain, where he remained for a few years. But he ended up going back to Havana because he couldn’t stay away from the island.
For his part, the singer and composer Santiago Auserón, a personal friend of Vicent, was very impressed this Sunday by this “hard blow”. “He was a person who gave himself totally and showed enormous passion to show the Cuban reality. Music was also an element of it”.
Besides being a journalist and director, Vicent entered the world of comics when he wrote the screenplay for Chronicles of Havana, in which cartoonist Juan Padrón captured the misadventures of a Spanish university student in the mid-eighties, Vicent himself. “Although the graphic novel focuses on my years of studying psychology in Havana, we both participated in the story,” said the EL PAÍS correspondent. In the comic, Vicent studies hard, lets himself be surprised by the everyday life and the picaresque of Havana in the 1980s, receives a scholarship with friends from all over the world, falls in love and, above all, has fun and drinks. Padrón added after the publication of the comic: “Mauricio quickly became Cuban. And if the island hasn’t changed in one thing, it’s in his love for Gozadera. The ideological brick hardly exists today”.
In Cuba he met his wife, Ylsi, and his two children, Miguel and Camila were born. He was the son of the writer, collaborator of EL PAÍS, Manuel Vicent and Pilar Mulet. He also leaves behind a sister, Nora. And a devastated journalistic community, which will always remember his humor, his kindness, his generosity and his ability to tell the reality of an impossible country.