MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Fernando Gonzalez, who spent decades covering and directing key stories for the Associated Press across Latin America, from papal visits to border skirmishes, hurricanes and hostage confrontations, has died in Havana.
The Cuban director of forensic medicine said that Gonzalez, 60, died at his home early Monday morning after suffering a heart attack.
Social and seemingly unyielding, Gonzalez, known for his trademark gray long ponytail, was especially strong and emotional in crisis situations, tirelessly covering the news and organizing help when his colleagues were sick or injured.
“Fernando represented the best of AP. He was a wonderful journalist and loved big stories,” said Julie Pace, executive editor of the Associated Press. “He was also a warm and caring fellow, and his influence was felt throughout the organization. We will miss him very much.”
Born in Uruguay, Gonzalez graduated from high school in Santiago, Chile, and then attended the University of Miami. He worked at a local radio station before eventually moving into news production, often freelancing for the Associated Press in Latin America.
Gonzalez joined the Associated Press full-time in 2002 as Senior Producer of Television News in Havana. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 2014 as regional video editor for Latin America and the Caribbean and then to Mexico City as deputy region news director for the Associated Press in 2016. Gonzalez returned to Cuba in 2020 as news director for the Caribbean and Andes.
Among the main stories he covered, the 1996 hostage siege at the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru, the devastating impact of Hurricane Mitch on Central America in 1998, and the 2004 coup that ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In 2007, Gonzalez reported from Antarctica about the visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Gonzalez also covered three papal trips to Cuba by Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, as well as President Barack Obama’s historic visit in 2016 and the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro later that year.
Anita Snow, who reopened the Associated Press’s Havana office in 1999 after nearly 30 years of absence, praised Gonzalez as a “great journalist”, calling him “a better human being: warm, generous, and consistently kind.”
“He probably knew Latin America better than anyone,” said Snow, who has worked with Gonzalez in Cuba and Mexico. She currently works as a writer for the Associated Press in Phoenix.
Chris Gillette, AP’s senior video producer in Brazil and Gonzalez’s high school classmate, agrees.
“He was a really good person, very charming, so he was able to get into places other people might find difficult – a real rao, friendly and intelligent,” Gillette said.
Nico Munce, head of special news events for the Broadcasting Services for the Associated Press, referred to Gonzalez as the preeminent deal broker, gaining AP access to everyone from presidents and other high-ranking officials to the simple man on the street.
“What did he look like as a person? He was extroverted, he was cosmopolitan, he was funny, he was diplomatic, he was serious, comedic and buffooned,” said Munce.
Longtime AP photographer Enrique Marti summed up Gonzalez’s compassion for the less fortunate, noting how he continues to patronize Mexico City’s favorite Lucille restaurant, even during the pandemic when others have stayed away, making the waiters wonderfully swayed.
“He kept working and raising money for the waiters. … They basically had no tips and no money,” said Marty, deputy director of photography/global foundation at The Associated Press. “Whenever I was in town we would meet in Lusail. It was Fernando’s Pub.”
Gonzalez is survived by his wife Lisa, sons Maria Linda and Nicholas, and three grandchildren in addition to his parents.
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