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Debray, Régis (1940–)

French revolutionary theorist, writer, and presidential advisor. Born in Paris on 2 September 1940, Régis Debray graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in 1965 with a degree in philosophy. In 1961 he visited Cuba and volunteered to teach in a rural education program. Because of a close association with Jean-Paul Sartre, Debray was able to secure lengthy interviews with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. These led Debray to become a supporter of revolutionary movements in Latin America.

In 1966 Debray became a professor of philosophy at the University of Havana, and he began to write at length about the foco theory of revolution, based on guerrilla bands. Debray gained international recognition when he went to Bolivia to interview Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. After interviewing Guevara, Debray was arrested by Bolivian authorities, tried, and sentenced to thirty years in prison. He is best known for his book Revolution in the Revolution? (1967).

Upon his release from prison in 1970, Debray went to Chile and there interviewed Marxist President Salvador Allende Gossens. This led Debray to conclude that radical socialist reform was possible through democratic, parliamentary systems.

Returning to France, in 1974 Debray joined the Socialist Party headed by François Mitterrand. Debray also served as an advisor to Mitterrand's presidential campaign of the same year. Debray then returned to writing, producing on average more than a book a year. His works included commentaries on revolution as well as fiction and works of philosophy.

On the election of Mitterrand to the presidency in May 1981, Debray was named a special assistant in the Office of the President, responsible for advising Mitterrand on policy toward the third world and especially Latin America. The next year Debray also became advisor to Mitterrand on cultural matters. By the 1990s, however, Debray had moved considerably to the Right politically. Among other indications, he wrote favorably about Charles de Gaulle's presidency in À démain, de Gaulle (1990). More recently, he presented a critical portrait of Guevera, seemingly rejecting the revolutionary icon he had done so much to help create.

Michael D. Richards


Further Reading
Huberman, Leo, and Paul M. Sweeney, eds. Regis Debray and the Latin American Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968.; Reader, Keith. Regis Debray: A Critical Introduction. London: Pluto, 1995.
 

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