Marcel Niedergang

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The Independent Online

Marcel Niedergang, journalist: born Evian, France 14 September 1922; married; died Neuilly-sur-Seine, France 28 December 2001.

Marcel Niedergang, an exceptional journalist who was for many years the Latin American specialist of the French newspaper Le Monde, was the outstanding world expert on the region.

Born in 1922 in Evian, of a Protestant family with Alsatian connections, Niedergang first embarked on studies in German before opting in 1952 for a career in journalism and joining Le Monde, where he initially concentrated on Iberian affairs. The clear and vivid nature of his writing, as André Fontaine, his former chief, explained, brought that part of the world to life to his readership at a time when mass tourism and the television were only beginning their development. He left Le Monde in 1956 for France-Soir, where he was given the world as his parish. His book on the departure of the Belgians from Central Africa, Tempête sur le Congo ("Storm over the Congo"), was published in 1960, winning the Albert-Londres Prize the next year.

In 1962 Seuil published the work which demonstrated Niedergang's complete mastery of his subject, Les Vingt Amériques latines, which was quickly reprinted in many countries, notably in Britain, under the title The Twenty Latin Americas (1971). Niedergang seized on the fact that Fidel Castro's political outlook was much closer to the nationalisms of Tito and Nasser than to the Marxism-Leninism espoused by Khrushchev.

Niedergang was tempted back to Le Monde in 1964 and from then on developed and honed his expertise. Pinochet's terrorist putsch against the elected government in Chile on 11 September 1973 found him in Mexico. That day's paper having gone to bed, he said, in answer to an enquiry from Paris, that he needed three pages of space in the subsequent edition, which he filled overnight with aplomb. On the plane back to Paris, he prepared a second set of three pages which he brought into Le Monde's offices in Rue des Italiens as soon as he landed.

In his latter years he spent much time in Peru, a country to which he was particularly attached.

He was a delightful and generous colleague to work with. His round, bespectacled face, his sense of fun, and the scepticism we shared of the idiocies that authorities and diplomats often tried to foist on reporters, lightened and jollified even the most sombre assignments we found ourselves carrying out together.

In 1980, when he was well into his sixties, Niedergang served as Le Monde's deputy foreign editor. His horizons remained broad. In the winter of 1999, for instance, he joined a distinguished French group, the Collectif Liberté pour l'Afghanistan, which included Claude Cheysson, France's former foreign minister and EU commissioner, in calling for international action to protect human rights in Afghanistan and criticising the supine action of the West in tolerating the Taliban and "Osama bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi financier of terror".

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

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