Longtime photojournalist Carlos Manuel “C.M.” Guerrero, who spent more than three decades documenting moments of history for el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald, died Sunday following a long battle with congestive heart failure. He was 62.
Born in Santiago de Cuba in 1956, he was a toddler when his family joined thousands of other Cubans who ultimately fled the island and carved out a new life in the United States. He attended St. John the Apostle Catholic School in Hialeah, graduated from Miami Springs Senior High School and earned a degree from The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.
He joined the Miami Herald Media Co. in November 1987 and, despite health issues years later, continued to work and to produce excellent visuals through the end of 2018, including stellar coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma’s passage through South Florida. One of his most iconic photos was the result of another disaster: Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Guerrero captured a haunting image of an elderly man standing in floodwater with a look as devastated as the destruction surrounding him. The Miami Herald won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage and service to the community in the wake of the storm.
“I loved what I did as a photographer, but it was time to move on [to] a new chapter of my life,” Guerrero wrote in an exchange with a reporter earlier this year after taking an early retirement. Few knew he was ill.
Beyond natural disasters, Guerrero covered daily slices of life, sports, celebrities, crime and various large news events, including the international custody battle nearly 20 years ago involving a Cuban boy rescued at sea by the name of Elián González.
“My brother loved what he did,” said his sister Jenny Manzano. “He loved his work.”
Colleagues sent an outpouring of tributes, recalling him as a passionate journalist with a sense of humor and a knack for sharing compelling tales.
“C.M. was a photo natural. It was basically impossible for him to take a bad image, even if he tried,” said Orlando Mellado, the visual editor at el Nuevo and the Miami Herald. “Old school, street-savvy, hard-nosed, he was adept at overcoming obstacles to get the job done.”
“He was an outstanding photojournalist, vivid storyteller and incredible human being. His empathy for those whose lives he documented showed through his images,” said Nancy San Martín, managing editor of el Nuevo Herald. “He had a wonderful sense of humor, which always brought laughter to those lucky enough to be around him. We will miss his contribution to the work we do and his friendship.”
Beyond photography, Guerrero loved life. He spent years riding motorcycles, taking in the South Florida scenery with friends. He enjoyed music, social gatherings and scrumptious meals. He also served as a mentor, sharing his knowledge and talent with younger journalists.
His generous nature touched many, leaving those who knew him grieving.
“Broken Hearted! I can’t capture the essence of this man in words,” wrote a longtime friend in a string of emails shared by colleagues.
But perhaps he was most proud, as he liked to say, of being Cuban singer Celia Cruz’s favorite and personal photographer. Prior to her death, he traveled with the artist to the Naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and documented much of her career in the United States while developing a close relationship with her.
“His friendships reached far outside our photo circle,“ said colleague Emily Michot.
David Santiago, another fellow photojournalist, used one word to describe Guerrero: “Passionate.”
Guerrero was predeceased by his mother, Elba Guerrero, and two siblings, Alberto Guerrero and Sylvia Cancio. He is survived by his 99-year-old father, Adalberto Guerrero, three of five siblings — Eduardo Guerrero, Ileana García and Jenny Manzano — several nieces and nephews and other close relatives. Manzano, who was born in Miami and is the youngest of the siblings, said family members worried about his illness, took turns caring for him and watched helplessly as he suffered.
“It is going to be very hard not to see him anymore, but we are at peace knowing that he is finally at rest,” she said. “His illness brought us closer together. I will cherish that forever.”
A memorial service will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday at Vior Funeral Home, 291 NW 37th Ave.