Eduardo Galeano’s Words Walk the Streets of a Continent
By Benjamin Dangl
April 14, 2015 “ICH” – “CD” – The has world lost one of its great writers. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano died on Monday at age 74 in Montevideo. He left a magical body of work behind him, and his reach is as wide as his continent.
During Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis, Galeano’s words walked down the streets with a life of their own, accompanying every protest and activist meeting. Factories were occupied by workers, neighborhood assemblies rose up, and, for a time, revolutionary talk and action replaced a rotten neoliberal system. Galeano’s upside-down view of the world blew fresh dreams into the tear gas-filled air.
In the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, pirated copies of Galeano’s classic Open Veins of Latin America are still sold at nearly every book stall. There too, Galeano’s historical alchemy added to the fire of many movements and uprisings, where miners of the country’s open veins tossed dynamite at right-wing politicians, and the 500-year-old memory of colonialism lives on.
Up the winding mountain roads of Chiapas, past Mexican state military checkpoints, lies the autonomous Zapatista community of Oventic. One day a few years ago, Galeano’s familiar voice floated over the foggy, autonomous land, reciting children’s stories over stereo speakers.
At a World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Galeano entered a steaming hot tent where hundreds had gathered to hear him speak about the Uruguayan water rights movement in which the people had “voted against fear” to stop privatization. What I remembered most about the talk is how much he made the crowd laugh.
And one night in Paraguay, with the smell of cow manure and pesticides lingering in the air, small farmers besieged by toxic soy crops gathered to tell stories of resistance, stories they linked to Galeano’s accounts of the looting of Latin America and struggles against greed and empire that were centuries in the making.
With the small mountain of books and articles he left behind, Galeano gives us a language of hope, a way feel to feel rage toward the world while also loving it, a way to understand the past while carving out a better possible future.
“She’s on the horizon,” Galeano once wrote of utopia. “I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.”
Benjamin Dangl is a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. He edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, andTowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Follow him on Twitter: @bendangl
Eduardo Galeano: Bolivar with a Pen
My friend and comrade Eduardo Galeano had been ill for some time, but the treatment worked and he would recover and put pen to paper again. Asked to comment on him in a TV interview with Telesur, this is what I said:
What Bolivar sought to accomplish with sword, Galeano did with his pen. He sought to unite the continent against US imperialism. He spoke for the underground voices of the continent when US-backed military dictatorships had crushed democracy in most parts of South America; he spoke for those who were being tortured; he spoke for the indigenous people crushed by the dual oppression of Empire and creole oligarchs.
Was he optimistic or pessimistic? He was both and often simultaneously, but he never gave up hope. That remained strong all his life. It is visible in his lyrical works on South American history. History written as poetry. It is there in his journalism from La Marcha in the Uruguay of the 60s to La Jornada in Mexico today. He was never dogmatic, always open to new ideas.
After the tyranny of the dictatorships he realised like many others that the armed road had been a disaster, that the Cuban Revolution could not be imitated blindly. The birth of new social movements and the Bolivarian victories were a source of inspiration and concern. He did not want to see old mistakes repeated. Whenever we met this was strong in him. We were not simply defeated by the enemy, he would insist, but also to a certain extent by ourselves.
He wrote with a biblical simplicity, strong and political with history as his teacher.
Read Galeano is what I would advise every aspiring young radical journalist today. Don’t mimic him. Learn from him.
Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).
Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author best-known for his 1971 book Open Veins of Latin America, which inspired a generation of scholars, social activists, and revolutionaries, died at age 74 today in Montevideo. He was admitted to hospital on April 10, after being sickwith lung cancer for several months.
Galeano started his journalism career at age 14 as a political cartoonistfor the socialist weekly, El Sol. He later served as an editor for both weekly and daily newspapers, and was the founding editor of the magazine Crisis, which he established during his exile in Argentina. Galeano also worked as a factory worker, a painter, a typist, and a bank teller, reports El Pais (link in Spanish).
The prolific writer was only 31 when his seminal text was published. Open Veins of Latin America examined Latin America’s history through the lens of colonialism and exploitation. It re-entered the spotlight and climbed bestseller lists in 2009 when Hugo Chávez, then the president of Venezuela, handed a copy to Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas.
Critics of the left-leaning tome seized upon the moment in May 2014when the author renounced the book—or at least its heavy-handed, polemical prose (what author hasn’t cringed to reread his own work years later?)—answering questions at a book fair in Brasilia. Galeano applied another lens to Latin America to great effect: His poetic Football in Sun and Shadow is considered one of the greatest books ever written about the sport.
“I feel choked with affection,” he told his audience.
Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan Voice of Anti-Capitalism, Is Dead at 74
By SIMON ROMEROAPRIL 13, 2015
Eduardo Galeano, after a speech at the National Pedagogical University in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 2005.CreditTomas Bravo/Reuters
- RIO DE JANEIRO — Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer who blended literature, journalism and political satire in reflecting on the vagaries, injustices and small victories of history, died on Monday in Montevideo,Uruguay. He was 74.
The cause was complications from lung cancer, said his sister Teté Hughes.
Of his more than 30 books Mr. Galeano is remembered chiefly for “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” an unsparing critique, published in 1971, of the exploitation of Latin America by European powers and the United States.
Banned under right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s, it became a canonical text of anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism and a much-read underground literary work in parts of the region, much like samizdat publications in the Soviet Union. “Open Veins,” as it is widely called, gained traction again in recent years after Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died in 2013, gave a copy to President Obama when they met in 2009. It soon appeared briefly on best-seller lists and has sold more than a million copies worldwide.
“Open Veins” was the most remembered of Mr. Galeano’s books. CreditMonthly Review PressBut Mr. Galeano stunned many of his supporters on the left as well as his critics on the right when he disavowed the book, saying that it was poorly written and that his views of the human condition had grown more complex.
“I wouldn’t be capable of reading this book again; I’d keel over,” Mr. Galeano said at a book fair in Brazil. “For me, this prose of the traditional left is extremely leaden, and my physique can’t tolerate it.”
Mr. Galeano seemed to regret that “Open Veins” had overshadowed his vast body of other works on subjects ranging from soccer to pre-Columbian history. A former bank teller, sign painter and newspaperman, he was also a caricaturist who often organized his tales around his own illustrations.
Eduardo Germán María Hughes Galeano was born in Montevideo on Sept. 3, 1940, when many in Uruguay, the small cattle-ranching nation sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, still remembered their leaders forging one of the world’s first welfare states in the early 20th century. His father was a civil servant, and his mother managed a bookstore.
Mr. Galeano began dabbling in journalism as a teenager, sending articles to El Sol, a publication of Uruguay’s Socialist Party, signing them as “Gius,” a pseudonym approximating the pronunciation in Spanish of his paternal surname, Hughes. (His father’s family had Welsh origins.) He adopted his maternal surname, Galeano, when his professional writing career began taking off.
Mr. Galeano was imprisoned in 1973 after a coup d’état opened the way for the rule of a military junta in Uruguay. Mr. Galeano went into exile in Argentina, where he founded Crisis, a cultural and political magazine. He moved to Spain in 1976, when a coup in Argentina triggered an exceptionally brutal dictatorship that lasted until 1983.
Returning to Uruguay when democracy was re-established in 1985, Mr. Galeano helped found another leftist weekly magazine, Brecha. Around that time he produced “Memory of Fire,” a trilogy about Latin American history.
“The lords of land and war did not lose a drop of blood, while two barefoot peoples avenged their identical misfortunes by killing each other with abandon,” he wrote.
Mr. Galeano remained a prominent voice on the left in Latin America as his work resonated with new generations of writers and artists. Last year, the Puerto Rican hip-hop duo Calle 13 released a digitized rendering of Mr. Galeano reading from his story “The Trip” as part of their album “Multi_Viral.”
Mr. Galeano is survived by his wife, Helena Villagra, and three children. Two previous marriages ended in divorce. Even as his writing grew more experimental, Mr. Galeano credited his fascination with interpreting history to his origins in journalism. “I think every written message forms part of literature, even the graffiti on the walls,” Mr. Galeano told the Spanish newspaper El País in 2010.
“I’ve been writing more books than articles for some time now, but I trained as a journalist, and that factory stamp is still on me,” he added. “I thank journalism for keeping me from contemplating the labyrinths of my own bellybutton.”
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Tuesday about the author Eduardo Galeano misstated his birth date. He was born on Sept. 3, 1940, not April 13 of that year.
Mauricio Rabuffetti contributed reporting from Montevideo, Uruguay.
A version of this article appears in print on April 14, 2015, on page B10 of the New York edition with the headline: Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan Voice of Anti-Capitalism, Is Dead at 74.
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