Eduardo Galeano — famed chronicler of Latin America’s ‘open veins’ — dies aged 74

Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano (left) with Bolivian President Evo Morales.
April 13, 2015

Internationally awarded Uruguayan author and journalist Eduardo Galeano died on April 13 of lung cancer at age 75 in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

Born September 3, 1940, Galeano was author of about 35 books, including 1971’s Open Veins of Latin America, which details how Western powers have exploited Latin America and its resources for centuries. It became a bestseller overnight after the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez handed the book a Barack Obama during the fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009.

Galeano is considered to be one of the most notable authors of Latin American literature. Among his many works are the Memory of Fire Trilogy, The Following Days, and Guatemala, an Occupied Country.

Galeano distinguished himself as a writer by transcending orthodox genres and by combining documentary, fiction, journalism, political analysis and history. He once proclaimed his obsession as a writer, saying: “I'm a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.”

He began his career at a very early age. At 14, he was already drawing political cartoons and began his career as a journalist as an editor for the weekly Marcha and later for the daily Epoca.

After the 1973 coup in Uruguay, Galeano was briefly jailed and immediately after fled to Argentina, where he founded a cultural magazine called Crisis.

Galeano was one of Latin America’s most cherished and admired literary figures, particularly because he raised his voice incessantly for human rights and social justice. He was a severe critic of globalisation and highlighted the dehumanising facets of globalisation in the contemporary world.

On July 23, 2013, British newspaper The Guardian said Galeano “become the poet laureate of the anti-globalisation movement by adding a laconic, poetic voice to non-fiction”. The Guardian quoted him as saying that, "This world is not democratic at all. The most powerful institutions, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank, belong to three or four countries.

“The others are watching. The world is organised by the war economy and the war culture."

Open Veins of Latin America, which is considered fundamental to understand regional politics, has been translated into over 20 languages. Many critics have said his books are a distinctive balance of Latin American history, while his fictional stories also have elements of Latin American culture and antiquity.

In 1978, he published the award-winning book, Days and Nights of Love and War, which revolves around the dictatorial regime in Uruguay in the 1970s. Between 1982 and 1986, he came up with the Memory of Fire Trilogy, a collection that consisted of the books Genesis, Faces and Masks and Century of the Wind.

He latest book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, was published in 2012 and was shaped like a calendar and had a story for each day. The objective of this book is to reveal moments from the past while contextualising them in the present.

The Guardian said with this work, he achieved “a kind of epigrammatic excavation, uprooting stories that have been mislaid or misappropriated, and presenting them in their full glory, horror or absurdity.”

His entry for July 1, for example, is entitled One Terrorist Fewer, and it reads: “In the year 2008, the government of the United States decided to erase Nelson Mandela's name from its list of dangerous terrorists. The most revered African in the world had featured on that sinister roll for 60 years.”

His entry for October 12 is entitled “Discovery” and starts: “In 1492 the natives discovered they were Indians, they discovered they lived in America.”

Watch all of Eduardo Galeano's interviews with Democracy Now!

Galeano received many prizes for his works throughout his life. His book, Days and Nights of Love and War won The Casa de las Americas Prize, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary awards given in Latin America.

Galeano was also a strident critic of Obama's foreign policy. However, when he was voted in as president of the US, the Uruguayan author said: “I was very happy when he was elected, because this is a country with a fresh tradition of racism.”

In 1976, when he married for the third time to Helena Villagra, the regime of dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) took power in Argentina in a bloody military coup and Galeano's name was added to the lists of those condemned by the death squads, forcing the Uruguayan writer to flee again. He went to Spain, where he wrote his famous “Memory of Fire” trilogy.

In early 1985, Galeano returned to Uruguay and founded yet another publication, the weekly Brecha. And after the victory of Tabare Vazquez (who recently won the presidential elections again) and the Broad Front alliance in the 2004 Uruguayan elections marking the first left-wing government in Uruguayan history, he wrote a piece for The Progressive titled “Where the People Voted Against Fear”.

After the creation in 2005 of TeleSUR — a pan-Latin American television station based in Caracas, Venezuela — Galeano, along with other left-wing intellectuals such as Tariq Ali and Adolfo Perez Esquivel, joined the network's 36 member advisory committee.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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