Uruguayan left­ist writer, icon Ed­uardo Galeano dies at 74


Uruguayan writer Ed­uardo Galeano, an icon of the Latin Amer­i­can left who chron­i­cled the re­gion’s in­jus­tices in a ca­reer that spanned decades and crossed gen­res, died Mon­day at age 74.

Galeano, whose 1971 es­say “Open Veins of Latin Amer­ica” is con­sid­ered by many left­ists to be the sem­i­nal his­tory of the re­gion, was hos­pi­tal­ized last week in the Uruguayan cap­i­tal Mon­te­v­ideo, said of­fi­cials at the CASMU hos­pi­tal. He had been suf­fer­ing from lung can­cer.

Galeano’s work blended gen­res, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ism, fic­tion, es­says and the draw­ings he used to il­lus­trate works such as “The Book of Em­braces,” a col­lec­tion of vignettes charged with pol­i­tics, flawed hu­man­ity and lyri­cal prose.

He was known for chron­i­cling the deep in­jus­tices of Latin Amer­ica, but also for his love af­fair with the re­gion’s contrasts and cul­ture, in­clud­ing a deep pas­sion for foot­ball.

Born Sept. 3, 1940, Galeano never fin­ished high school, but learned the writ­ing craft hang­ing out Mon­te­v­ideo’s old cafes, he said.

He be­gan his jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer at 14 years old, pub­lish­ing a car­i­ca­ture in the So­cial­ist Party’s weekly news­pa­per El Sol.

He went on to be­come the edi­tor of pres­ti­gious mag­a­zine Mar­cha in 1961, work­ing un­der its founder, Car­los Qui­jano.

When Uruguay’s f ormer Pres­i­dent Juan Maria Bord­aberry dis­solved the con­sti­tu­tion and in­stalled a mil­i­tary-backed dic­ta­tor­ship in 1973, Galeano went into ex­ile — first in Ar­gentina, where he founded the lit­er­ary re­view Cri­sis, and then in Spain.

Through­out this tur­bu­lent pe­riod of left­ist re­bel­lions and bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ships across Latin Amer­ica, Galeano con­tin­ued doc­u­ment­ing the re­gion’s tur­moil from afar, pub­lish­ing the first two in­stall­ments of his “Mem­ory of Fire” tril­ogy, which nar­rates the his­tory of the Amer­i­cas.

He re­turned to Uruguay af­ter democ­racy was re­stored in 1985, and lived to see the left-wing Broad Front (FA) party come to power in 2005.


He won the pres­ti­gious Casa de las Amer­i­cas prize twice, in 1975 and 1978, Swe­den’s StigDager­man prize in 2010 and an Amer­i­can Book Award in 1989 for “Mem­ory of Fire.”

Em­bar­rassed by Clas­sic

But his defin­ing work re­mains “Open Veins,” which in­spired a gen­er­a­tion of Latin Amer­i­can left­ists and con­tin­ues to fea­ture on the read­ing lists of re­gional sur­vey cour­ses at uni­ver­si­ties world­wide, trans­lated into more than 20 lan­guages.

Its take on the re­gion’s his­tory is summed up in its English sub­ti­tle: “Five Cen­turies of the Pil­lage of a Con­ti­nent.” In the 1970s, the book was banned by the dic­ta­tor­ships in Chile, Ar­gentina and Galeano’s na­tive Uruguay. But that only in­creased its sway over the left.

In the fore­word to the 25th an­niver­sary edi­tion, Chilean writer Is­abel Al­lende called it sim­ply “the book with the yel­low cover,” re­call­ing how she “de­voured” it as a young woman and took it with her when she fled into ex­ile af­ter Gen. Au­gusto Pinochet seized power.

The book’s sales surged again in 2009 af­ter late Venezue­lan leader Hugo Chavez gave a copy to U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

But in later years Galeano ad­mit­ted to be­ing em­bar­rassed by its earnest tone.

“I wouldn’t be able to read it again,” he told a book fair in Brazil last year.

“To me, that tra­di­tional left­ist prose is ex­tremely bor­ing. I wouldn’t be phys­i­cally able to bear it. I’d have to be hos­pi­tal­ized.”

Trib­utes poured in from the Latin Amer­i­can left, in­clud­ing from pres­i­dents Dilma Rouss­eff of Brazil, Rafael Cor­rea of Ecuador and Evo Mo­rales of Bo­livia.

Mex­i­can writer Elena Po­ni­a­towska praised Galeano’s “ac­ces­si­ble and dis­turb­ing” vi­sion of Latin Amer­i­can his­tory, while Ar­gen­tine col­league Os­valdo Bayer said “Open Veins” was “the true Bi­ble of Latin Amer­ica.”

Galeano is sur­vived by his wife He­lena Vil­la­gra and three chil­dren from pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ships.

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