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.