A cham­pion for Latin Amer­ica

Ed­uardo Galeano, writer and revered fig­ure among left­ists, dies at 74.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Kraul Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent An­dres D’Alessan­dro con­trib­uted to this re­por t. Kraul is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.news.obits@la­times.com

Ed­uardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer and com­mit­ted so­cial­ist whose his­tor­i­cal works con­demn­ing Euro­pean and U.S. ex­ploita­tion of Latin Amer­ica over five cen­turies made him a revered fig­ure among left­ists, has died. He was 74.

Galeano died Mon­day in Mon­te­v­ideo af­ter bat­tling lung can­cer, ac­cord­ing to the weekly pub­li­ca­tion Brecha, where he was a con­trib­u­tor.

Weav­ing ta­pes­tries of some­times ob­scure his­tor­i­cal anec­dotes, Galeano’s books pre­sented al­ter­na­tive his­to­ries that gave equal weight to the suf­fer­ings of the down­trod­den as to grand achieve­ments of bet­ter-known his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. For some, the books were ral­ly­ing calls. Galeano in­sisted he was merely try­ing to “un­mask re­al­ity, to re­veal the world as it is, as it was, as it may be if we change it.”

His best known book, “The Open Veins of Latin Amer­ica,” pub­lished in 1971, de­scribed the his­tor­i­cal le­gacy of the Span­ish colo­nial era and cap­i­tal­ist plun­der that fol­lowed it. He spurned con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive in fa­vor of anec­dotes high­light­ing, among oth­ers, en­slaved in­dige­nous Bo­li­vian min­ers, dev­as­tated Brazil­ian rain forests and pol­luted Venezue­lan oil fields.

The book be­came a re­vi­sion­ist bi­ble and soon a stan­dard text in Latin Amer­i­can stud­ies pro­grams at U.S. and Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties. Galeano was not a pro­fes­sional his­to­rian and didn’t pre­tend to be. He de­scribed him­self as a wit­ness who sought to res­cue Latin Amer­i­can his­tory from aca­demics who had “kid­napped” it.

Sales spiked on Ama­zon af­ter Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez handed a copy of the book to Pres­i­dent Obama at the 2009 Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas meet­ing in Trinidad and Tobago to make a point that the hemi­sphere had long been vic­tim­ized by First World greed and cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism.

Galeano didn’t spare Latin Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments, us­ing vignettes show­ing a panoply of in­jus­tices in­clud­ing mur­ders of re­form­ers and mod­ern-day sub­ju­ga­tion of in­dige­nous peo­ples. He knew first­hand the boot of op­pres­sion, hav­ing been ar­rested in 1973 by Uruguay’s right-wing mil­i­tary regime and forced into ex­ile, first in Ar­gentina, then in Spain un­til 1985.

Galeano fol­lowed “Open Veins” with the equally popular “Mem­ory of Fire” tril­ogy, a se­ries of vignettes of North and South Amer­ica his­tory that one Times re­viewer de­scribed as a “po­etic scrap­book.” Oth­ers used an­other metaphor to say the books were ta­pes­tries of out­rage di­rected at per­pe­tra­tors of mur­der and plun­der.

“There is noth­ing neu­tral about this his­tor­i­cal chron­i­cle,” Galeano warned in the pref­ace to “Mem­ory of Fire.” “Un­able to dis­tance my­self, I take sides.”

In a 1988 stop in Los An­ge­les on a na­tional book tour, Galeano told a Times in­ter­viewer that his idio­syn­cratic style was an at­tempt to “re­cover mem­ory as a key to open doors, not look­ing back but look­ing for­ward, not as an act of nos­tal­gia but an act of hope.”

“That’s why I wrote [“Mem­ory of Fire”] in the present tense — like Benjamin Franklin is wait­ing for a green light just at the cor­ner now,” Galeano told the in­ter­viewer.

Latin Amer­ica’s left­ist lead­ers Mon­day paid homage. Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales called Galeano a “mae­stro of the lib­er­a­tion of the peo­ple.” Ecuadorean Pres­i­dent Rafael Cor­rea said in his Twit­ter ac­count: “Ed­uardo Galeano: Uruguayan writer and dear friend, the veins of Latin Amer­ica are open be­cause of your pass­ing.”

Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff said in a state­ment that Galeano’s death was a loss for those fight­ing for a more just and united Latin Amer­ica. “May his work and ex­am­ple of strug­gle re­main with us to in­spire us to build a bet­ter fu­ture.”

In an in­ter­view with the New Yorker mag­a­zine, Galeano said his method was to im­press read­ers with the “beauty and re­al­ity of his­tory.”

“Back in school, his­tory classes were ter­ri­ble — bor­ing, life­less, empty.... It was as if teach­ers were in­ten­tion­ally try­ing to rob us of that con­nec­tion [to re­al­ity] so that we would be­come re­signed to our present, not re­al­iz­ing that his­tory is some­thing peo­ple make with their lives, in their own present.”

Born of Span­ish, Ital­ian, Ger­man and Welsh an­ces­try, Ed­uardo Hughes Galeano was born Sept. 3, 1940, in Mon­te­v­ideo and was largely self-ed­u­cated.

In his teens he be­gan drawing car­toons for the Uruguayan so­cial­ist news­pa­per El Sol and by 20 was edi­tor of an­other so­cial­ist news­pa­per, Mar­cha.

But his left­ist pol­i­tics got him in trou­ble with the right-wing mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in Uruguay, one of many in Latin Amer­ica that took power in the 1970s.

Af­ter be­ing forced into ex­ile, Galeano saw his books banned by au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in Chile and Ar­gentina, as well as in Uruguay.

But with the pol­i­tics of many Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries veer­ing left­ward in the 1990s in re­ac­tion to ne­olib­eral eco­nomics, Galeano be­came a “mon­u­men­tal” fig­ure, in Chavez’s words, and a bea­con for po­lit­i­cal move­ments seek­ing to dis­tance Latin Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments from U.S. and Euro­pean inf lu­ence.

In his 1978 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Days and Nights of Love and War,” Galeano wrote about the mur­ders, tor­tures and dis­ap­pear­ances that have char­ac­ter­ized bru­tal South Amer­i­can regimes in the last half of the 20th cen­tury. A re­viewer in the Na­tion mag­a­zine said the book proved Galeano a “mag­i­cal writer in the best sense of the word” whose “in­ten­sity and ap­peal” matched the con­ti­nent’s best fic­tion.

Galeano also wrote “Soc­cer in Sun and Shadow,” a love let­ter to soc­cer that many afi­ciona­dos con­sider among the best books ever writ­ten on the sport.

Galeano is sur­vived by his third wife, He­lena Vil­la­gra, and three chil­dren.

Ed­uardo Ver­dugo As­so­ci­ated Press

A COM­MIT­TED SO­CIAL­IST Galeano’s best known book, “The Open Veins of Latin Amer­ica,” de­scribed the his­tor­i­cal le­gacy of the Span­ish colo­nial era and cap­i­tal­ist plun­der that fol­lowed it. Above, the au­thor in 2012.

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