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Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)

Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano was a Uruguayan writer, journalist, novelist, poet and a prominent social activist.

Galeano was born on September 3, in Montevideo, Uruguay. His father was Eduardo Hughes Roosen, a civil servant and his mother Licia Esther Galeano was from a fallen Uruguayan aristocracy. Due to his family's economic condition, Galeano was forced to abandon secondary school and start working at the age of 14. He worked in a factory, then as a painter, draftsman, teller and other different jobs. During the same period, he sold his first political cartoon to the Uruguayan socialist weekly, El Sol (The Sun), and after that he wrote numerous articles for the same magazine under the pen name “Gius": that resembling the Spanish pronunciation of his paternal surname Hughes. He finally wrote under his maternal surname Galeano.

In the early 1960s, Galeano worked as an editor for the journal Marcha (March). Marcha was a leftist weekly and was very influential in Uruguay and all of Latin America. Next he became an editor for the leftwing daily La Epoca (Era) for 2 years, then editor-in-chief of the University Press of Montevideo. As a journalist, he interviewed many of the famous and leading figures of Latin America, Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, his close friend, Hugo Chavez, and Juan Peron, when he was exiled in Spain.

Galeano traveled to China and wrote a book about that country in 1964. He also visited Guatemala, interviewed the guerrilla leader, César Montes and wrote about their struggle against the US occupation in his book “Pais Ocupado” in 1967.

In 1971, Galeano published his famous book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. In this book Galeano analyzes the history of Latin America as a whole, describing the effects of the European and later United States' economic exploitation and political dominance over the continent. The book was banned by the right-wing military governments of Brazil (1964), Uruguay (1973), Chile (1973), and Argentina (1976). At the 5th Summit of Americas in 2009, the book was given by the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the US President Barack Obama as a present.

On June 27th 1973, a CIA sponsored military coup took power in Uruguay, the pretext being to crush the Tupamaros, a leftist urban guerrilla. Many trade union leaders, students, and intellectuals were jailed, killed, or exiled. Galeano was imprisoned and later forced to leave the country. He settled in Argentina where he founded the magazine, Crisis.

In 1976, another CIA backed bloody military coup took place this time in Argentina. Galeano`s name was added to the list of those condemned by the death squads. He fled to Spain, which was freed from the yoke of Fascism after the death of Franco in 1975. In Spain, Galeano started the writing of his famous trilogy the “Memory of Fire”, composed of “Genesis” (1982), “Faces and Masks” (1984), and “Century of the World” (1986). This book represents the most powerful literary indictment of colonization in the Americas.

With the winds of democratization sweeping through Uruguay, Galeano retuned to Montevideo in 1985. In 2004, Tabaré Vasquez was elected as president. The left-wing’s electoral victory became possible by the unity of socialists, communists, and other progressive forces of Uruguay, under the Broad Front alliance. Galeano welcomed this victory and showed his support by writing “Where the People Voted Against Fear”, which was published in the monthly magazine, The Progressive, in the United States.

In 2005, after the creation of Tele Sur, the pan-Latin American TV station based in Caracas, Venezuela, Galeano joined the network’s member advisory committee.

Galeano`s writings dealt mostly with the relationship between freedom and slavery, and democracy and dictatorship. He stated in an interview: “not only the United States, and also some European countries, have spread military dictatorships all over the world; they feel as if they are able to teach democracy”.

Galeano was an ardent and vocal supporter of the oppressed people of the world; to point out he was a member of the sponsoring committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The plight of Haiti was a regular theme in Galeano`s writings. In “The Open Veins of Latin America”, he wrote: “In 1803, the black citizens of Haiti gave Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops a tremendous beating, and Europe has never forgiven them for this humiliation inflicted upon the white race. Haiti was the first free country in South America and the Caribbean. The free people raised their flag over a country in ruins. The land of Haiti had been devastated by the sugar monoculture and the laid waste by the war against France. One third of population had fallen in combat. Then Europe began its blockade. The new nation was condemned to Solitude. No one would buy from them, no one would sell to it, nor would any nation recognize it.

The US did not recognize Haiti until 60 years later. By then Haiti was already in the bloody hands of the military dictators, who devoted the meager resources of this starving nation toward relieving its debt to France. Europe demanded that Haiti pay France a huge indemnity to atone for its crime against French dignity”.

In February 2007, Galeano underwent a successful operation to treat lung cancer, but 8 years later on April 13, 2015 he died due to the recurrence of the disease in Montevideo.

Galeano was among those writers who served to change the face and the core of Latin American politics, and shaped the hopeful future of this continent.

Former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica talked during Galeano`s funeral ceremony on April 14, 2015 and praised the writer for his contribution to the history of Latin America.

Galeano survived by his third wife Helena Villagra and three children from his first and second marriages.

He wrote more than 40 books and reportages, some of his other writings are:

  • The Following Days (1963)

  • China (1964)

  • Guatemala: Occupied Country (1967)

  • Reportage (1967)

  • The Ghosts of the day Lion and Other Stories (1967)

  • His Majesty Football (1968)

  • Seven Images of Bolivia (1971)

  • Violence and Alienation (1971)

  • Latin America Chronicles (1972)

  • Conversations with Raimón (1977)

  • Days and Nights of Love and War (1978)

  • The Stone Burns (1980)

  • Voices of Our Time (1981)

  • Adventures of Young Gods (1984)

  • Window on Sandino (1985)

  • Password (1985)

  • The Crossroads of Colombian Biodiversity (1986)

  • Blue Tiger and Other Items (1988-2002)

  • Interviews and Articles (1962-1987)

  • The Book of Embraces (1989)

  • We Say No (1989)

  • Latin America to Understand You Better (1990)

  • Keyword: Personal Anthology (1990)

  • Be Like Them and Other Items (1992)

  • Errant Words (1993)

  • Use it and Throw (1994)

  • Football in Sun and Shadow (1995)

  • Muddled: School’s World Upside Down (1998)

  • 6, 000 Million Citizens Charter (1999)

  • Tissues: Anthology (2001)

  • Voices of Time: A Life in Stories (2004)

  • Trip (2006)

  • Mr. Charter Future (2007)

  • Mirrors (2008)

  • The Children of the Day (2011)

  • Women- Anthology (2015)

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