Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano (source)

Eduardo Galeano (source)

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano passed away on 13 April 2015, aged 74. He started his career in journalism, but came to greater prominence in 1971 with what remains his best-known work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (original: 220.d.97.88; translation: 670:8.c.95.866), a history of Latin America from the time of Columbus onwards, focusing on the economic exploitation and military oppression that had shaped the continent. This book remained popular and respected throughout the decades, and even became an unexpected bestseller in 2009, when the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez publicly gifted a copy to Barack Obama.

Galeano had a long and varied writing career, throughout which he tried to bring to light the usually unwritten history of Latin America and the world – that of the victims, the poor and the downtrodden – as he felt that without acknowledging and understanding this, governments and nations could never truly progress. His outspoken socialist stance unsurprisingly put him at odds with the right-wing dictatorships that dominated the Southern Cone in the 1970s and 1980s. He first fled Uruguay and then Argentina in the mid-1970s, and wrote another of his most famous works, Memoria del fuego (original: 670:8.c.95.547-9; translation: 9743.c.334-336), whilst in exile.

Galeano was able to return to his home country in 1985 and witnessed the election of Uruguay’s first ever left-wing government in 2004. However, for the rest of his life he continued to reflect on the brutal legacies of colonialism and oppression in Latin America and the rest of the world – and the way in which governments continued to repeat the mistakes of the past – in works such as Espejos : una historia casi universal (original: C201.d.875; translation: C204.c.4475) and Los hijos de los días (original: 2012.8.5162; translation: C207.c.4362). Galeano saw in the modern-day military imperialism of developed democracies such as the United States a depressing mirror of the colonialism and enslavement of past centuries.

Parallel to (and very much interrelated with) his more socio-political work, Galeano was also highly esteemed for his writing on football. His best-known book in this vein was El fútbol a sol y sombre (original: 2001.8.5314; translation: 9005.c.7527), a kind of freeform social history and geography of the game. Galeano’s passion for football was something he had in common with the German writer Günter Grass, who coincidentally passed away on the same day as him and also shared the Uruguayan’s left-wing politics and strong social conscience. Both men abhorred the modern-day commercialization of the sport, but loved its potential for beauty and what it meant to their fellow countrymen.

In years to come, Eduardo Galeano’s work and the issues it raises will almost certainly continue to resonate throughout the world. As he himself said, “History never really says goodbye. History says, see you later.”

Christopher Greenberg

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