Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, whose The Open Veins of Latin America became a classic text for the left in the region and propelled the author to fame, died on Monday at age 74. Galeano had been ill with lung cancer for several months.
Galeano’s work inspired several generations of Latin Americans with powerful, acerbic descriptions of the continent’s exploitation by capitalist and imperialist forces. The writer defined himself as someone who helped rescue “the kidnapped memory” of Latin America, a “despised and beloved land.”
No work reflected that more than Open Veins, published in 1971. In it, Galeano wrote that Chile with its vast nitrate deposits, Brazil with its abundant rain forests and small Venezuelan towns with oil reserves “had painful reasons to believe in the mortality of fortunes that nature bestows and imperialism usurps.”
His work is a mixture of meticulous detail, political conviction, poetic flair and good storytelling, wrote his friend, the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, in the foreword to a recent edition.
“The world and Latin America have lost a maestro of the liberation of the people,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales, a left-leaning leader. “His messages and works have always been oriented toward defending the sovereignty and dignity of our peoples.”
Born in Montevideo in 1940, Eduardo German Hughes Galeano began his career at 14 publishing cartoons under the name “Gius” because of the difficult pronunciation of Hughes in Spanish. Shortly thereafter, when he began writing news articles, he would use Galeano.
As a young adult, Galeano did several jobs while he wrote on the side: courier, factory worker, bank teller, and stenographer, among others.
From the beginning, Galeano’s ideology and works embraced ideas on the left. Those ideas forced him into exile in Argentina and Spain during Uruguay’s military dictatorship between 1973 and 1985. “The only way that history won’t repeat itself is by keeping it alive,” he once wrote.
Following the 1973 coup and the banning of the book, he fled to Argentina. When that country’s military dictatorship began its “dirty war” against leftists in 1976, he went into exile again, this time in Spain.
He later moved to distance himself from his most famous work, and in particular what he described as a “stodgy” writing style, saying in 2014: “Open Veins tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn’t have the necessary training.”
Returning to Uruguay after the return to democracy, he was frequently seen in Montevideo cafes debating with other intellectuals or simply shooting the bull with friends or people he had just met.
After two failed marriages, he married Helena Villagra in 1976 and together they had three children.
Over his career, he would write several more books focused on the politics and economics of the time. Days and Nights of Love and War, published in 1978, examined the military dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay.
The Memory of Fire, published in 1980s, is a three-volume narrative of the history of Americas. In The Book of Embraces, published in 1991, Galeano wrote about his views on art, politics and emotion while also offering a withering critique of capitalism. In 1995, Galeano, wrote Soccer in Sun and Shadow, a review of the history of the game he loved.