RIP Eduardo Galeano, Champion of Social Justice

I was profoundly saddened by the news that Eduardo Galeano passed away yesterday from lung cancer in a Montevideo, Uruguay hospital at 74. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve read Galeano almost every day since returning to Latin America in mid-February. It’s equally honest to say that I’ll continue to do so.

His classic “Open Veins of Latin America” remains a personal standard reference even today, more than four decades after it was published. His 2009 book, “Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone”, has been an almost daily go-to when I’m stumped on ways to free a sentence from the weight of extra words, or when I’m confronted by a historical tidbit that’s been rendered almost meaningless by thoughtless post-colonial deconstruction. “How would Galeano describe that?” is generally my first mode of inquiry. I always come up well short, but the process is always a challenge, always enlightening.

His gift for story-telling, creating expansive, provocative prose from a blend of fragments, metaphor and real moments from the ‘everyday’ of ‘everyone’ –melded with his wit, charm and appreciation of irony– made Galeano, as a friend noted, “a genre all to himself”.

As Greg Grandin noted in his tribute in The Nation yesterday:

He somehow managed to be at once fragmentary and meta, impressionistic and expansive, weaving together fact, pre-Columbian myth, and snippets from everyday life into sprawling people’s epics.

Above is a longer tribute that aired today on Democracy Now!, which Amy Goodman introduced with a quote by English writer John Berger:

To publish Eduardo Galeano is to publish the enemy: the enemy of lies, indifference, above all of forgetfulness. Thanks to him, our crimes will be remembered. His tenderness is devastating, his truthfulness furious.

Nowhere was his impact felt more strongly than at ‘home’ in Latin America where he’s often considered as a literary giant on par with luminaries such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez who passed away just one year ago.

You can’t walk away from a reading of Galeano and not feel profoundly affected –both saddened and outraged– by the way in which he documents the savage and brutal injustice that the Americas have suffered, but at the same time be uplifted by the examples he describes of those figures, often anonymous or nearly forgotten, who met those injustices head on with the fiercest of resistance.

Most of all, he insisted that history be remembered. In one interview, he described himself as a “writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia”.

There were no shortage of tributes, including those from Latin American political leaders. Said Bolivian President Evo Morales:

The world and Latin America have lost a maestro of the liberation of the people. His messages and works have always been oriented towards defending the sovereignty and dignity of our peoples.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff called his death

a “big loss” particularly for those fighting for a “Latin America that is more inclusive, just and united.” In a statement she added, “May his work and example of struggle stay with us and inspire us each day to build a better future for Latin America.”

And Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, via twitter:

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer and dear friend, Latin America’s veins are open in your name.

I blogged and posted about Galeano here on occasion, but not nearly enough. I evangelized about his words and works to friends, colleagues and acquaintances, but not nearly enough. I have several longer projects in the works, many of whose chapters begin with a Galeano quote. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to begin.


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