There are many great writers who have written powerfully about Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil—but only one who saw Latin America as a whole, saw to the core of its myriad tragedies, and wrote a great body of work analyzing it. That was Eduardo Galeano, who died today in Montevideo, Uruguay, at the age of 74.
I loved what he wrote in Children of the Days: “History never really says goodbye. History says ‘See you later!’”
My favorite of his works is the trilogy Memory of Fire (1982-1986), an anecdotal history of Latin America from before 1492 to the present day, liberally interlarded with quotations and observations. Perhaps, however, he is most famous for The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (1971).
As you may know, I have had a love affair with Latin America since my first visit to Mexico in 1975. In addition to Mexico, I have also visited Peru, Argentina, and Uruguay. And as long as the blood is flowing in my veins, I am planning yet more trips.
In The Open Veins of Latin America, Galeano wrote:
The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role. We are no longer in the era of marvels when face surpassed fable and imagination was shamed by the trophies of conquest— the lodes of gold, the mountains of silver…. Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others.
Galeano’s life has been a stressful one. Always a lover of liberty, he fled Uruguay for Argentina in 1973 when a military coup took over his country. Three years later, when the rightist generals rose to power in Argentina, he was off to Spain, from whence he did not return until 1985, when Uruguay restored civilian rule.
At a speech he delivered at the University of Wisconsin, he said, “I tried, I try, to be stubborn enough to go on believing, in spite of all evidences that we humans are badly built, but we are still unfinished.”
The question is: Will we as a species be undone before we are ever finished? If so, we need more writers like Galeano.