The name of Eduardo Galeano is synonymous with good literature, social commitment and ethical values to test everything. His work The open veins of Latin America is a true classic, which together with Memoria del fuego have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Eduardo Galeano was a difficult writer to classify. Many times in his texts he combined reality with fiction. The feeling with the thought. In fact, he is credited with the invention of the term “sentient language” to refer to that particular combination of objectivity and subjectivity.
“We are in full container culture. The marriage contract matters more than love, the funeral more than the dead, the clothes more than the body and the mass more than God.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Eduardo Galeano is that he was a self-taught intellectual. He did not obtain a formal professional degree, although he did several honorary doctorates. Perhaps, therefore, his work has a special strength: that of someone who takes note of reality with the senses and reading, and not through a teacher.
A writer in Montevideo
Eduardo Galeano was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, on September 3, 1940. His real name was Eduardo Germán María Hughes Galeano, but he took the surname of his mother to sign his literary creations. His family had good financial resources and he was deeply Catholic.
During childhood, Eduardo Galeano dreamed of being a saint or a football player, whichever came first. However, at age 14 he drew a solitary drawing and took it to the weekly “El sol”, which ended up buying it. He became a caricaturist in this medium, which belonged to the Socialist Party.
At age 19 he had an existential crisis and an attempted suicide. He never explained completely why. The truth is that after leaving a coma, he changed his life radically. It was then that he began to call himself Eduardo Galeano and then to write in the weekly Marcha, his true school as a writer.
Eduardo Galeano in exile
In 1973 one of the fiercest dictatorships was installed in Uruguay. It arrested him and precipitated his exile to Argentina. There, and with just 32 years old, he published his masterpiece The Open Veins of Latin America. I wanted it to be a book on political economy, but it ended up being an exciting history book, which became an icon of Latin American literature.
By that time he had already married twice and had three children. In Argentina, he was co-founder of Crisis Magazine. However, the dictatorship was also imposed in that country in 1976 and he soon knew that he had to leave. Before that, he met Helena Villagra in a barbecue. She would be his companion for the next 40 years.
His works were banned in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, by the three dictators on duty. Soon after, he went into exile in Spain and there he wrote his famous trilogy Memoria del fuego. It was inspired by a Greek poem and was made into pieces, there are even parts that were written on napkins.
The return and the end
Galeano was able to return to Uruguay at the beginning of 1985, when the dictatorship fell in his country. True to his tradition, he founded a new weekly: Brecha, in the company of Mario Benedetti and other intellectuals. He also became a frequent customer of the El Brasilero coffee, one of many coffee shops of poets in Montevideo. There he sat near the window. Currently that place sells “Café Galeano”, in tribute to the writer.
Eduardo Galeano became involved again with political groups and intellectuals of the left. In 2004, he participated in the first triumph of that sector in his country, headed by Tabaré Vásquez. Then he celebrated the rise to power of Pepe Mujica. He was also part of the advisory committee of the Telesur channel in Venezuela and began writing weekly for La Jornada newspaper in Mexico.
In 2007, doctors discovered that the writer had lung cancer. Since then, the health losses were frequent and each time he saw less in public. He distrusted new technologies and that is why he wrote by hand until the end of his life. He also distrusted extreme rationality and all forms of authoritarianism, whether on the right or on the left. He died at age 74, on April 13, 2015.