memory of fire

Eduardo-Galeano 1

Almost two weeks ago, Eduardo Galeano, a giant of Latin American letters, died. Or to give him his full name, Eduardo Germán Hughes Galeano, thanks to a Welsh great-grandfather.

For nearly five decades he reclaimed Latin American history for the poor and dispossessed. Starting life as a journalist, he moved onto books, creating a unique mixture of history and poetic prose, in bite-size, often obscure facts which threw light on people’s present reality. John Berger said of him: “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.”

This remembering led to his imprisonment after the Uruguayan coup. On release he went to Argentina. When the dictators took over there, he fled to Spain.


open veins


Amongst his many works, the best known are Open Veins of Latin America (subtitled “Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent”), written in 1971, and the Memory of Fire trilogy, written in the 1980s in exile in Spain.

Tributes to Galeano poured in after his death. Amongst the Presidents who paid tribute to him were Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Alexis Tsipras of Syriza in Greece. Bolivian President Evo Morales said: “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.”



Another Latin American President Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, introduced Galeano to a new international audience when he presented a copy of Open Veins of Latin America to Barack Obama. His influence on a new generation, and his impact on the continent, are described in an extended tribute on Democracy Now! (see here).

Galeano was a constant supporter of the Nicaraguan revolution during the 1980s, though he was less enthusiastic about the Sandinistas when they returned to power in 2007. He remained committed to a utopia which he regarded was essential to strive for, which distanced him from the more gradualist approach of many of the Left in Latin America today.

For those of us who work in solidarity, he provided us with one of its best definitions:

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.”

Eduardo Hughes Galeano 1940 – 2015



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