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‘History never really says goodbye’: RIP to the writer Chavez introduced to Obama

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The Uruguayan author and journalist Eduardo Galeano died in Montevideo of lung cancer at the age of 74. Galeano’s death, which was confirmed by the weekly publication Brecha, where he was a contributor, offers us a chance to celebrate the words, ideas and genuine political engagement of the leader Left wing writer.

Galeano was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1940. In his youth, he toiled as a factory worker, a bill collector, a sign painter, a messenger, a typist, and a bank teller. At the age of fourteen, he began to contribute cartoons and articles to left-wing newspapers and magazines. He was briefly jailed, along with tens of thousands of his countrymen, in the months leading up to the Uruguayan coup of 1973, after which he fled to Argentina, where he founded the newspaper, The Crisis. When a dictatorship took power in Argentina in 1976, Galeano sought exile once again, this time in Barcelona. He returned to Uruguay in 1985, when civilian rule was restored.

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Already well known (and controversial) in Latin America, the writer gained more fame in 2009 during the The Fifth Summit of the Americas  when then President Hugo Chavez gave President Obama a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (1971). Having been printed in 50 Spanish editions and over a dozen languages, and banned during the dictatorships in Chile, Argentina and Galeano’s native Uruguay, the book  shot to the top of the best seller list, over night, thanks to the Chavez bump.

Galeano also wrote the three-volume Memory of Fire,  as well as Soccer in Sun and ShadowUpside DownThe Book of EmbracesWe Say No,Voices of Time and MirrorsChildren of the Days: A Calendar of Human History.

Here are some of his best quotes.

1. On Latin America: “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.” – The Open Veins of Latin America.

2. On homophobia and Alan Turing:  “To stay out of jail, he agreed to undergo medical treatment to cure him of the affliction. The bombardment of drugs left him impotent. He grew breasts. He stayed indoors, no longer went to the university. He heard whispers, felt stares drilling into his back.

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He had the habit of eating an apple before going to bed. One night, he injected the apple with cyanide.”  – Mirrors.

3. On historical memory: “Broken memory leads us to believe that wealth is innocent of poverty.” Upside Down

4. On what we are: “In the end, we are what we do to change what we are.” – The Book of Embraces

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5. On History: “The head of Aquino lies in the executioner’s basket. May he rest in war. The chief of the Indians in El Salvador had raised three thousand spears against the robbers of the lands. He got the better of the muskets, which the enemy fired with glowing cigars, and stripped Saint Joseph naked on the high altar of a church. Clad in the cloak of the father of Christ, he proclaimed that Indians would never again be slaves, nor soldiers, nor famished, nor drunk. But more troops arrived, and he had to seek refuge in the mountains. His lieutenant, named Cascabel, turned him in. “Now I am a jaguar without claws or Fangs,” said Aquino, when they loaded him with shackles and chains; and he confessed to Fray Navarro that in all his life he had only been frightened by the anger or tears of his wife.” – Face and Masks 

6. On consumer culture:  “Consumer culture, a culture of disconnectedness, trains us to believe things just happen. Incapable of recalling its origins, the present paints the future as a repetition of itself; tomorrow is just another name for today. The unequal organization of the world, which beggars the human condition, is part of eternity, and injustice is a fact of life we have no choice but to accept.” – Upside Down

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7. On charity: “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.” –  Interviews from The Progressive Magazine

8. On The Church: “In 1493, the Vatican gave America to Spain and black Africa to Portugal “so that the barbaric nations can be reduced to the Catholic faith.” At the time, America had fifteen times more inhabitants than Spain, and black Africa 100 times the population of Portugal. Just as the Pope had ordered, the barbaric nations were reduced, to say the least.” – “Paradoxes and Misnomers” 

9. On what is right: “I tried, and I hope I shall always try, to choose the right side, that it happens to be at the left side, in the eternal fight of indignation against indignity.”  – accepting an award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship from the Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and, Social Change at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on May 9, 2013.

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10. On the past: “History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later’.” -Children of the Days.

11. On walls:  “The Berlin Wall made the news every day. From morning till night we read, saw, heard: the Wall of Shame, the Wall of Infamy, the Iron Curtain…

In the end, a wall which deserved to fall fell. But other walls sprouted and continue sprouting across the world. Though they are much larger than the one in Berlin, we rarely hear of them. Little is said about the wall the United States is building along the Mexican border, and less is said about the barbed-wire barriers surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the African coast. Practically nothing is said about the West Bank Wall, which perpetuates the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and will be 15 times longer than the Berlin Wall. And nothing, nothing at all, is said about the Morocco Wall, which perpetuates the seizure of the Saharan homeland by the kingdom of Morocco, and is 60 times the length of the Berlin Wall. Why are some walls so loud and others mute?”  – Mirrors

12. On the treatment of immigrants in the United States: “It’s a sad story. A daily sad story. I wonder if our time will be remembered as a period, a terrible period in human history, in which money was free to go and come and come back and go again. But people, not.” on Democracy Now!

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13. On hope: 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. – Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and, Social Change at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on May 9, 2013

14. On the misuse of language: “How long will we continue calling a “civil war” Generalíssimo Franco’s coup d’état against a democratically elected government?  How long will Mexico’s president continue governing from China?  How long will we continue calling the military dictatorships of Latin America “processes”?  How long will they continue calling “pressure” the tortures practiced in different parts of the world?  How long will the students of Guerrero remain disappeared as if by magic?  How long will it be before the wars that punish the world acknowledge they kill in order to plunder, even if they invoke God or country?”- Pagina 12 .via The Progressive

15. On Torture: “The purpose of torture is not getting information. It’s spreading fear.” – Democracy Now!

16. On humor: “Humor, yes, the pleasure of being alive, indeed. Otherwise it wouldn’t be really possible to reach people. Writing and reading are ceremonies of communion. If you are unable to give this electricity of life, which is, at once, horror and beauty, the feast of life and the tragedy of life, everything [becomes] asceticism each day.” – The Oregonian interview

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17. On war: “Almost all wars, perhaps all, are trade wars connected with some material interest. They are always disguised as sacred wars, made in the name of God, or civilization or progress. But all of them, or almost all of the wars, have been trade wars.” –The Oregonian interview

18. On reality: “Indignation must always be the answer to indignity. Reality is not destiny.” – Chicago Tribune interview

19. On nature: “If nature were a bank, they would have already rescued it.” – Children of the Days

20. On the moon: “In my childhood, I was convinced that everything that went astray on earth ended up on the moon. But the astronauts found no sign of dangerous dreams or broken promises or hopes betrayed. If not on the moon, where might they be? Perhaps they were never misplaced. Perhaps they are in hiding here on earth. Waiting.” – Mirrors.

21.  On literature: “To claim that literature on its own is going to change reality would be an act of madness or arrogance. It seems to me no less foolish to deny that it can aid in making this change.” – Days and Nights

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22. On memory, machismo, and militarism: “Well, we have a memory cut in pieces. And I write trying to recover our real memory, the memory of humankind, what I call the human rainbow, which is much more colorful and beautiful than the other one, the other rainbow. But the human rainbow had been mutilated by machismo, racism, militarism and a lot of other isms, who have been terribly killing our greatness, our possible greatness, our possible beauty.”   Democracy Now!


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