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December 2018

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Forbidden Books

(Libros prohibidos)

Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano and To Live without Fear

Open Veins of Latin America, Las venas abiertas de América Latina, is perhaps one of the most well known works of Eduardo Galeano, the talented Uruguayan journalist and writer, who departed on 13 April 2015 from the world he described so well in his writing. Galeano is considered to be one of the foremost Latin American writers.

Cover of the first edition of Las venas abiertas de América Latina'

Cover of the first edition of Las venas abiertas de América Latina.

Besides having been one of his best known works, it was amongst the most forbidden books by Latin American dictatorships. Published in 1971 and translated in 20 languages, Open Veins of Latin America is an essay of ideas, a traditional Latin American genre.

It presents a non-lineal overview of some aspects of Latin American history beginning with the early colonial period and analyses the effects of colonialism in Latin America.

Eduardo Galeano transcended orthodox genres in his works to express his uncompromising views on social causes in honest, straight forward writing. He combined journalism, the political analysis of history and current affairs, providing a unique commentary on the world around him.

Cover of the Open Veins of Latin America, English version.

Cover of the Open Veins of Latin America, English version.

Associate Professor Gustavo Verdesio [1], compares Open Veins of Latin America with Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ classic film, because of their puzzling  structures. He points out that both writers recognised their own ignorance: in Galeano’s case, his lack of knowledge about political economics; and in Welles’ case that of cinema. Professor Gustavo Verdesio also states that part of the enchantment of both works resides possibly in their freshness and the youthful spirit of their authors [2].

Some critics regard Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane as one of the greatest films ever made because of his meticulous planning of every frame of the film, a nonlinear narrative form, unusual camera angles, innovative uses of lighting, to mention just some of the techniques used in the making of this film.

Galeano’s narrative goes from past to present linking facts and events from distant periods awakening the curiosity of the reader and provoking further exploration into history.

This book is an essay, a solid traditional Latin American genre, presenting critical views and concerns of national and continental themes on social, cultural and political practices. It is the genre embraced by such writers as  Simón Bolívar (1783 – 1830), one of the leading figures of American emancipation from the Spanish Empire; Altamirano Prieto (1834 – 1893), the Mexican journalist and writer; and José Martí, one of the greatest figures of the Cuban Revolution (1853 – 1895), to name but a few.

Cover of Listas negras, Black Lists, a public report from the Minister of Defense, Argentinean Presidency

Cover of Listas negras, Black Lists, a public report from the Minister of Defense, Argentinean Presidency.

Censorship, the burning of books and black lists against intellectuals who were barred from access to press and employment were systematic practices during dictatorships in Latin America.

The recent discovery of a folder containing “secret black lists”, listas negras secretas, against hundreds of intellectuals, journalists and artists, as well as a thorough analysis of those lists, in the Edificio Cóndor, the headquarters of the Argentina Air Force, shows just how systematic was the methodology used to persecute intellectuals by the military regimen (1976 – 1983). Eduardo Galeano’s name appears on that list.

Copia de la lista secreta made by the military regime. The name of Eduardo Galeano appears with hundreds of other intellectuals  on this list.

Copy of  the secret list made by the military regime. The name of Eduardo Galeano appears on this list, along with hundreds of other intellectuals.

Tons of books have been censored, confiscated and burned. Just to mention one single event: on 26 June 1980, in the wasteland of Sarandí, a town located in the metropolitan region of Buenos Aires province, 24 tons of books and booklets were burned, with a judicial warrant. This was approximately more than a million and a half books from the Latin American Publishing Center, Centro Editor de América Latina. One word comes to my mind: abomination!

It would not be a surprise that to posses a copy of this book in one’s library could have been a dangerous affair during the non democratic Latin American times.

Galeano’s works have fed the hunger for knowledge of an emerging youth movement standing up for equality and justice of a “non traditional” and “non academic” narration of Latin American history. His works spurred revisionist views of a region subjected to pillage and exploitation from the beginning of  colonial times. Open Veins of Latin America is an honest and passionate analysis of Latin American history, bringing the optimism for a collective Utopia.

Fragment of a mural at Bar Cadencia.. Rosario. Argentina.

Soon after Galeano’s death in 2015, some of the press started a frenzied echoing of his own self-criticism about Open Veins of Latin America. They misread his honest remark.  Open Veins of Latin America was written nearly half a century ago and he pointed out that it was a stage, a moment in history that had passed.

Some believe that the echoing of his self criticism  after his death was an attempt to delegitimise a book read and loved by many, who considered it a classic of its time. Paradoxically, this criticism did the opposite by reawakening interest in Galeano’s works and particularly in the Open Veins of Latin America.

A few of Eduardo Galeano’s books.

Many other great works followed “Open Veins”. The prolific Eduardo Galeano was also editor of renowned publications such as the influential weekly newspaper Marcha and the newspaper Época.

In 1973, he exiled from Uruguay and sought refuge in Buenos Aires where he became Director of Crisis, a political and cultural magazine, which provided in each issue a series of original serigraphs and vintage facsimile editions of newspapers and maps. In 1976, following the coup d’etat in Argentina, he was exiled to Spain.

On his return to Uruguay in 1985, with other notable writers and Journalists with whom he had worked on Marcha, they founded Brecha, a weekly Uruguayan publication. He remained a member of its Advisory Board until he died on 13 April 2015.

Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano

For those who have not known Galeano, or haven’t had the opportunity to see what he says about To Live without Fear, Vivir sin miedo, I would like to invite you to see this 9 minutes video from you tube: click here

I am not saying “farewell” to Galeano, the writer obsessed with remembering. Eduardo Galeano has left his books and in them his words expressing views of the world we live in and a legacy of concerns that are contemporary today as ever.

May 2015

— —

[1] Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Indigenous Studies, University of Michigan.

[2] La tragedia y la utopía, The Tragedy and the Utopia, Gustavo Verdesio, Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Indigenous Studies, University of Michigan, Página 12, Radar, 19 May 2015.

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