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Eduardo Galeano’s Words Walk the Streets of a Continent

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The world lost one of its great writers yesterday. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano died at age 74 in Montevideo. He left a magical body of work behind him, and his reach is as wide as his continent.

During Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis, Galeano’s words walked down the streets with a life of their own, accompanying every protest and activist meeting. Factories were occupied by workers, neighborhood assemblies rose up, and, for a time, revolutionary talk and action replaced a rotten neoliberal system. Galeano’s upside-down view of the world blew fresh dreams into the tear gas-filled air.

In the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, pirated copies of Galeano’s classic Open Veins of Latin America are still sold at nearly every book stall. There too, Galeano’s historical alchemy added to the fire of many movements and uprisings, where miners of the country’s open veins tossed dynamite at right-wing politicians, and the 500-year-old memory of colonialism lives on.

Up the winding mountain roads of Chiapas, past Mexican state military checkpoints, lies the autonomous Zapatista community of Oventic. One day a few years ago, Galeano’s familiar voice floated over the foggy, autonomous land, reciting children’s stories over stereo speakers.

At a World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Galeano entered a steaming hot tent where hundreds had gathered to hear him speak about the Uruguayan water rights movement in which the people had “voted against fear” to stop privatization. What I remembered most about the talk is how much he made the crowd laugh.

And one night in Paraguay, with the smell of cow manure and pesticides lingering in the air, small farmers besieged by toxic soy crops gathered to tell stories of resistance, stories they linked to Galeano’s accounts of the looting of Latin America and struggles against greed and empire that were centuries in the making.

With the small mountain of books and articles he left behind, Galeano gives us a language of hope, a way feel to feel rage toward the world while also loving it, a way to understand the past while carving out a better possible future.

“She’s on the horizon,” Galeano once wrote of utopia. “I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.”

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

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Benjamin Dangl teaches journalism as a Lecturer of Public Communication in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont. He has worked as a journalist across Latin America and written three books on Bolivia, including The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia (AK Press, 2019).

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