In 1970, Eduardo Galeano, a feisty young Uruguayan newspaperman who had taken up writing after unsatisfactory stints as a sign painter, factory worker, bill collector, and bank teller, wrote Open Veins of Latin America, which sold more than a million copies around the world.
Open Veins was a new kind of history: lyrical, accessible, and passionate in its denouncement of the tyrants—both domestic and foreign—who stunted the growth of democratic societies in Latin America. The book’s frank demands for justice—and its overwhelming success—eventually led to Galeano being jailed in the early stages of a right-wing coup. Upon being released, he fled to Argentina and, after a coup there as well, to Spain, where he lived for eight years. During that time Galeano started work on the trilogy Memory of Fire, which offers a sweeping, poetic account of life in the Americas, drawing upon his meticulous historical research and affinity for the people of Latin America as well as his considerable literary talent.
In looking at Latin America’s role in the world today, Galeano says: “In the nations of the South, the deification of the market and the demonization of the forces of change have resulted in the concentration of wealth, the multiplication of poverty, and the devastation of nature. More than ever the countries of the Southern Hemisphere are submitted to the dictatorship of an international market.”
The American-style consumer society now taking hold throughout Latin America is a tragic step—a new form of tyranny replacing the blood-soaked juntas that citizens have finally thrown off in recent decades, he argues. “It is the dictatorship of the single word, the single image, the single tune, and perhaps it’s more dangerous than other dictatorships because it acts on a world scale.” By turning people and countries into commodities, this power structure condemns most of the world to poverty, and everyone, rich and poor, to a hunger for true human connection. “This world of inequality is also a world of solitude,” he explains, in which vast numbers “confuse being with having.”
Galeano is hopeful that the developing world will find its own way forward. “This is the challenge faced by the South: Either we convert ourselves into a sad caricature of the North, or we find the energy to generate an essentially different path.”
(Interview translated from Spanish by Karen Lehman)
From the book Visionaries: People and Ideas to Change Your Life ($17.95 Utne Reader Books/New Society Publishers). Call 1-800-880-UTNE.