Eduardo Galeano, the colleague

The intellectual generosity and essential fidelity of an indispensable writer.

Foto: Tomada de la prensa uruguaya.

Actually, Eduardo Galeano has not died. He hasn’t even stopped writing. Having lived as he did, having written as he did, is the guarantee of a transcendence that, turned into presence, will accompany us for many years. His extraordinary power of immortality lies in his way of thinking, of having been faithful to the essences of his concepts of life, of the word and of justice, but always maintaining himself in evolution, in a permanent utopic and heterodox revision of his ideas, and of having bequeathed the not always so frequent example of not having gotten used to his concepts and ideals and of daring to submit to criticism even the things in which he believed and loved, and even to question, in changed circumstances, those which he had created and defended. Because of that civic and humane attitude of profound intellectual honesty, as was to be expected, Eduardo Galeano gained the esteem and admiration of millions of persons in all of Latin America and the world. And, as corresponds, the hatred and disdain of others who are never ever missing, just because Galeano thought differently from them….

His death, which curiously occurred on the same day as the passing away of Nobel Prize for Literature Günter Grass – another man of an intellectual lineage very similar to that of Galeano -, leaves a void in Latin American thinking and literature that will be very difficult to fill. Because Eduardo Galeano was, perhaps, the most Latin American of the writers of his generation, the most inquiring, the most progressive, the most free and restless, the one who always dared to point out the wounds of the present and the future…and many times to open them.

Of all the virtues of Eduardo Galeano much has been written in these days of justified mourning over his physical death and much will be written for a long time, perhaps as a way of exorcising that irreplaceable absence. But, a writer, polemicist, thinker of his category necessarily had to be sustained by an exceptional humanity, with which he benefitted the many of us who at some time, with greater or lesser depth, knew him and enjoyed him.

MY PERSONAL GALEANO

I had the first patent and intimate proof of the kindness of Eduardo Galeano on that evening of January 1981 in which I met him in person and, in addition, I made my debut as a journalistic interviewer, attempting to precisely interview him. I remember with absolute clarity that what happened that evening was due not just to the fact that it was my initiation as an interviewer with an already emblematic figure of Latin American literature, but rather the way in which the dialogue took place, held in the room of the editorial staff of the monthly El Caimán Barbudo, whose working team I had just joined at the end of my university studies.

I still don’t know why I was chosen to interview the star of the jurors of the Casa de las Américas Prize of that year, but the first problem for me was that I had barely had a few hours to journalistically and psychologically prepare myself for that task. I had read Las venas abiertas de América Latina (The Open Veins of Latin America) and La canción de nosotros (Our Song) and my gigantic capacity for audacity. Thus, with a few questions and an old tape recorder I faced Galeano to do not only the first of the many interviews I have done in my life but rather…the one that was easiest for me. Because a journalist of Eduardo’s category, with his long trajectory in the trade, had to discover my overwhelming lack of skills and, to each one of my shy and surely hackneyed questions, he answered in a long and conscientious way, but, above all, with his astonishing verbal coherence, and he gave me the answers in writing! As if to facilitate the work and to guarantee, he himself, a minimum of quality for his effort and time spent with a rookie of the profession…. But what I most remember was the moment in which the star writer of the magazine approached and, to help me, told me to ask Galeano something about inspiration. Eduardo continued answering my questions and when the other writer left, he whispered to me: “Never ask foolish things. Nor questions that don’t have answers, but rather formulas.”

That was one of several meetings I held with Eduardo, in Cuba, in Montevideo, in Spain and, compared to other writers of his category and popularity, I never felt in him the pose of the teacher, the height of the acclaimed, but rather the closeness of the colleague with which he distinguished me and, I believe, he distinguished so many other writer and journalist colleagues with whom he had contact.

In 1988, during his stay in Havana as president of the jury of the José Martí Journalism Latin American Prize, organised by Prensa Latina, I had another of my revealing meetings with Eduardo Galeano. Compared with the interview for El Caimán Barbudo, I don’t remember which Havana hotel he had arranged for us to meet on the day the jury’s ruling was being made public to personally tell that my series of journalistic works, sent by the daily Juventud Rebelde to the contest, had deserved the first mention. My happiness, of course, which was enormous, was multiplied by Eduardo when he whispered in my ear: “For me you were the winner of the prize. You have done a journalism that is for today and for tomorrow. And you haven’t forgotten that always, always, the word is what’s most important….” And that night, during the awards ceremony, I dared to ask him how the deliberation had been and why, he being the president of the jury, his preference had not triumphed. And Galeano answered: “The best is not always the winner. Not even in football. And get used to it, because this is not the first time it’s going to happen to you. It’s happened to me many times…,” and he smiled, perhaps thinking about the mention (instead of the prize) that The Open Veins of Latin America, an indispensable book in its genre if there is any, had deserved. Twenty-five years later those journalistic texts “mentioned” in the 1988 Latin American Prize are still being published and being read in the world. Eduardo again had been right.

Our last physical meeting occurred some four years ago, during a flight from Rome to Madrid, and its culmination was the supper we organised that same night, with our wives and the company of the common Spanish friend and colleague José Manuel Martín Médem…. It was a long night, with a lot of wine, when one could still smoke in certain Madrid restaurants, and we spoke at length about Cuba, about Uruguay, about Spain, of our respective national crises and hopes, and also about literature and journalism, about the many projects that besieged him and those he wanted to finish. Perhaps the wine clouded some memories of that pleasant night in Madrid – I can’t even pinpoint in which restaurant we dined -, and perhaps on that occasion he didn’t give me any advice or presented me with a prophecy, but, as always he gave me the treasure of his friendship and his ethics…and a warning, when we were about to leave the place: “Some short-sighted and fundamentalist persons,” he told me, “are going to criticise El hombre que amaba a los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs)…. But don’t listen to them; if the past is not reviewed the future cannot be built….”

The loss of Eduardo Galeano has thus moved me because of very profound reasons, which range from those which I share with all his readers and fans to those that intimately belong to me, as gifts that generous and visionary colleague gave me throughout 30 years. (2015)

 

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